Published on July 12th, 2012 | by TLV News0
Summer Road Trip Series: The All-Important Memphis Road Trip (by Sarah Reddick, from TLV #160)
The Pink Palace Family of Museums in Memphis, which recently celebrated its 75th anniversary, is a perfect destination for folks who want to beat the heat and learn something new about the world at the same time.
The Pink Palace Museum operates in conjunction with the Crew Training International IMAX Theater, the Lichterman Nature Center, and the Sharpe Planetarium. The Pink Palace actually is a mansion built of pink Georgian marble. The mansion was originally built in the early 1920s to be the home of Memphian Clarence Saunders, founder of the Piggly Wiggly chain of grocery stores, but was eventually given to the city.
We began our visit by wandering through the museum. The museum has an impressive number of exhibits. The first exhibit we encountered was a natural history exhibit that included the skeletons of several different types of animals, ranging in size from a mole to a lion. Adjacent to that exhibit is one that allows a visitor to explore the natural history of the Mid-South through audio-visuals that include photographs, paintings, and a variety of animals placed in a full scale recreation of their natural habitat.
One glass case displayed a dozen or so perfect stone spheres. The placard on the wall explained that the beautiful spheres were “the work of Ward Hutchins, whose unusual hobby grew out of two of his passions—mineralogy and bowling.” The stones’ names were as appealing as the spheres themselves; orbicular rhyolite, falcon eye, petrified palm wood, and variscite, to name a few.
On the second floor you can walk through a replica of Clarence Saunders’ Piggly Wiggly, which was the first self-service grocery store in the country. Right next to that is an astounding circus in miniature. The Clyde Park Circus Parade is built on one inch to one foot scale, and it is amazingly intricate. When it is operational, hand-carved members of the circus move around on a circular track on the perimeter of the replica for thirty minutes every day. You can also see the “Bigger Than T-Rex” exhibit upstairs, which consists of “the largest collection of carnivore bones ever seen in the Mid-South.” There are enormous skeletons from Argentina on display, and a very large animatronic dinosaur replica that swings its tail and roars quite convincingly.
After touring the museum we caught a show at the IMAX Theater. Born to Be Wild is a film that chronicles the work of two real life heroines; primatologist Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas who rehabilitates orphaned orangutans in Borneo, and Dame Daphne M. Sheldrick, who rehabilitates orphaned elephants in Kenya. Narrated by Morgan Freeman, this moving documentary is impossible to turn away from. The lush rainforests stand in stark contrast to the rough, dry terrain of the savannah, and the animals and their benefactors tell a moving and inspiring story. The IMAX will also be showing two other films this summer; To the Arctic, narrated by Meryl Streep, and Tornado Alley, narrated by Bill Paxton.
We headed down towards Beale to grab a bite to eat after leaving the museum. We decided to go to The Flying Saucer Draught Emporium. The Saucer boasts a beer selection that would impress even the most intrepid enthusiast. There are hundreds of beers, domestic and imported, available on tap or bottled. The menu is set up to please any palate—build your own pizzas, wraps, sandwiches, and a selection called “The Hungry Farmer Plate,” which allows you to choose from a variety of cured meats and aged cheeses. I decided on prosciutto, black pepper salami, and whiskey cheddar. The plate also comes with bread, an olive salad spread, apple slices, and horseradish mustard sauce.
Looking around the spacious interior I noticed all of the brass plates affixed to the walls and ceilings. The names on the plates belong to the Beerknurds who’ve made it into the Ring of Honor, customers who’ve tried more than 200 kinds of beer at the Saucer. To attempt to make it into the Ring, a customer pays $18 for a Beerknurds t-shirt and a magnetic card that records every beer the patron drinks. I have to say, the Flying Saucer is such a great establishment that if I lived in Memphis, I’d be tempted to attempt a new record.