The interactive exhibits and programs compiled by the Pink Palace Family of Museums reinforce a mission that has stayed constant for 80 years: to "inspire people to learn how history, science, technology, and nature shape the Mid-South." Attached to Clarence Saunders' mansion built in the 1920s, the museum's permanent exhibits take an eclectic approach to chronicling the past, revealing everything from ancient fossils to contemporary southern history. Inside, visitors can chart the history of Memphis from the early Spanish explorers through the Civil War or walk through a replica of Saunders' original Piggly Wiggly—the country’s first self-service grocery store, and even see a shrunken head. Global adventures are chronicled on a four-story screen at the CTI-IMAX theater, and the Sharpe Planetarium explores the cosmos from the comfort of a 130-seat theater.
Traveling to east Memphis, one can discern the natural side of the Pink Palace Family of Museums. Lichterman Nature Center encompasses 65 acres of lush gardens filled with native wildflowers, trees, and wildlife. The center combines self-guided nature walks with plant sales and educational activities to expose visitors to the natural world.
Dixon Gallery and Gardens saturates the senses with a 2,000-piece museum collection bordered by 17 acres of lush English gardens. An e-membership grants unlimited admission to the grounds as well as a weekly e-newsletter, whose digital format significantly reduces paper-airplane attacks. Behind the museum’s corinthian columns and brick façade, patrons peruse works by French and American impressionists along with rotating exhibitions.
The Brooks Museum's opera and ballet cinema series carves a screen-size window into Europe's most venerable cultural institutions with high-def digital projections of recent world-class performances. Banned for decades in Russia by Stalin's order, Dmitri Shostakovich's The Bright Stream finds zany, lighthearted comedy on a collectivist farm under the Soviet regime. Renowned choreographer Alexei Ratmansky leads Moscow's Bolshoi Ballet through a culture clash between a troupe of citified dancers and the rustic workers they set out to entertain. Jealous lovers, bumbling retirees, and cross-dressing deception weave through the plot to ravishing dances and a score inspired by Russian folk music.
Included as one of Time's 50 Authentic American Experiences in 2008, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music assembles more than 2,500 artifacts chronicling the history of the genre. Using video footage of sermons and early 20th-century gospel performances, the Roots of Soul exhibit investigates soul and gospel's close-knit relationship forged out of a mutual distaste for sea shanties, and a chronologically ordered stretch of 912 singles and 292 full-length albums adorns the winding Hall of Records. Elsewhere, the "Express Yourself" dance floor coaxes tapping toes and curmudgeonly steam engines to boogie along to continuous Soul Train footage, and inside the reconstructed Studio A, patrons glimpse the room where numerous Stax hits were recorded, accompanied by original instruments and samples of recording-session outtakes. Additional unearthed remnants include Albert King's Flying V purple guitar, a Mavis Staples stage dress, and Isaac Hayes's completely restored, gold-trimmed and fur-lined 1972 Cadillac El Dorado.
Successful carriage maker Amos Woodruff began construction on his Memphis home in 1870, designing the property in French Victorian style with a mansard roof and cypress woodwork and flooring. A year later, the mansion hosted the wedding of Amos's daughter, Mollie, marking the first public event and first of countless weddings to be held on the property. Cotton factor Noland Fontaine owned the dwelling after Amos; following the death of Noland and his wife, the home became an art school and then a vacant building until the Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities acquired the space in 1961.
Nestled among magnolia trees, the restored mansion still shelters handwritten autographs and memories of the craftsmen who helped erect the building. Just as it did for Mollie Woodruff, the property also continues to host weddings and special events with a front lawn that accommodates up to 250 visitors. A collection of more than 1,000 pieces of Victorian-era fashion, such as wedding gowns, undergarments, overgarments, and stiletto horseshoes, can be found in the home. The clothing display changes several times throughout the year along with the museum's rotating exhibitions.
For roughly a decade, the museum has been inviting curious rockers and the occasional roller to take a stroll through a musically guided journey through time. What started as an exhibit at the Smithsonian quickly took on a life of its own, developing into an independent museum commemorating the hoots and hollers of a genre. The historical galleries begin at the literal grassroots of the movement, chronicling the field music sung by rural agricultural workers. The galleries continue through the seventies, where a great deal of soul came into the mix and things really started to take off. In between, learn about the iconic label Sun Records, tips on growing a gnarly rock-n-soul beard, and how the music influenced an entire generation during the civil rights revolution.
The Fire Museum of Memphis uses a combination of interactive exhibits, artifacts, restorations, and multimedia to illustrate Memphis's history of fire damage and to honor those who dedicate their lives to fighting fires. Built inside the refurbished Fire Engine House No. 1, the museum itself is a rich piece of history. The Memorial Wall's larger-than-life sculptures are a riveting tribute to the heroes who fell in the line of duty, and a collection of prints and portraits honors the 12 brave men who made up the first class of African-American firefighters in 1955. Alongside a bevy of antiques from past eras of fire fighting, the horse-drawn E.H. Crump Steamer, named after the late mayor, will evoke a simpler time—before motor-technologies subjugated our equestrian allies to achieving glory primarily as silly-named racing horses.