Kids Rock N Roll in Memphis

User Contributed August 14, 2010 1 Comment


When you think of Memphis, Tennessee, you naturally think “Rock N Roll,” Graceland, Sun Studio, and everything Elvis. However, would you ever think of Victorian England, Pink Palaces, and Mud?  I recently took along my two grandchildren, Scottie, 12, and Millie, 8 on my annual pilgrimage to Graceland. As you may have guessed I’m a big Elvis fan with every record he ever made in my collection.  I should also mention that I have a towel the King himself supposedly wiped his sweat on during a concert, safely stored in my freezer.  After three decades of visiting the Buckingham Palace of Music, I surprised myself (at my age a nearly impossible feat) seeing a new, kid-centric side of Memphis, Tennessee, thanks to my grandchildren.   

Memphis is the largest city in the state, third largest in the South Eastern area of the United States, and the nineteenth largest in the country. It is hardly the rural, rock-n-roll obsessed destination my grandkids thought it would be. A quick glance at the city guide in our hotel room at the Days Inn Memphis at Graceland at 3839 Elvis Presley Blvd. (Yup, it’s across from Graceland) showed more museums, art galleries, shopping malls, and parks than we could count with both hands. In fact, a lobby staffer proudly hailed the city’s international appeal with galleries dedicated to impressionism and 19th Century Chinese art (who’d have guessed), both of which you would find, respectively, at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens and the Peabody Place Museum. Of course, while this was news to me, these weren’t in the stars with Scottie and Millie already planning our itinerary.   

Well, I can be thankful that Graceland made their list. After all, I must have mentioned every hour that, for Grandma Dorothy, it was my whole reason for going—apart from spending quality time with my grandkids.   

Woodruff-Fontaine House in Memphis Victorian Village

Woodruff-Fontaine House in Memphis Victorian Village

We would save the best for last and started our adventures at the Victorian Village. As the kids put it, it’s as old as “Grams.”  They stand corrected; Memphis’ Victorian Village was built in the mid-1800s. I am a World War 2 model.  However, they were right, I love old things (just ask Grandpa Daniel back home), and the whole eastern block of downtown Memphis is known as the Victorian Village District at 671 Jefferson Avenue. Our short jaunt there made me nostalgic for small town life. The row of historic houses is open to the public Tuesday thru Saturday.   

We took a walking tour along Adam’s Avenue and through the remaining examples of Memphis’ wealthy past when it’s most affluent citizens built Italian style villas like the Mallory-Neely House (closed on our visit), the Greek Revival-style Pillow-McIntyre House, and the French-Victorian Woodruff-Fontaine House. Millie’s favourite, of course, was the Victorian Gingerbread playhouse in the area, the antique furnishings (“dollhouse”-chic, Millie christened it), and the Victorian era clothing with uncomfortable-looking cinched waists and reams of velvet that were displayed at the Woodruff-Fontaine House’s in-house museum.   

Provide an educational experience for the kids during our trip. Check.  Now it was time to go for some good old-fashioned F-U-N at Mud Island located at 125 North Front Street. We found Mud Island River Park also in downtown Memphis in a small peninsula bordered by the Mississippi River on the west and the Wolf River Harbour on the east. Upon our arrival, we rode a Swiss-manufactured monorail during which we absorbed the marvels of downtown Memphis, the world-famous Mississippi River, and Mud Island itself with its popular River Walk.   

A trip to Mud Island does require one educational stop (the kids protested too, at first) at the Mississippi River Museum.  When we arrived they immediately took an interest in learning about the early Native Americans who lived on the land, marvelling at their pottery, tools, and trade goods. They also learned about the first European explorers of the area through their maps and primitive technology. The third group Scottie and Millie were happy to learn  about were Memphis’ first settlers with their pioneer tools, glass China, and textiles. It was the evolution of the Mississippi’s transportation that really caught the kids’ imagination as a display showed us the progress from man-powered canoes to steam-powered riverboats.   

Of course, kids will be kids, and they naturally found the most fascinating part of the tour to be the Theatre of Disasters Gallery that ended our stop at Mud Island. The full audio and video presentation recreated tragedies on the river much to the kid’s heightened fascination. I have to admit it’s one of my favourites as well.   

It was only mid-afternoon, but lunch was already on our minds. It was my personal mission to treat my grandkids to a lunch for which Elvis himself would have give a thumbs up.  Jim Neely’s Interstate BBQ is located at 2265 South 3rd Street. This family-friendly restaurant gave us the best BBQ for our buck. I ordered the BBQ spaghetti for the kiddies. It is such a unique, memorable dish that you might be tempted to order it yourself if you can live with the mess. However, for the adults, I recommend a little of this and a little of that…literally. The Sampler Platter is indeed a trip to Hog Heaven (it says so on the menu) with pork ribs, beef ribs, links, beef brisket, and pork shoulder, along with sides, all for $18.75 (you might not need to eat for the rest of the trip after this meal!)  

There are family packs and child’s plates available too. The sweet potato pie was a satisfying end to our family feast in honour of Elvis.   

Memphis Replica of America’s first self-service grocery at the Pink Palace

Replica of America’s first self-service grocery at the Pink Palace

After a quick stop at our hotel to change out of our BBQ-stained clothes, we dropped by the Pink Palace only because it was Millie’s turn to choose and she “thinks in pink.” Located at 3050 Central Avenue, don’t let the fact that it is a museum fool you into thinking its hum-drum. At this immense location, one of the largest museums in the South East, sure we learned about the yellow fever epidemic in Memphis, but the kids also got a slice of Americana with the Piggly Wiggly exhibit, including a walk-through replica of the United States’ first ever self-service grocery store that is still in operation today. In fact, the very concept of a self-service grocery store was patented by Piggly Wiggly founder Charles Saunders. Just goes to show you—there’s nothing new under the sun!  So we had a full day of kid-friendly fun, but now our second day was Gram’s time to shine!   

Hello Graceland!   

Graceland Memphis Tennessee

Graceland Memphis

Graceland needs no address—just ask any Memphian (that’s what people from Memphis are called). If you do need one, Graceland is at 3764 Elvis Presley Blvd. on Highway 51 South. The former home of the legendary Elvis Presley is second only to the White House as the most visited home in the United States. Almost 600,000 visitors from all over the world flock here yearly like me.   

And as we strode into the 14-acre estate, my giddiness infected the kids who learned more about the mansion and its former owner via a one and a half hour audio guided tour that took us through the house, including the living room, bedrooms (Elvis’ parents lived there too), kitchen, dining room, TV room, music room, and pool room, among many other rooms. Guest starring on the audio tour was Elvis himself who added commentaries and his own memories.  The King’s daughter Lisa Marie Presley was there too. She gave us a rare look at life growing up in Graceland. The mansion tour ended at the Meditation Garden where Elvis is buried.   

Our day, of course, did not end there. Next, we dropped by Elvis’ Car Museum which houses 33 cars owned by the king. Scottie was wide eyed as he observed the various classics including the Pink Cadillac, Harley Davidson motorcycles, Stutz Blackhawks, a 1956 Cadillac El Dorado convertible, a 1975 Dino Ferrari, and a piece of movie history, the red MG from the movie “Blue Hawaii” starring Elvis.   

My personal favourite leg of the Graceland tour was the Elvis Jumpsuits All-Access, showcasing the world’s largest exhibit of the King’s costumes, including all 56 of his famous stage outfits. What true Elvis fan wouldn’t feel their destiny fulfilled being in the same space as these artefacts chronicling the evolution of Elvis Presley’s look through time.  You can even buy souvenirs at this stop in the tour.   

Youthful Grandma Dorothy

Youthful Grandma Dorothy

Finally, the last leg of Grandma Dorothy’s dream vacation was the Elvis After Dark exhibit that featured rare photos and memorabilia from the King’s life away from the spotlight. Included were clothing, personal items, photos, and more. The EAD exhibit remains open after everything else in Graceland has closed.   

All in all, the kids experienced a once-in-a-lifetime getaway with grandma that included a ton of history from Victorian mansions to the history-making music of the King to little-known Americana that will make them appreciate their next trip to the supermarket. As for me, I saw another side to my annual trip to Memphis, Tennessee that will add a little bit more Elvis Presley-style pizzazz to my future visits. Thanks, Scottie and Millie!

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One Comments to “Kids Rock N Roll in Memphis”
  1. avatar Road Trip West through Dickerson, Knoxville, and Memphis Tennessee says:

    [...] miles today and we’re STILL in Tennessee–past Nashville, but still about 170 miles from Memphis. Ben, my middle child, has pronounced Tennessee “BORING.” He seems to only be [...]