MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) – The Bluff City is home to more than two museums, each with its own appeal.
Local history, culture, and art are anchored in the halls and galleries of Bluff City’s museums, preserving treasures that give Memphis its identity.
And what could be nicer than exploring this uniqueness than taking a seat and having the conductor punch your ticket for you on a whistle-stop tour of the Memphis Railroad and Trolley Museum.
“Our whole focus is on telling the story of the Memphis railroad. We’re unique in that we focus locally because there’s so much detail, ”said Mike Fleming, President of the Memphis Railroad and Trolley Museum.
Tucked away in Memphis Central Station on the Southwest Corner of South Main and GE Patterson is the little museum that could.
“We have artifacts that show how conductors worked, how train people did their business,” said Joe Oliver, vice president of Memphis Railroad and Trolley. “The Frisco Bridge, or the Great Memphis Bridge as it originally was, opened in 1892. It was the first railroad bridge south of St. Louis and was one of the 7 engineering wonders of the world in 1890. ”
This bridge and the subsequent extension of the first section of track from Memphis to the Norfolk Southern Rail Line made Memphis a transport hub on the express route.
Put the car in gear and head down Marshall Avenue in the Edge District of Memphis, where the Edge Motor Museum takes visitors on a ride through the rise, plateau, and fall of the American sports car.
“We’re showing cars from the post-war period through 1974 in an exhibition we call American Speed,” said Richard Vining, Executive Director of the Edge Motor Museum.
Almost every inch of the 12,000-square-foot building is covered in more than a dozen rubber, steel, and fiberglass cars, many of them in the 200-mile-per-hour club. They each tell a story, like Memphis’ musical connection to a Rocket 88.
“Just down the street is Sun Records and the first song they ever recorded was Rocket 88 by Ike Turner and the Delta Cats,” said Vining.
The cars are on loan, many of them from collectors who make up the museum’s exclusive membership.
From the racetrack to the Memphis Museum that brings the races together, the National Civil Rights Museum is in the former Lorraine Motel at 450 Mulberry Street in the South Main Historic Arts District.
For nearly 30 years, the museum has inspired generations of people around the world with its poignant and personal presentation of the civil rights movement throughout history. The National Civil Rights Museum opened in September 1991, just a few years after a group of concerned citizens sounded the alarm in the mid-1980s that the Lorraine Motel was headed for the destruction of urban renewal.
“We found the support of the community to say, ‘You know what, this place has value. We want to keep it sacred. ‘ Yes, what happened here was tragic, but it’s our story and we deserve this story to be told here more than anywhere else, ”said Noelle Trent of the National Civil Rights Museum’s Interpretation, Collections and Education.
Most know the story of the murder of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the second floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel. Room 306 is now an April 4, 1968 time capsule, but it’s so much more than a memorial.
“So when people come to visit now, they expect to see the place where Dr. King was murdered. What they do is an understanding of African American history in the United States and an understanding of the Lorraine Motel’s place in that history, ”said Trent.
Outdoor listening posts take guests through five centuries of history, from resisting enslavement to the groundbreaking turning points of the late 20th century. Inside, the museum’s complex of historic buildings houses 260 artifacts, more than 40 films, oral lore and interactive media.
This priceless treasure trove is less than a mile from another museum with a single form of historical media: photographs.
The Withers Collection Museum and Gallery at 333 Beale Street is 7,000 square feet of Memphis and American history.
Ernest Withers was born in Memphis in 1922 and took his first photos at Manassas High School. He later trained at the Army School of Photography during World War II.
Rosalind Withers says her father’s life was dedicated to capturing moments of black life in the south to create a cultural archive like no other.
“Part of the story is painful and some is so beautiful. It really shows a culture and a race of people, ”said Rosalind Withers.
The collection spans over 60 years from the 1940s to Withers’ death in 2007: sports, civil rights, lifestyle and music.
“1.8 million images is the low-ball estimate,” said Connor Scanlon, Digital Database Manager at the Withers Museum.
The museum recently brought the new virtual museum tour “Pictures tell the story” online.
“It’s graphic. It is direct. There are segments that are on your face. But above all, it’s the truth. It hurts and will be good for you, ”said Chuck O’Brannon, producer and director of the virtual tour.
Withers meticulously kept his notes, labeling each envelope with descriptions of the pictures inside. The museum is digitizing the collection and is working hard to find the resources necessary to properly house the decaying archives.
“To have this visual, now digital, content to teach is incredible,” said Rosalind Withers.
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