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.
A log cabin sits huddled in the woods as breezes sway rolling grasses and flowerbeds across the 1,120 acres that surround it. A Federal-style mansion stands tall against the sky, its columns flanking a towering front door and presidential balcony. Carrying on a 200-year tradition, The Hermitage tells the story of the presidential family, its plantation's slave population, and the atmosphere of the time through 32 historic buildings and more than a dozen archaeological sites.
The mansion and visitor center boast 3,000 original objects and 800,000 archaeological artifacts on display, as well as 1,200 printed items, 3,000 photographs, and 800 manuscripts bearing the president's original handwriting and cappuccino stains. The mansion's Greek-revival woodwork and mantels frame original wallpaper, and glass cases hold Andrew Jackson's authentic glasses, slippers, top hats, swords, and canes. Inside the visitor center, the Jacksons' actual private carriage guards a hallway leading to collections of artifacts from the plantation's slave families and communities. Most items in the collections were purchased directly from the Jackson family, though many artifacts were uncovered in the late 1800s by the historic Ladies' Hermitage Association when they broke ground for a new Olympic-sized swimming pool.
On the outdoor grounds, trained guides usher visitors to the first Hermitage, a log cabin where the Jackson family lived while the mansion was being built, and Alfred's Cabin, the preserved 1840s quarters of the former groundskeeper. In the garden, winding trails take visitors past period plants and the Grecian-style tombs of Andrew and Rachel Jackson. The rest of The Hermitage's grounds contain a network of winding walking trails, as well as grassy areas and cabins where museum staffers host events, weddings, and birthday parties. Across the grounds, interpreters in authentic period dress direct visitors to the sites of historic events and often train grade-school students to do the same through the center's special school programs.
Ijams Nature Center is committed to outdoor conservation and recreation, supplying members with rugged nature trails, an eco-friendly learning center, and a wildlife sanctuary spread over 300 acres. The visitor's center reduces energy emissions through passive solar heating, and most of the building's surfaces were constructed using materials made from recycled newspaper, cardboard, and grocery bags. New and permanent exhibits fill this space, such as Ijams Family History—which showcases the traditional preserved birds that highlight their passion for ornithology. Inside the forest exhibit, correct answers to questions light up components inside a giant walk-through tree, and glass cases hold specimens such as a hummingbird nest and snakeskin.
Heading outside, guests enter the raptor enclosure—a sheltered structure and small amphitheater housing a red-tailed hawk and turkey vulture, who read excerpts from their favorite Looney Tunes fan fiction during educational demonstrations. From here, all-ages visitors explore a greenhouse and organic garden. Children can frolic in Jo's Grove—an interactive nature play area replete with hidden spaces and materials for building a nature fort. Hikers and mountain bikers can traverse ten miles of surface trails that wind through mature woodlands, as well as Mead's Quarry and Ross Marble Natural Area.
In the late 1970s, a group of forward thinkers hatched an ambitious plan to bring Chattanooga citizens closer to nature. With the help of the Junior League of Chattanooga, the group raised more than $500,000, and in September 1979, The Chattanooga Arboretum and Nature Center was born. Since then, the center has invited more than half a million visitors to explore its 317 acres of forests, fields, and streams as well as raising consciousness with educational programs targeted at schoolchildren, summer campers, and scouts. Their efforts have helped to conserve the approximately 50 native animal species inhabiting the park, including bald eagles and endangered red wolves.
State-of-the-art when it was built, the environmentally engineered main building has remained largely unchanged over the past 33 years. Features such as solar-heating systems, southern-facing windows, and 99% natural R-38 insulation continue to model sustainable-building practices to park visitors and squirrels looking to passively heat their nests.
The Discovery Center enlivens kids’ learning experiences by cleverly disguising exhibits as awesome playtime arenas. Tiny tots and even 10-year-olds are encouraged to run wild at this hands-on children’s museum and nature center, trying their hand at the many fun activities.
At the creation station, which is stocked with paint, clay, chalk, paper, and just about anything a young da Vinci or police sketch artist needs, kids are free to unleash their creative potential. Alternatively, at the fire-truck exhibit, they can put on a firefighter’s boots and hat and climb aboard the full-sized 1954 Oren fire truck to learn about a firefighter’s job in Murfreesboro. Nearby, at Tennessee Live!, they can get in touch with their natural surroundings when they come face-to-face with turtles, fish, and snakes at the living stream table, dig in the fossil pit, and learn about the customs of the native Cherokee.
The International Rock-A-Billy Hall of Fame entertains and informs music buffs with one of the genre's only existing video libraries, along with 16 life-size oil paintings and scores of rock relics. Tour guide Henry Harrison schools guests on rockabilly music's greatest entertainers, revealing quirky facts and long-division problems that lend insight into the lives of luminaries such as Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and others. Listen as pompadoured performers tell tales of making music history through the hall of fame's video library, or view vibrant portraits of legends such as Sam Phillips and Shelby Singleton, the only owners of historic Sun Records. Peruse obscure artifacts from concerts and stage costumes, or model next year's yard display after the museum's Christmas-themed replica of Graceland. In addition to its interior exhibits, the Rock-A-Billy Hall of Fame boasts vibrant exterior murals depicting Perkins and his original band, Sir Paul McCartney, and unruly mobs of teenagers trying to request the stars' e-mail addresses.
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