25 Things You Should Know About Memphis


Between Elvis lore and pulled pork cookouts, Tennessee’s biggest city has a lot to offer. Why not prepare for your next visit with some southern-fried Memphis trivia? 

1. Andrew Jackson is regarded as one of the city’s founders. In 1819, Old Hickory teamed up with two other land speculators (judge John Overton and General James Winchester) to establish Memphis as a hotspot for commerce. Its beginnings were humble—the place initially consisted of nothing but a fort, a trading post, and a handful of cabins.

2. It’s named after Memphis, Egypt, which served as that civilization's ancient capital until Alexandria took over the role sometime around 320 BCE.   

3. The 1862 Naval Battle of Memphis pitted two Union fleets against a lone Confederate one. Each of the three was commanded by an officer with no prior experience in river-based warfare. Even more incredibly, two of those men lacked any sort of military experience whatsoever.

4. Meat-lovers recognize four primary BBQ styles: North Carolina, Kansas City, Texas, and (of course) Memphis. In western Tennessee, barbecue chefs relish a distinctive and rather sweet sauce. This topping exposes Memphis for the major port it’s always been—while cooks in other southern cities used whatever local ingredients they could find, early Memphians could have choicer ones shipped up or down the Mississippi. Thus, molasses became a popular cornerstone in Tennessee BBQ sauce.


 Robert R. Church Park was created by (and named after) one of America’s first black millionaires. The former slave bought a huge chunk of land near Beale Street in 1899. A grand community center for African-Americans, the park boasted an auditorium with over 2000 seats that Church personally financed. 

6. Mark Twain once called Memphis the “Good Samaritan City of the Mississippi.” Nowadays, it usually goes by such nicknames as “Bluff City,” “Hoop City,” and “The Home of the Blues.”

7. One of 1912’s biggest hits, “Memphis Blues” by W.C. Handy, was the first commercially successful blues song ever written. Handy based the tune on a campaign jingle that was used by Memphian mayoral candidate Edward Crump.

8. Congress officially recognized Beale Street as the “Home of the Blues” in 1977. Given that every icon from Louis Armstrong to Muddy Waters to B.B. King performed there at some point, the choice was a no-brainer. 



We can all thank an unemployed bear for Memphis’ world-class zoo. Like many baseball clubs, the now-defunct Memphis Turtles used a live mascot, frightening home crowds with an ursid named “Natch.” A gift from businessman A.B. Carrathers, Natch’s career didn’t last long and he was promptly returned. Unable to accommodate the beast at his home, Carrathers chained him to a tree in Overton Park. Soon, a number of other unwanted pets joined him there. This prompted Col. Robert Galloway—who headed the parks commission—to request funding for a zoo in 1906.

10. Once upon a time, American shoppers couldn’t peruse grocery aisles for themselves. Instead, customers had to give their lists to their grocers who’d then turn around and gather the items. Enter Piggly Wiggly, the nation’s first self-service grocery store. After the original outlet opened in Memphis on September 6, 1916, it became a widespread chain.

11. Often regarded as the first rock 'n' roll record ever made, “Rocket 88” by Jackie Brenston was produced at the historic Sun Records Studio (a.k.a. “Sun Studios”) on Union Street in 1951. The establishment then became a hit-generating machine, churning out smash singles such as “Blue Suede Shoes” by Carl Perkins, “Great Balls of Fire” by Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line.” In 1960, it closed its doors, finally re-opening nearly three decades later after the necessary renovations were complete.

12. Back in 1953, Sun Studios would let any passerby record an album for $3.98 plus tax. That summer, a teenage trucker from Mississippi walked in and made one for his mother’s birthday. Present at the session was studio founder Sam Phillips, who was largely unimpressed by this greenhorn singer. His secretary, however, heard something she liked and, at her recommendation, the artist was invited back for a second session on July 5, 1954. Five hours in, he dazzled Phillips with a little song called “That’s All Right.” And thus began the meteoric rise of one Elvis Aaron Presley.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

 Johnny Cash worked in town as a door-to-door appliance salesman before his music career took off.

14. After retiring from showbiz, the original MGM lion was moved to the Memphis Zoo, where he passed away in 1944.

15. The last home that Elvis ever owned is now a prime tourist magnet. Every year, Graceland is the second most-visited private home in America, trailing only the White House.

16. By the way, Graceland’s name has nothing to do with The King. Originally, the property belonged to S.E. Toof, a newspaper publisher who named it after his daughter, Grace. Presley bought the place in 1957 and never re-branded it. 

17. The former Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered in 1968, has been converted into the National Civil Rights Museum

18. If you check out the famous Orpheum Theater, be wary of the mezzanine’s northern side. Rumor has it that “Mary”—the shoeless ghost of a 12-year-old girl—can often be seen enjoying shows from seat C-5.

19. Several prominent celebrities hail from Memphis, including Morgan Freeman, who was born there on June 1, 1937.

20. The city's annual Cooper-Young festival attracts over 130,000 people every year. Visitors can enjoy live music, art sales, and an ocean of craft beer.

21. When gazing at the city skyline, one building sticks out like an ancient sore thumb. The modern re-imagining of Egypt’s architectural wonders, the famed Memphis Pyramid, was built in 1991. Originally conceived as an indoor sports venue, it’s now a hotel and Bass Pro Shops megastore. Inside, visitors can hitch a ride on America’s tallest freestanding elevator, which stands 320 feet tall and stops at 28 floors.


 In 2012, Justin Timberlake became a minority owner of his hometown Memphis Grizzlies. Beforehand, Bluff City’s favorite son occasionally rocked Lakers gear. Awkward.

23. The University of Memphis’ athletic teams are known as the Tigers. In 2012, to honor the school’s centennial, 100 differently-painted tiger statues (including one whose design was modeled after Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”) were displayed on campus. If you’re in the mood for an adventure, know that most of them are now viewable at various locations around town. 

24. FedEx—a company that ships up to 22 million packages per day—has been headquartered there since 1973.

25. Memphis is home to the most spoiled ducks on planet earth. Bluff City’s ritziest five-star hotel is an establishment called “The Peabody.” In 1932, manager Frank Schutt and his hunting buddy decided to amuse the customers by placing five live ducks in the lobby’s water fountain. Schutt’s guests adored these feathered friends, and today the Peabody is the home of an all-new flock. The birds mostly while away their days inside a $200,000 duck penthouse. However, every day at 11 a.m., they’re escorted by an impeccably-dressed employee down to the Italian marble fountain for a six-hour swim.

IKEA's New Collection for Tiny Apartments Is Inspired by Life on Mars

Living in a city apartment can feel claustrophobic at times. As Co.Design reports, the Swedish furniture brand IKEA took this experience to the extreme when designers visited a simulated Mars habitat as research for their latest line of housewares aimed at urbanites.

The new collection, called Rumtid, is tailored to fit the cramped spaces that many people are forced to settle for when apartment-hunting in dense, expensive cities. The designers knew they wanted to prioritize efficiency and functionality with their new project, and Mars research provided the perfect inspiration.

At NASA's Mars Desert Research Station in Utah, scientists are figuring out how to meet the needs of potential Mars astronauts with very limited resources. Materials have to be light, so that they require as little rocket fuel as possible to ferry them to the red planet, and should ideally run on renewable energy.

IKEA's designers aren't facing quite as many challenges, but spending a few days at the simulated Martian habitat in Utah got them thinking on the right track. The team also conducted additional research at the famously snug capsule hotels in Tokyo. The Rumtid products they came up with include an indoor terrarium shaped like a space-age rocket, a set of colorful, compact air purifiers, and light-weight joints and bars that can be snapped into modular furniture.

The collection isn't ready to hit IKEA shelves just yet—the chain plans to make Rumtid available for customers by 2020. In the meantime, the designers hope to experiment with additional science fiction-worthy ideas, including curtains that clean the air around them.

Air purifiers designed for urban living.

Furniture joints on bubble wrap on black table.

Modular furniture holding water bag.

[h/t Co.Design]

All images courtesy of IKEA.

8 Projects That Reenvision the Traditional Cemetery

Globally, nearly 57 million people died in 2016. If you happen to be a cemetery caretaker, you might be wondering where we managed to put them all. Indeed, many cemeteries in the world’s major cities are filling up fast, with no choice left but to tear up walkways, trees, and green spaces just to make room for more graves.

In response to these concerns, a variety of visionaries have attempted to reimagine the modern cemetery. These plans tend to fall into one of two camps: Biologists and environmentalists have brainstormed alternate methods for disposing of bodies, some of which are said to be better for the planet than the traditional methods of burial and cremation. Meanwhile, architects have looked at ways of adapting the burial space itself, whether that means altering a traditional cemetery or creating something new and more ephemeral. Here are just a few of the creative ideas that have emerged in recent years.


As cemeteries started running out of ground to dig, it was only a matter of time before they started building up. There's been a lot of talk about skyscraper cemeteries in recent years, although the idea dates back to at least 1829, when British architect Thomas Willson proposed a 94-story mausoleum in London.

"The vertical cemetery, with its open front, will become a significant part of the city and a daily reminder of death’s existence," says Martin McSherry, whose design for an open-air skyscraper cemetery with layers of park-like burial grounds was one of the proposals presented at the Oslo Conference for Nordic Cemeteries and Graveyards in 2013. Another recent plan by architecture students in Sweden suggested repurposing a cluster of silos into a vertical columbarium (a place to store urns). Brazil’s Memorial Necrópole Ecumênica was one of the first places to implement this vertical concept back in 1984, and at 32 stories high, it currently holds the Guinness World Record for the tallest cemetery.


For much of human history, graves were often reused, or common graves were dug deep enough to accommodate multiple bodies stacked one on top of the other. “Our current cemetery design is actually a pretty new thing,” Allison Meier, a New York City cemetery tour guide (and Mental Floss writer), tells us. “It wasn’t normal for everyone to get a headstone in the past and we didn’t have these big sprawling green spaces.”

Now that many urban cemeteries are filling up, the idea of reusing plots is once again gaining popularity. In London, it’s estimated that only one-third of the city’s boroughs will have burial space by 2031. In response, the City of London Cemetery—one of the biggest cemeteries in Britain—has started reusing certain grave plots (the practice is legal in the city, even though grave reuse is outlawed elsewhere in England).

Across continental Europe, however, it's not uncommon for graves to be "rented" rather than bought for all eternity. In countries like the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, and Greece, families can hold a plot for their loved one as long as they continue to pay a rental fee. If they stop paying, the grave may be reused, with the previous remains either buried deeper or relocated to a common grave.

Meier says she isn’t aware of any cemeteries in New York City that have started reusing their plots, though. “That’s a tough thing for Americans to get on board with because it’s been a normal practice in a lot of places, but it’s never been normal here,” she says.


A rendering of a floating columbarium
BREAD Studio

Ninety percent of bodies in Hong Kong are cremated, according to CNN, and niches in the city's public columbaria are at a premium. The average wait for a space is about four years, sparking concerns that Hong Kongers could be forced to move their loved ones' ashes across the border to mainland China, where more space is available. (A space at a private columbarium in Hong Kong can be prohibitively expensive, at a cost of about $128,000.) To address this issue, a proposal emerged in 2012 to convert a cruise ship into a floating columbarium dubbed the “Floating Eternity.” Designed by Hong Kong and London-based architecture firm BREAD Studio, the columbarium would be able to accommodate the ashes of 370,000 people. Although it's still just an idea, BREAD Studio designer Benny Lee tells CNN, "A floating cemetery is the next natural step in Hong Kong's history of graveyards."


An underwater lion sculpture and other memorials
Neptune Reef

Land may be limited, but the sea is vast—and several companies want to take the cemetery concept underwater. At Neptune Memorial Reef off the coast of Key Biscayne, Florida, human ashes are mixed with cement to create unique memorials in the shape of seashells and other objects of the client's choice. The memorials are then taken by divers to the ocean floor and incorporated into a human-made reef designed to look like the Lost City of Atlantis. Eternal Reefs, based out of Sarasota, Florida, offers a similar service.


Not a water person? Try space instead. Elysium Space, a San Francisco-based company founded by a former software engineer at NASA, offers a couple of “celestial services.” At a cost of nearly $2500, the Shooting Star Memorial “delivers a symbolic portion of your loved one’s remains to Earth’s orbit, only to end this celestial journey as a shooting star,” while the Lunar Memorial will deliver a "symbolic portion" of human remains to the surface of the moon for a fee of nearly $10,000. Another company, Celestis, offers similar services ranging in price from $1300 to $12,500.


Shoveling soil

Critics of burial and cremation say both are bad for the environment. To address the need for a memorial method that doesn’t emit carbon dioxide, waste resources, or release carcinogenic embalming fluid into the soil, a number of eco-friendly options have emerged. One such innovation is the “mushroom burial suit," a head-to-toe outfit that's lined with mushroom spores designed to devour human tissue and absorb the body's toxins. Another company, Recompose, espouses human composting—a process by which a corpse would be converted into a cubic yard of soil, which could then be used to nurture new life in a garden. The procedure isn’t legal yet, but the company plans to work with the Washington State legislature to make it available to the general public before eventually rolling it out nationwide.


Many innovative proposals have emerged from the DeathLAB at Columbia University, including a plan to convert human biomass (organic matter) into light. The design—a constellation of light that would serve as both a memorial and art installation—won a competition hosted by Future Cemetery, a collaboration between the University of Bath’s Centre for Death & Society and media company Calling the Shots. John Troyer, director of the UK-based center, says they're working on raising funds to install a concept piece based on that design at Arnos Vale Cemetery in Bristol, England, but any usage of actual biomass would have to be cleared through the proper regulatory channels first. According to DeathLAB, the project would save significant space—within six years, it would more than double the capacity of the cemetery orchard where the memorials would be installed.


As virtual reality technology gets more and more advanced, some question whether a physical cemetery is needed at all. The website, founded by a Hong Kong entrepreneur, lets users "create virtual headstones anywhere in an augmented reality landscape of Hong Kong, including such unlikely places as a downtown park," as Reuters describes it. In Japan, one online cemetery allows the bereaved to “light” incense, share memories of their loved one in comments, and even grab a virtual glass of beer. Similarly, an app called RiPCemetery created a social network where users can craft a virtual memorial and share photos of the deceased.

However, Troyer says he doesn’t believe technology will ever usurp the need for physical spaces. “A lot of the companies talking about digital solutions talk about ‘forever’—and that’s very complicated with the internet, because the virtual material we create can easily disappear," he told the The Guardian. "The lowly gravestone has been a very successful human technology, and I suspect it will last … I would go with granite.”


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