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 captain licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard, Jim Steele’s more than 25 years of boating⎯including time spent at the helm of Opryland’s water taxis⎯comes in handy as he coaxes The Blue Heron, a specially built 40-foot pontoon, about the Cheatham Wildlife Management Area on daily tours. Out on the water amid soothing birdsongs and the burbles of river critters, Captain Jim can be found behind the wheel of the craft, exercising his chops as an entertainer as he regales his passengers with chuckle-inducing anecdotes and factoids about local flora and fauna. With the comfort and safety of his guests always in mind, Captain Jim equipped the Heron with a restroom and keeps the vessel stocked with a comprehensive library of life jackets to fit adults, children, and pet iguanas of all ages and sizes. Hitting an average cruising speed of 5 to 10 miles per hour, the Heron affords its passengers leisurely looks at area wildlife as it embarks upon all manner of tours, from gold-tinged sunset cruises to kids' adventures punctuated by the gleeful laughter of curious youngsters.
In 2011, WBIR-TV reported that local racecar driver Trevor Bayne dropped by Oakes Farm to see his face carved into the cornfield. The farm had adopted Bayne as that year's maze theme, shaping the field to look like his face and his racecar when viewed from above. On the ground, however, the maze was a tangle of curves and dead ends that often took guests 90 minutes to solve, longer if they neglected to learn ancient Greek in order to ask the minotaur directions.
The farm updates its agricultural labyrinth annually to reflect a new motif, but it never fails to entertain explorers with its routes and interactive games. Just as delightful are the hayrides that ferry visitors to and from the pumpkin patch, the smell of autumnal sweets from the Cornfections stand, and the echoes of laughter from inside the Mine Shaft—a giant slide in the farm's Back 40 entertainment area. These attractions, alongside animal exhibits, pedal karts, and open zones for freeform play, draw families to the seasonal hotspot. In the days approaching Halloween, however, the farm endeavors to make patrons flee with its haunted attractions and pop quizzes for school children.
The Junior League of Chattanooga, a coalition of local women improving their community through charity work and education, won the 2011 Nonprofit of the Year award from its city’s chamber of commerce. Recognized as the second oldest Junior League chapter in the South, the organization has poured approximately $2 million and 425,000 volunteer hours into the city since its founding in 1917. With more than 600 current members, the Junior League of Chattanooga fundraises by holding annual events, such as the Tour du Jour, a walking tour of stylish local kitchens, and by selling the League cookbook, Seasoned to Taste, which features recipes for delectable meals and after-dinner treats sweeter than the heartwarming bird song of a marshmallow Peep. League wealth flows throughout the city, funding the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile as well as advocacy against online predators and workshops on baby-care basics.
When Franklin on Foot founder and guide Margie Thessin discusses the Civil War’s impact on Franklin, she shuns dry textbook summaries. Instead, she gathers groups before historic homes and battle sites, and she explains, “The war happened here. The people who lived here, this war was their 9/11. This was their Pearl Harbor.” Suddenly, she sees sets of eyes light up, as minds make the leap from musty tomes and texts to the people who lived—and fought and died—where they now stand 150 years ago.
To make history relevant, Ms. Thessin humanizes it, honing in on the famous and lesser-known people who shaped Franklin and the struggles they faced to do so. In that spirit, she seeks out guides who are not only passionate about history, but also possess a natural knack for storytelling.
In keeping with her commitment to orchestrate vivid tours, Ms. Thessin conducts them by bike or on foot. “You get so much from a place by walking it instead of looking out a window of a bus—you may as well fly at 32,000 feet,” she says. Small groups of sightseers stroll or if preferred, Charleston across the downtown area or expand their tour’s scope by cruising on one of Franklin on Foot’s 24-speed Fuji bikes.
In the gulches of an abandoned phosphate mine, a labyrinthine path echoes with the roar of unseen chainsaws and the rustles of hidden ghouls. Monsters and zombies lurk in the darkness at Millers Thrillers Zombie Paintball Hayride and Haunted Woods, but it isn't mere craving for blood or brains that makes them so eager to terrify––the scary staff members actually receive a bonus for making visitors wet themselves. Really. “I did always like Halloween," says founder and owner David Miller.
Miller wasn’t always in the pants-wetting business, but you might say the business of Halloween in his blood. He grew up growing and selling pumpkins with his grandfather and––though he admits he was too scared to try them as a kid––his interest in haunted houses led him to intense study in the art of scaring, including seminars and conventions. His interest in creating eerie worlds inspired him to begin his walk through haunted woods and zombie-paintball hayride––during which visitors wield mounted paintball guns to fire upon advancing zombies and blank canvases hurled by poltergeists. But landing a few paintball hits won't be enough to ease the natural terror of the haunt's surroundings. “There’s a lot of spooky stuff around all this country farmland… with no streetlights in sight,” Miller says. “We…play on the fact that people are going to feel like they’re lost in the middle of nowhere.”
Despite the fright fest’s scariness, Miller’s real aim is to give visitors a good time. Staff members go easy on little kids and the elderly, and at the end of the walk, customers can calm chattering teeth around a fire pit and rejoin the world of the living by gathering around the concession stand or a stage that hosts a nightly illusionist and zombie drum line.