Round The World and other travels

A frequent flyer's collection of trip diaries

This is: American Double 2014

From JFK to MLK ...

Morning March (quack!) and Walk

ABOVE: The tour group met at BB King's Blues Club on Beale Street

We got up around 7:15am and in due course had breakfast at the next-door branch of Starbucks. As such, we were in good time to set out at 10:15 and walk just around the corner to BB King's Blues Club on Beale Street, the designated meeting point for our pre-booked Historic Memphis walking tour with Backbeat Tours. The group soon assembled and we set off fairly briskly to cover a few blocks to a downtown Memphis landmark, the Peabody Hotel, to witness its twice-daily spectacle, the March of the Ducks. It looked as though every tourist in town had turned out, but we managed to find places on the viewing gallery above the lobby.

This improbable-sounding attraction dates from 1933, when hotel manager Frank Schutt and friend Chip Barwick returned from a hunting trip somewhat the worse for wear, and thought it would be a lark (so to speak) to place live ducks in the hotel's lobby fountain. The drunken innovation proved popular with customers and in 1940, a former circus animal trainer taught the ducks to walk to the fountain - and the rest, as they say, is history. In an interesting further twist, duck has been off the menu at the Peabody since its reopening in 1981. (See letter below: There will be no dead ducks at The Peabody!)

Ducks aside, we both took a mental note that the Peabody looked to be a likely venue for drinks at some point during our stay in town.

LEFT: A Memphis institution - the twice-daily March of the Ducks at the Peabody Hotel
LEFT: A few more Peabody impressions RIGHT: Duck is off the menu at the Peabody - even at its prestigious French restaurant

Our walk then got underway in earnest as we passed the original WDIA radio station, the first in the USA to have programming specifically geared towards African-Americans, and then General Washburn's Escape Alley, a reference to the Second Battle of Memphis during the American Civil War. As we proceeded along Main Street, we learned the disappointing and somewhat alarming news that operation of the historic trolley cars was currently suspended, due to a recent series of electrical fires.

ABOVE: The Walking Tour progresses (some photos have been omitted at this stage, as better versions became available the next day)

Further sights visited included Confederate Park, overlooking the Mississippi River; Calvary Episcopal Church (1843), the oldest public building in the city; and historic Court Square. At just two hours end-to-end, this was an enjoyable introduction to Memphis and certainly not an endurance test.

ABOVE: A Southern staple for lunch

Having worked up an appetite, it was now time to enjoy a taste of some classic Southern soul food, courtesy of Gus's (self-proclaimed 'world famous') Fried Chicken, which according to online consensus, was the best in town. As expected, there was a line to get in, but it moved quickly enough and lunch proved to be plain, wholesome and very tasty.

A sobering afternoon

Our next destination was just a few blocks away: the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, site of the assassination in April 1968 of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. Dr King, a Baptist minister and civil rights activist who was regarded as one of the finest orators in American history, had travelled to Memphis to speak in support of a strike by black public sector workers. The museum now at this location not only tells his story, but documents in moving detail the wider struggle that changed America forever. I thought that the main exhibition was superbly well presented, while the second building across the street (devoted mainly to the assassin) seemed more of an afterthought.

RIGHT and BELOW: The National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel

The sun sets on Beale Street

Before returning to base, we took the opportunity to have a second look at Beale Street, which was looking a bit more lively and atmospheric as the sun got ready to slip below the horizon.

We had drinks in the attractive lobby bar on arrival back at the Westin, and then relaxed in the room for a bit. Given the calorific nature of lunch, any sort of American-sized dinner was out of the question. We set out in search of a lighter alternative, but a poor choice led to a thoroughly mediocre and disappointing Chinese meal at a place on Main Street.

Saturday 08 Nov

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