It's fitting that the city of Memphis's FedEx Forum was key to revitalization of downtown Memphis.
It's named for the city's beloved Federal Express, the global logistics firm founded by hometown boy Fred Smith. It's home to the National Basketball Associations favorite underdogs - the Memphis Grizzlies. And the Forum even has one of the city's museums contained right inside it - the Rock 'n' Soul Museum, which is curated by the Smithsonian Institution.
With it's just-off-the-foot-of-Beale Street location, the Forum is central to many of the city's top attractions. The National Civil Rights Museum, located in the historic South Main district, is an easy walk or quick trolley ride away; along the way, you can pop into the galleries and local shops that have helped re-energize the area. To the west a few blocks is the Mississippi River, best viewed from the wide expanse of Tom Lee Park or at Mud Island River Park, where you can walk along a scale model of the river, and learn all about the river's rich and somewhat turbulent history at its museum.
The city's most whimsical (feathered) residents, the Peabody Ducks, call the historic hotel home - and their daily march to and from their rooftop home is a must-catch.
Exploring some of Memphis's best attractions is easy for those coming to the FedEx Forum; thanks to its central location.
The Memphis Hop is a brilliant idea for the city; opened in 2013, the hop-on, hop-off bus service allows sightseeing as it's never been seen in the Bluff City. Buses travel from attraction to attraction, stopping hourly at each spot. From Graceland to the National Ornamental Metal Museum to Stax and the Zoo, a dozen attractions, plus Beale Street are on the route. The buses operate from 10:30 am - 7:00 p.m. daily, with the exception of Mondays. Tickets are good for 24 hours of riding, which means you can really see a lot. And because many attractions are spread out, you can leave the navigating to someone else.
Think of the Memphis Rock n' Soul Museum as the broad overview of Memphis music. With exhibits about gospel, the blues, Elvis, the rise of soul, and crunk - all decidedly made-or-born-in-Memphis genres, the museum offers the big picture of Memphis' role in American musical history. With exhibitions created through a partnership of the Smithsonian and the National Museum of American History, the museum is actually on the old Highway 61 - known as the Blues Highway - and tucked just behind Beale Street in the FedEx Forum. According to the Rock 'n' Soul web site, historians working on the exhibit..."continually returned to the Delta and Memphis, Tennessee for what is finally declared as the 'roots of America's music'" .... and their findings make up the exhibits. Those looking for in-depth stories about Memphis music will want to continue their education at Sun Studio, Graceland, and Stax.
The Fire Museum of Memphis occupies the old Engine House Number One in downtown Memphis, built in 1910. The museum depicts the life of a firefighter and presents vintage equipment dating from the early 1900s, including a restored 1897 Hale Water Tower,which was actually used through 1973 to fight fires in buildings higher than two stories. The "Fire Room" exhibit uses advanced technology to deliver true-life effects of past fires and disasters. You'll actually feel the heat as you view firefighters tackling huge flames. Even better, a talking horse tells stories of yesteryear firefighting! Other exhibits include a 1910 horse-drawn steam engine, a pictorial history of the city's first African American firefighters, and interactive exhibits that teach fire safety and educate about emergency services, from EMS to 9-1-1. A beautiful memorial wall is dedicated the firefighters who died in the line of duty.
Near Main Street, this quiet residential area offers glimpses at lovely homes with exquisite French Second Empire and Italianate Victorian architecture. The village houses several historic residences including the Mageveny House, the Woodruff Fontaine House and the Mallory Neely Home. In November 2012, the Mallory-Neely home reopened for tours; many are hoping that this renovation will be the beginning of many throughout the area. Currently, that home and the Mageveny home are open for tours; a self-guided walking tour and seasonal events are also offered. The Mollie Fontaine house is actually now known as Mollie Fonatine's - a great late-night bar with a funky atmosphere and hip clientele.
Decorative metalwork is a hallmark of the design and architecture of the American South, and the Metal Museum is dedicated to the art of fine metalwork, as well as its history. Exhibits range from an examination of piercing to antique weapons; wandering through four galleries filled with artifacts and artwork are always an interesting way to spend an afternoon. Intricate gates and signs are of particular interest to Southerners, who still seek out those historic elements on their homes. Working artists are often on hand to demonstrate their crafts,and there's even a working blacksmith shop on site. A beautiful sculpture garden on the grounds overlooking the Mississippi is one of the most scenic spots in town.
Named for a courageous citizen who rescued 32 people when a steamer went down in the Mississippi in 1925, this park runs along the mighty river, and offers gorgeous views of the river and the city skyline. The park is home to a number of festivals and events throughout the year, including the Beale Street Music Festival in and the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest - both key ingredients of the Memphis in May International Festival. When there's not a major festival, parking is available park-side, but the park is also an easy walk from downtown attractions. Wide pathways offer plenty of space for joggers and walkers, while the wide stretch of green space is perfect for a family game of Frisbee or simply relaxing in the sun.
Mud Island is reached by an aerial tram (you may remember it from the Tom Cruise movie, The Firm) and features a to-scale model of the Mississippit River that one can walk along, noting the changing conditions of the river. The Mississippi River Museum explores the 10,000-year history of the Mississippi, noting how it developed and what the areas around it have drawn from the river. The Belle of the Bluffs, the reconstructed front half of an 1870s steamboat, complete with cotton bales stacked on the lower deck and water lapping at the hull. The Memphis Blues exhibit highlights the music of the Delta blues, New Orleans jazz, early rock 'n roll, and Elvis. Mud Island's pay-one-price package includes entry to the museum, a round-trip monorail ride, and a guided tour of the five-block scale model of the Mississippi.
The tradition of the duck march started following a hunting trip in 1932. The story goes that then-general manager of the hotel and his hunting buddies, along with their live decoy ducks, stopped in the Peabody's ornate lobby bar for a glass or three of Jack Daniels. The guys thought it would be a hoot to let the decoys paddle around in the fountain of the lobby bar while they relived the hunt. A tradition was born. Anthony Petrina is the fifth duck master at the hotel; the job was created in the 1940's when a former Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus animal trainer named Edward Pembroke offered to help deliver the ducks to and from the fountain each day. That delivery soon turned into a full-fledged spectacle, with the ducks marching from their rooftop abode, into the elevator, down to the lobby, and across a red carpet into their watery daytime home. The ducks process at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily. The ducks have appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show and Sesame Street and have been featured in numerous publications, from Sports Illustrated to People.
Once the center of black-owned businesses and nightclubs, Beale became the home of the blues at the turn of the 20th century - a waypoint along the trail from the Mississippi Delta to Chicago. W.C. Handy lived - and performed - here, and anyone who was anyone on the blues scene has performed in the clubs here, from Blind Mississippi Morris to B.B. King to Robert Johnson. Today, the clubs and restaurants on Beale proper still move to the beat of the blues. The FedEx Forum - home to the NBA's Grizzlies - sits just off Beale, and a variety of hotels, museums and eateries are within a short walk from the famous street. Blues fans can pay homage to W.C. Handy at the home and museum at the east end of the street, or visit the Center for Southern Folklore to explore storytelling and folk art in the South. Also nearby is the Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum and Gibson Guitar Factory. In Handy Park, a small stage is home to lunchtime and weekend concerts including some unscheduled jam sessions. For the best blues music, try B.B. King's, Rum Boogie or Alfred's.
One of the most emotionally moving museums in America, the National Civil Rights Museum chronicles the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers' strike – right in the very building where King was standing when gunned down. Exhibits in the Lorraine Motel, where King and his entourage were staying, and the boarding house across the street – where gunman James Earl Ray camped out – tell the history of the civil rights movement, leading up to the assassination of King and the hunt for his killer. In addition, the pioneers of civil rights are profiled in a special exhibit dedicated to those the museum recognizes in its annual human rights awards.