The Children's Tour of Memphis

My adventures last weekend in Memphis started with a tour of the Peabody Hotel, chronicled here yesterday. After that tour, we, a group of twelve adults and fourteen children, walked a block or so over to historic Beale Street. By noon, there were already people partying in the street and live music coming from all directions. We enjoyed lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe and shopped for souvenirs at Schwab's.

I asked the kids if they wanted to see the National Civil Rights Museum. Several said no, and one asked, "What's that?" I said it was the hotel where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. They changed their minds immediately! The word "museum" sounds like a real bummer when you're eleven years old, but they all knew who Martin Luther King, Jr. was.


From this angle, you'd never know the hotel is now a museum. It looks pretty much the same as it did in the 60s. But step inside, and there's so much much more.


Martin Luther King, Jr. was staying at the Lorraine hotel during his appearance in Memphis in support of the sanitation worker's strike in 1968. He left his room on April 4th and was shot on the balcony from across the street. The hotel stayed in business until the property fell into foreclosure in 1982. A group of Memphis citizens raised money to save the historic landmark, and the National Civil Rights Museum opened in 1991.

We also rode a trolley and visited the Gibson Guitar Factory in the same neighborhood.


Sunday began with a trip to the Memphis Zoo, home of Le Le and Ya Ya. Memphis is one of four US zoos to host giant pandas. I've visited three of them now (the others are in Atlanta and Washington, DC); only San Diego is left on my to-see list.


Le Le appeared to enjoy watching us as much as we enjoyed watching him. The pandas were behind a glass wall, so the pictures are no substitute for being there. You can see the Memphis pandas yourself on the zoo's panda cam.


The Northwest Passage section features an underwater viewing room, where we lingered for the air conditioning. You can watch polar bears swim in their personal pond cooled by big chunks of ice. On the other side, a sea lion hammed it up for the kids. We later saw her strut her stuff in a live show.


She is star material. When I asked the kids to turn around for a picture, the sea lion flashed her best smile, too. We also saw elephants, apes, and exotic birds. A bit later, I watched an ostrich lay an egg. I failed to get my camera out in time, but figured it's just as well since it was a bit gross.


Meanwhile, the kids were in little girl heaven at the enclosed butterfly garden.


The rest of the weekend was devoted to swimming, eating, and taking pictures. A good time was had by all.

For more things to see and do in Memphis, Tennessee, see Memphis Music Tour and More of Memphis.

© via Wikimedia Commons // CC-BY-SA-4.0
The People of Texel Island are Professional Beachcombers
© via Wikimedia Commons // CC-BY-SA-4.0
© via Wikimedia Commons // CC-BY-SA-4.0

If you’ve ever tossed a message in a bottle into the ocean from anywhere in Northern Europe, it’s likely it ended up on Texel Island. Located off the North Coast of the Netherlands, Texel is at the intersection of several major currents, and close to several shipping routes. For the last 400 years, Texel residents have survived, in part, by scavenging items that have been lost at sea.

According to documentarian Sam Walkerdine in a piece for The Mirror, the practice has faded as other economic opportunities have opened up, but many residents still scour the beaches for lost items. One professional beachcomber, Cor Ellen, claims to have found over 500 bottles with letters inside—and has even answered some of them.

Ellen is one of the subjects of Flotsam and Jetsam (2012), Walkerdine’s 13-minute documentary on the Texel Island beachcombers (you can watch it above). In the film, a handful of Texel Islanders show off their best finds, and share their stories and strange observations. Ellen, for example, brags about scavenging crates of food, fur coats, powdered milk (“I didn’t have to go to the milkman for one year”), and even umbrella handles from passing cargo ships. Another beachcomber reminisces about finding something more personal: the collected photos and memorabilia of an English couple who had broken up and tossed their memories into the sea.

One of the weirder observations comes from Piet Van Leerson, whose family has been beachcombing for at least five generations: he claims that only left shoes wash up on Texel’s shores. The right shoes, meanwhile, end up in England and Scotland. (The shapes cause them to go in different directions.)

Beachcombing is such a big part of life on Texel, they’ve even opened several museums to show off their weirdest, funniest, and most interesting finds.

If you do decide to try and get a bottle with a letter in it to Texel, the residents have a few suggestions for you: drop the bottle somewhere off the coast of England, weigh it down with pebbles so it doesn’t get caught by the wind, and of course, remember to include a return address.

YouTube / British Movietone / AP
A Film Tour of London in 1981
YouTube / British Movietone / AP
YouTube / British Movietone / AP

Earlier this month, the Associated Press began releasing loads of archival video on YouTube. A large part of that collection comes from British Movietone, which has uploaded thousands of videos of all kinds, including many newsreels.

I have scrolled through countless pages of such videos—most without sound and/or extremely esoteric—and I finally discovered a 1981 gem, This is London. It's a sort of video time capsule for London as it was in the late 1970s and early 1980s, comprising plenty of stock footage of all the sights, royals, and ceremonies you can imagine.

If you've been to London, this is a great glimpse of what it once looked like. If you've never been, why not check out London circa 1981?


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