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25 Things You Should Know About Memphis

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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.

 


5.
 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. 

 

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9. 
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.

 

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13.
 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.

 


22.
 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.

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Why a Train Full of New York City Poop Was Stranded in Alabama for Two Months
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Residents of Parrish, Alabama probably aren't too fond of New Yorkers right now. That’s because the town is currently home to a full trainload of poop courtesy of the Big Apple, as Bloomberg reports. Some 200 shipping containers of treated sewage have been stuck in Parrish for more than two months while the town takes landfill operators to court.

New York City doesn't keep its own sewage sludge to itself, and it hasn't for decades. In the 1980s, New York City was dumping its "biosolids"—the solids left over from sewage treatment, i.e., your poop—into the Atlantic Ocean, where it settled on the bottom of the sea floor in a thick film stretching over 80 square nautical miles. When the government banned the practice of dumping waste straight into the ocean, the city had to get creative, finding a way to get rid of the 1200 tons of biosolids produced there every day.

Enter the poop train. As a 2013 Radiolab episode taught us (we highly recommend you listen for yourself), treated sludge was eventually shipped out to other states to use as fertilizer in the 1990s. After farmers in Colorado began noticing better growth and fewer pests in the fields they grew with New York City's finest sewer sludge, growers in other states began clamoring to take the big-city poop by the train-full, too. That tide has turned, though, and now no one wants the city's poop. Because of the cost of running the program, the train to Colorado stopped in 2010.

Now, biosolids are instead shipped to landfills upstate and in places like Georgia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, according to The Wall Street Journal. And Alabama. For more than a year, the Big Sky landfill near Parrish has been accepting New York City biosolids, and the locals who have to deal with trainloads of rotting waste aren’t happy.

Normally, the sludge would be loaded onto trucks and then driven the last stretch to get to the landfill. But Parrish and its nearby neighbor of West Jefferson aren't interested in playing host to those messy poop transfers anymore. As the two towns take the landfill operators to court over it, the trains are stuck where they are, next to Parrish's Little League baseball fields. The trainload of sludge is blocked from either being sent to the landfill or back to New York City. While the city has stopped shipping more waste to Big Sky, it essentially said "no takebacks" regarding what they've already sent south. Short of a legal decision, that poop isn't moving.

Needless to say, the residents of Parrish would really, really like to resolve this before summer hits.

Update: Parrish residents can officially breathe easy. The last of the sludge has now been removed from the town, and Big Sky has ended its operation there, according to a Facebook post from Mayor Heather Hall. The containers that remain have been emptied of their smelly cargo and will be removed sometime before Friday, April 20.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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The Self-Deploying Flood Barrier That Could Keep Cities Dry Without Sandbags
MegaSecur, YouTube
MegaSecur, YouTube

For many places in the world, the future is going to be wet. Climate change is already intensifying heavy rains and flooding in parts of the U.S., and it’s only expected to get worse. A recent study estimated that by 2050, more than 60 million people in the U.S. would be vulnerable to 100-year floods.

Some cities plan to meet rising waters with protective parkland, while some architects are developing floating houses. And one company has figured out how to replace piles of sandbags as emergency flood control, as Business Insider reports. Water-Gate, a line of flood protection products made by a Canadian company called MegaSecur, is a self-deploying water barrier that can be used to stop overflowing water in its tracks.

The emergency dam is made of folded canvas that, when water rushes into it, inflates up to become a kind of pocket for the water to get trapped in. You can roll it out across a street, a canal, or a creek like a giant hose, then wait for the water to arrive. In the event of a flash flood, you can even deploy it while the flood is already in progress. It can stop waters that rise up to five feet.

According to MegaSecur, one Water-Gate dam can replace thousands of sandbags, and once the floodwaters have receded, you can fold it back up and use it again. Sadly, based on the flood projections of climate change scientists, heavy flooding will soon become more and more common, and that will make reusable flood barriers necessary, saving time and money that would otherwise be spent buying, stacking, and getting rid of sandbags. The auto-deployment also means that it can be used by a single person, rather than a team of laborers. It could just as easily be set up outside a house by a homeowner as it could be set up on a city street by an emergency worker.

As climate change-related proposals go, it sounds a little more feasible than a floating house.

[h/t Business Insider]

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