UA-53645469-1 Memphis Type History: The Podcast

Hanukkah and Jewish History in Memphis

December 10, 2017

In this episode of Memphis Type History: The Podcast, Rebecca speaks with Lynnie Mirvis, a member of the Jewish Historical Society of Memphis and the Mid-South, to tell us about the meaning of Hanukkah. And while the intent was to learn all about the festival of lights and its history, we end up diving more into the history of Judaism and what the Jewish community looked like in Memphis throughout.


Learning about Lynnie

Lynnie, a Memphis native takes us back to her days going to a Jewish day school and let's us in on what a Bar Mitzvah is.. something Rebecca always wanted to be invited to. It's the age when a boy or girl enters true responsibility to the Jewish Culture. They are celebrated differently depending on what denomination. There is some difference in when that happens, though.

Reformed? Conservative? Orthodox? 

She also spent some time explaining some of the finer points of Judaism. Whether Orthodox, Reformed, Conservative etc... to be Jewish is to be part of the Jewish people. It is a faith community. Before the 18th century there were no different forms of being Jewish. It was during the enlightenment age that reformation took place. We don't dive into the differences in much detail but we do learn there were different movements and we can find these different denominations in Memphis. This is where it starts to get really interesting for all you Memphis history buffs. You'll even find out what famous architect designed one of the orthodox synagogues here.

It all started in the Pinch

The Jewish community in Memphis started in the Pinch District downtown in the 1850's. Then moved in several different locations. First, to Washington and Fourth, then, North Parkway, and now in East Memphis. At one time, the site where Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church sits now was once a temple. You can even still see the golden dome if you look closely while driving down Poplar. It should be noted there are different synagogues for the different denominations in different locations. 

One of the historical highlights was the beginning of the Jewish community center which is now occupied by another well-known facility. The Jewish Community Center started to give Jewish young people of all different denominations one place where they could come together to do various activities. There were swimming pools, basketball courts, dance classes, theatre, and various other community classes and meetings. You may now recognize this as the newly purchased annex building on the north side of the Turner Dairy. Today, the Jewish community center is in East Memphis near the synagogues.

Hanukkah is Here!

We also got spend some time talking about the imagery and stories of the tradition of Hanukkah. Lynnie told that it's actually not one of the biggest holidays on the Jewish calendar, but has become a special time in the U.S. One of the reasons: the lighting of the menorah has become such a beautiful symbol of the holiday season. You'll have to listen to get the full story and Lynnie's explanation of how the story is a metaphor including an Alexander the Great connection. There's also a really interesting story about one moment in history in which the Jewish people were demanded of another leader to give up their lights. You can listen to it all in this podcast episode.

To Be Jewish, Is to Be Thankful

Lynnie explained how at it's semantic root, the word "Jewish" actually means "Thankful". She talks about the origins of the word and, of course, another beautiful story to tie it all together. She even tells me about the thankful prayer that many Jewish people around the world start their day by reciting.

Her family came to Memphis from Poland to find a better life and likely to escape persecution. They started a store and an auto parts shop in 1941. On the other side of the family, they arrived from German in the late 1800's. That side of the family actually started the Jewish newspaper and print shop. It was located at a pretty well-known location right next to the Rendezvous. That building, unfortunately, is no longer standing. 

Another location for her family's auto parts shop, Katz Brothers, used to occupy was the corner of Florence right by Overton Square. You can find the Magnolia Room, an event space, there now. They even lived above the shop there for many years. Some of her family members that escaped the holocaust came to this house as a place of refuge and then stayed in Memphis. 

Being Jewish in Vollentine-Evergreen

Much of her childhood happened near the Orthodox Synagogue location not far from her house near the intersection of Hawthorne and Vollentine. You'll find a church there now in a building and land the occupy an entire city block. It almost looks like an old utility building or something like that. But in the 50s and 60s it was the orthodox shoal (another word for synagogue). She recalls growing up in the turbulent time of the civil rights movement and her holocaust-surviving cousins being appalled at some of the things that existed in Memphis at the time—segregation in department stores and in public places. She also talks about the what she was doing the moment she found out Dr. King had been assassinated. But maybe the most intriguing part of it is her talking about how her Jewish experience gave her a different perspective on the events of that time. You guessed it... you'll have to listen to hear, though.

The Jewish Historical Society of the Mid-South

Lynnie talked about being a member of the Jewish Society of the Mid-South which exists to preserve the stories of the jewish people in the region. She has been a members since the organization's founding in the 1980s. The collection they preserve is physically located at Temple Israel in East Memphis. They are especially interested in noting and keeping record of landmarks and buildings that have connections to the Jewish stories of Memphis. 

Her Elvis Story

It turns out that Elvis' dentist was Jewish, his taylor was Jewish, and best of all, when Elvis was living in Lauderdale Courts, his neighbor was the head of a Jewish school. Apparently, the school leader would leave his record player on on sabbath to avoid breaking tradition. It is said, that the music Elvis heard had an impact on him. Details in the podcast including the strongest Jewish connection of all. 

For full show notes go to

Let’s Go to the Movies

December 5, 2017

In this episode of Memphis Type History: The Podcast, grab some popcorn because we take you to the neighborhood theater of Crosstown, a place that lives no more. Then learn the story behind Lloyd T. Binford, the man who played watchdog over Memphis cinema for many years.

The Crosstown Theater was built in the late 1940s and opened in May of 1951. It stood at N. Cleveland Street which is now occupied by a Jehovahs Witness Kingdom Hall. The theater had a 90 ft. vertical sign with the word crosstown. Sources say a mile of neon tubing was used in the marquee and vertical sign. At the time it was the largest neighborhood theater in Memphis, holding 1,400 seats. For perspective if you've ever eaten at The Magestic Grill on North Main Memphis, that was once a theater that held 1,000 seats.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Elvis Presley used to rent the theater out for all-night movie sessions.. although we learn that this wasn't anything new for Elvis and we even tell a short story about an encounter with Elvis at another theater with a gifting of a gold cup. The Crosstown Theater closed on May 5, 1976, but was then sold to Jehovah's Witnesses who were able to get a $1.3 million makeover thanks to a 100 percent volunteer workforce that was funded by donations. 

Rebecca's only regret is moving to Memphis only 3 years after the vertical sign was removed and destroyed in 2005.

Now onto the man who kept Memphis AWAY from the movies...

Born in Duck Hill, MS, in 1869, Lloyd T. Binford left school in 5th grade to pursue different moneymaking schemes. Eventually, he became president of the Columbian Mutual Life Insurance Company in 1916 and moved to Memphis in 1925. There, he built the Columbia Mutual Tower, a 22-story white terra cotta building on Court Square (now known as the Lincoln America Tower).

Enter the Memphis Censor Board, created in 1921 with a mission to "censor, supervise, regulate, or prohibit any entertainment of immoral, lewd, or lascivious character, as well as performances inimical to the public safety, health, morals, or welfare." It was pretty much just a name with no action until Binford got ahold of it in 1928. Under Binford, the censor board would ban more Hollywood movies than any other city. It got so intense that folks started saying their films might get "Binfordized," and would even send their scripts in early to get Binford's approval early on.

What times of movies got “Binfordized?” Try anything containing train robberies. Or even King of Kings because it differed a bit from the Bible and the crucifixion aspect was too violent. And then there was The Woman They Almost Lynched, which wasn't shown in Memphis because Binford was simply against films featuring Jesse James. Anything Ingrid Bergman made was banned because she was having an affair with director Roberto Rossellini. And no Charlie Chaplin either "because of Chaplin's character and reputation," as quoted in the Chicago Daily Tribune. Memphians missed out on Rebel Without a Cause because Binford felt it promoted juvenile delinquency. He also banned films containing relationships between blacks and whites that he personally disagreed with, and often censored black performers' scenes altogether.

So what did Memphians do under the heavy weight all these movie bans? Well, many flocked to Mississippi and Arkansas to see those films advertised as “Banned in Memphis.” In fact, 15,000 Memphians went to Arkansas in 1928 to see Gloria Swanson's Miss Sadie Thompson.

Binford resigned his position several times due to bad health, but kept getting called back to the position by supporters. He died the year after actually retiring and is buried at Elmwood. The censorship law that gave Binford so much power was only declared unconstitutional in 1965.

For full show notes and pictures, visit

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Zion Christian Cemetery

November 28, 2017

In this episode of Memphis Type History: The Podcast, Caitlin tells Rebecca the history behind Memphis' oldest African-American graveyard: Zion Christian Cemetery. She was taken to the site by Tramica Morris (whose home we toured in our 16th episode – A Tour of Glenview Historic District). There are many notable Memphians buried there and ever so many ties to important moments of Memphis history... and we're happy to report that efforts to revitalize it are underway.

The 15-acre Zion Christian Cemetery is located on the north side of the 1400 block of S. Parkway East. In 1990 is was added onto the National Register of Historic Places and there are likely 30,000 people buried there. Back in 1873, the United Sons of Zion, an African-American fraternal organization founded by freed slaves, purchased this land.

It took three years for it to be turned into the final resting place for so many when Reverend Morris Henderson, the founding pastor of Beale Street Baptist Church got it officially established as a cemetery. This church was the first brick church in the Midsouth built by and for African Americans and the congregation was made up of freed slaves.

In my various pieces of research for blog posts and podcast episodes, I've come across the quick mention that people used to believe the yellow fever was somehow started by African Americans through voodoo or somesuch. And although it was believed that the black community was immune to Yellow Fever, they were, in fact, not totally so. While most white citizens fled Memphis in the fever, many African Americans stayed and nursed the sick. But when they died, they couldn’t be buried at the other cemeteries in city so they would be laid to rest in Zion – so this is why there are so many people buried there.

The victims of the Peoples Grocery Lynching in 1892 are buried at Zion Christian Cemetery.

Thomas Moss, Calvin McDowell, and William Stewart,were brutally murdered by a mob of white men (with the press present to take down all the details) because their grocery store was more popular and prosperous than the white guy's store in the same neighborhood. I go into more detail on the show, but I still recommend you visit the links at the bottom of the show notes to learn more about it. Moss' murder would inspire Ida B. Wells' international anti-lynching crusade.

Julia Hooks is also buried in Zion Christian Cemetery. She was deeply involved in young people in the city as an officer of the Juvenile Court, a teacher, and a school principal. Her sons, Henry and Robert Hooks, owned the famous Hooks Brothers Photographers. This business was the second oldest continuously operating black business in Memphis. They were extremely influential in recording African American life in the 20th century, and even took the only known studio portrait of blues musician Robert Johnson. Their studio was located at 162 Beale which is now King's Palace Café (and has been left largely intact apparently).

Julia Hooks' grandson was Benjamin L. Hooks, a name you likely recognize because the main library is named for him. Dr. Hooks was a major civil rights movement leader and was executive director of the NAACP from 1977 to 1992.

There are many other notable African American community members buried here in Zion Christian Cemetery, and you'll need to tune in and hear about them all!

The cemetery thrived up until the 1920s, by which time many of the original shareholders had passed away... so it was supported by church collections. Then by the '60s it had pretty much been abandoned. It was so overgrown that many people didn't even know that such a historic site lay underneath all the trees and weeds.

In 2005, the Zion Community Project was formed to clean out and preserve the history here. On the day I visited, a lot of clearing out what going on. Future plans include identifying those laid to rest there, creating roads and walkways for better navigation through the cemetery, and documenting the stories of people buried there.

For full show notes, links, and pictures visit

Ladies Night

November 22, 2017

In this episode of Memphis Type History: The Podcast, Caitlin and Rebecca take each and every one of you out for Ladies Night! And guess what? It's a two-for-one special tonight because they each share the story of a Memphis lady they love.


First, Rebecca makes Caitlin play a game of "Name That Tune." Well, sort of. We're not really sure how the game show worked and we for sure don't play the right way. But you can play along with us if you dare! But beware that Rebecca gets REALLY bossy about it.

All of these shenanigans lead us into learning all about Estelle Axton, who grew up on a farm and moved to Memphis to be a teacher. But then in 1958, fate came upon her when her brother, Jim Stewart, asked her to start Satellite Records with him. Estelle and her husband re-mortgaged their home and created their first big musical hit. This caught the attention of an LA label that already owned that name. So the siblings combined the first two letters of their last names to create... drum roll please... Stax!

Every recording studio is known for its unique sound, which is greatly affected by the physical build of the studio. At Stax, the floor was slanted because they had to set up shop in a theater. And voilà, the Stax sound was created! The original label's name lived on in the Satellite Record Shop that Estelle created in the former concession stand to help pay rent and gain insight into which records would sell best. Along with much success with Stax, Estelle also went on to become huge in the music industry, both in Memphis and globally.

Next up, Caitlin brings the Wild West to Memphis with a story that bundles up in one inspirational woman all the things we love: Memphis, an iconic sign, and, as stated, the Wild West. In 1927, 21-year-old Evelyn Estes (aka "Calamity Jane's Little Sister) set off alone with just a horse and her dog, Kip, to reach the Pacific Ocean in California. She took very little with her except a travel journal, intending to rely solely on the kindness of strangers. Caitlin details the high points of Evelyn's journey, which includes things like how she delivered a baby, ran slap into pioneer life (straight up Oregon Trail stuff, y'all), saw several famous people, and lots more.

For those who particularly love the ladies of the Wild West, we also have a nice little sidebar in this episode about Calamity Jane herself, too! We also cover a bit of the history behind our surprise iconic sign encountered by Evelyn herself on her way to the ocean... no spoilers here, though!

Evelyn didn't stop being awesome at 22. She also was a WWII nurses' aid, made B29s, worked with children in the John Gaston Hospital. Being the total boss she was, Evelyn lived on to the age of 103.

For full show notes, go to

Shotgun Houses

November 13, 2017

In this episode of Memphis Type History: The Podcast, Caitlin educates Rebecca on Midtown Memphis' favorite type of home – the quintessentially Southern shotgun house.


Shotgun houses can be found all over the south, including Memphis. First up, let's understand the format of a shotgun house. It's narrow – just one room wide – and would be at least three rooms deep to count. Typically, the first room was a living room, then bedrooms, and then the kitchen at the back. The original shotgun house would have been 12-feet wide with a single window beside the front door. Later in time, as we'll see, this design will change. The name comes from the fact that a gun could be fired at the front door and the bullet would travel straight out the back door without hitting anything, since there's no hallway.

Where these original shotgun houses came from remains a mystery. Some say they're African floor plans that were brought to Haiti by slaves in the colonial era. The first ones documented in the U.S. were built in New Orleans in the 1840s. They then began spreading throughout urban areas. The "second wave" of shotgun home building made it to Memphis, so the ones built here in the 1860s and 70s have fancier architectural elements than the first wave houses. Finally, the "third wave" came about in the late 1880s during industrialization. This time period featured simplified shotgun homes constructed as working class rental units.

Because of constant changes throughout time, it's uncertain that all of these Memphis shotgun house neighborhoods still exist, so explore at your own risk :)

659 Jennette Place was the site of a famous Memphis shotgun house, as it's where blues musician W.C. Handy wrote songs like "Yellow Dog Blues" and "Beale Street Blues." It's now at 352 Beale Street as a museum.

406 Lucy Avenue is where you can find the shotgun house Aretha Franklin was born in... and rumor has it that her bathtub is still in there. Since the time of this episode's recording, it seems that renewed efforts are underway to restore the home for history.

In a book on Memphis architecture, Wells Avenue was listed as a wealth of shotgun houses, the best in the city. But its National Register of Historic Places designation was removed in 2014 so I'm wondering if they are still there. Lost Memphis found two shotgun homes there in 2014. These are/were built around the turn of the century and are closer to 25 feet across... the same street feature/d 1920s bungalows as well.

Belz Court was constructed in 1936 to house African American families working in Philip Belz's North Memphis Industrial District. There were a dozen shotgun duplexes there on either side of a "pedestrian court" – no driveways or anything for parking because the planners expected everyone would just walk to work. Because of it's old-fashioned design, only about three of them were left in 2014 because they just aren't very practical for modern families. Lost Memphis also went there to check out what's left.

For full show notes, visit


Libertyland with John R. Stevenson

November 6, 2017

In this episode of Memphis Type History: The Podcast, Caitlin chats with John R. Stevenson all about everyone's favorite bundle of fun—Libertyland! John just published a book about the park and we dive right into all the weird and wonderful things about this historic Memphis spot.

For full show notes, go to

Ghosts In Memphis: E&H, Snowden, & The Orpheum

October 30, 2017

In this episode of Memphis Type History: The Podcast, we learn that there are a lot of ghosts in Memphis. Earnestine & Hazels, Annesdale Snowden historical neighborhood, and The Orpheum Theater are just a few places where you can find a ghost. To get you further into the Halloween spirit, listen to first-hand accounts of encounters with these ghosts and discover if perhaps you've met one yourself!


Introducing the Pigman

First Caitlin sets the mood for this episode by sharing a story she uncovered of a past Memphis ghost who haunts a smoke stack in North Memphis... the PIGMAN! Squuueeeeeeeel. 

The Haunting of Earnestine & Hazel's

But then things get real when we share a true story of a guy who witnessed a ghost first-hand at Earnestine & Hazels. We also hear two tales of things that go bump in the night from listeners – but one of them might have quite a logical explanation...

Ghosts Get Real in One Memphis Neighborhood

This house may look like an idealic southern home, but there is more hiding behind the bricks. Ashleigh Carroll shares how she discovered the home she purchased may actually be haunted. "Henrietta" has been paying visits to her family for years. Ashleigh tells several stories about her experiences with the ghost including how other people have at various times confessed experiencing paranormal activity without realizing Ashleigh already knew about it. And spookiest of all, perhaps, the mysterious messenger who delivered a bundle of very old photos of the previous residents only saying, "The pictures stay with the house." You can see a couple of those photos below but you'll want to listen to hear why its especially creepy. 

Mary, The Orpheum's Longest Tenured Star

The Orpheum theatre is a historic place of entertainment. From broadway shows, to concerts, and various other performances, there aren't many dull nights at this theater. Well, we found out that is especially true because Mary (we're not sure why everyone names their ghosts, but seriously, they ALL have a name!) has been haunting this place since the 1920's. Her story is one of tragedy but her presence is warm and joyful. Whether it be a practical joke, hanging out with kids, or watching shows on the balcony, Mary is in good spirits. She even made her presence known to the star of The King and I while on stage. Interestingly, that same show just recently finished a run at the Orpheum. Curious about all the stories? We hear from the director of marketing for special productions, Renee Brame, about the various times and places people have experienced Mary's presence.


For full show notes, go to

Let’s Talk Type

October 22, 2017

In this episode of Memphis Type History: The Podcast, we're talking type – typography that is! Rebecca gets in the hot seat to teach us all about appreciating the visual form of words and letters... and how we can get more into typography in our everyday lives.


We dive right in to typography as it relates to signage and lettering in this episode. So we recommend that you first listen to our intro episode if you haven't already for a background on how Memphis Type History began and the double meaning in its name.

Typography is text, fonts... type is a letter form. Letter form is an art form that can be made digitally on the computer or by hand, and even through typesetting like on a letterpress where letters made out of wood or metal are used to create different prints. These days, endless type can be created, and even sold, using modern technology!

In the olden days, signs were typically hand-painted. What was painted on the side of the building to advertise what was inside often became the logo for the business... and this method continues today through Rebecca's own hand for businesses like Propcellar and 409 South Main.


What's needed to create good type? A sense of space, composition, and a steady hand for the most part. Hand-lettering involves researching an appropriate era for inspiration and figuring out how to merge these styles with what is appropriate for the project. Rebecca will often create several different options, which often creates an entirely different feel to the entire piece even if each ones is coming from the same inspiration.

To create her Florida piece, Rebecca first planned out the piece on paper. She decided how the letters should be spaced out, what style they should have, and whether they need flourishes or not... she even thinks about how thick or thin each part of the letter should be. Unlike pieces like the one below which Rebecca creates by painting layers upon layers, her typographic pieces are sketched out first.

Rebecca begins by sketching "roughs" onto paper. She keeps working and working until it's exactly how she wants. Then she transfers the sketch (usually smaller scale) onto the wood using carbon paper. Letters don't need the soft edges that a painting of a sign or a landscape needs to look realistic, so all she has to do is paint the background and then work on top of the carbon copy sketch. In order to hide the lines, Rebecca paints slightly over the edge of the carbon marks – as she pointed out, steady surgeon hands are surely needed!

If you want to get into typography, Rebecca recommends resources like Thinking with Type , Sign Painters , and take time to visit your local library.

For full show notes go to

A Tour of Glenview Historic District

October 15, 2017

In this episode of Memphis Type History: The Podcast, Caitlin gives Rebecca an overview of the history behind Glenview Historic District. Then we sit down with Glenview resident Tramica Bridges who tells us all about the history of her home and so kindly gives us a tour!


In 1904, architect George E. Kessler began work on the Memphis Parkway system, part of the City Beautiful Movement which aimed to create a city that integrated well with nature. The plan included features like neighborhood parks as well as lampposts, benches, and other "street furniture." You can see aspects of this trend throughout Glenview, which was mostly built from the 1910s through the 1940s (although there are some homes that date up to 1997).

In addition, there are also curves in the grid layout of the neighborhood, a new development that came alongside the introduction of cars into everyday usage. Within the subdivision, you can find wonderful examples of architecture of this period, such as the bungalow, craftsman, Tudor revival, Spanish Colonial Revival, and your good ol' ranch homes, among others. This historic neighborhood is bordered by South Parkway East on the south, Burlington Northern Railroad on the west, Southern Avenue on the north, and Lamar Avenue on the east.

Glenview's first residents were white, middle class professionals – small business owners, salespeople, craftsmen, and the like. A notable event that once took place in the neighborhood was the staging of Tennessee Williams' first play, Cairo, Shanghai, Bombay! in 1935, when he was a student at Southwestern College, by the amateur theater group out of Alice G. Rosebrough’s home, aka "Rose Arbor."

In 1956, Reverend Charles H. (Bob) Mason, Jr., the pastor at the Church of God in Christ (one of the largest Pentecostal churches in the nation and the largest Pentecostal congregation in Memphis) purchased the house at 1755 Glenview Avenue. The Glenview Civic Club and the Glenview Plan, Inc. (a business scheme designed to purchase properties put on the market in the neighborhood and sell them only to other white people) began working to keep Mason, Jr. and other African-American families, out of the area. We discuss these disturbing dealings and the attempts to intimidate with various acts of violence further on the show.

Other black leaders made their home in Glenview, with 1968 being a turning point in the transition of the neighborhood. The National Guard occupied the neighborhood and imposed a curfew on black residents, which apparently signaled to the remaining white ones that outsiders considered the neighborhood to be a black one. So out they moved, making room for many extremely notable black leaders like the first African American writer for the Commercial Appeal, Rubye Coffman, the first black Memphis policeman, Memphis Red Socks players, and more.

Next on the show, Rebecca and Caitlin visit Tramica Bridges for a tour of her Glenview home. Her house has been featured in the Glenview home tour in previous years, and she takes great care to keep its historical elements while adding her own flair. We loved how her son, the entrepreneur behind Mo's Bows, also adds his own unique take to the space!

Tramica shares the history of her home's past owners, followed by a tour of the house. 

For full show notes go to

Steamboats and the Bluff City

October 8, 2017

In this episode of Memphis Type History: The Podcast, Caitlin and Rebecca get on a boat. No, that's wishful thinking. Instead, Caitlin tells Rebecca about the history of steamboats and how these ships played a role in the growth of Memphis.


This episode begins with an introduction to Caitlin's favorite steamboat captain, singer and songwriter John Hartford. Sure, he won three Grammy's for "Gentle on My Mind" but her preferred track is "Don't Leave Your Records in the Sun." Who doesn't love a good tip set to music?

Steamboats played a huge role in the economic growth of cities along the river, as well as the entire United States, in the early 19th century. These massive ships were able to take large amounts of freight and passengers both up and down the country's major rivers and tributaries due to the newfangled steam power technology.

The very first steamboat on the Mississippi River was The Orleans way back in 1811. It was launched from Pittsburgh and worked alright, but many design and technological improvements were quickly on their way. The boats that followed were named the Comet, the Vesuvius, the Enterprise, and the Washington. But only The Enterprise boldy went where no man had gone before.

By 1810, there were twenty steamboats on the river. At first they were made of wood and fueled by wood, but later that fuel became coal. At first, it took three weeks to make the trip up the Mississippi River to Ohio. But as time progressed and more powerful engines were constructed, better boiler systems came into play, pilots got more experienced, and dangers were removed from the river, this trip was cut down to just four days. Because of construction methods, fires, and frequent damage by obstacles along the river, a steamboat lasted, on average, about five years. By the 1830s, over 1,200 boats were chugging up and down the waterways.

Memphis became a prominent port out of its slave trade. This was one catalyst for the First Battle of Memphis on June 6, 1862, a naval battle that many citizens went out to watch. The Union won the battle, and Confederate naval control of the river was pretty much nonexistent after that. Tom Lee Park is located on the riverfront, and is named for an African American riverworker, who himself couldn't swim, rescued, on his own, 32 drowning people from sinking of the M.E. Norman in 1925.

So what was life like on a steamboat back in the day? Well, supposedly, beer was the #1 drink in the 1800s, also known as the glory days of the riverboat. There was a lot of gambling on the boats, and pilots often raced each other. There are several very famous races with well-known captains documented from history. These pilots were highly skilled, as they didn't have instruments and navigational readouts to go on. Instead, they learned from experience where the sandbars, rocks, snags, and landmarks were along the river. They also had to know about stuff that changed all the time, like river depth and current, and much of that was understood through understanding swirls, ripples, and what the color of water meant... and then pairing that knowledge with a gut instinct for the feel of the boat.

In the early 20th century, steamboat usage began to decline. Passengers began using a faster form of transportation – the train. Then came the Great Depression, which saw a decline in almost every industry. Shipbuilding technology had improved to where diesel engines were being used a lot more. Diesel tugs required smaller crews, which meant less wages. Plus, the technology was just better. So by the 1940s, steamboats were considered outdated.

These days, only a few riverboats still run on steam. According to research, the Belle of Louisville, the Natchez, the Minne-Ha-Ha, the Chautauqua Belle, the Julia Belle Swain, and the American Queen are still operating. In 2008, the U.S. government put an end to overnight passage on steamboats except with the permission of Congress.

In Memphis, you can still get out on the water on a riverboat. The journey begins on the cobblestone landing, built by immigrants from 1850 to 1890. It's presence made a big difference in Memphis becoming such a huge port city because it could withstand the mules loading and unloading all the heavy goods. As of 1996, it's estimated that more than 800,000 of the original cobblestones are still there, although it's all in great disrepair. It's the last complete stone landing on any waterfront in the country.

In the 1950s, most riverboat-related activities moved to President's Island. In 1955, the Memphis Queen Line was founded by Captain Ed Langford. In 1960, his part-time captain, Tom Meanley, purchased the company. He later endeavored to build the Memphis Queen III from 1977-1979, and then the Island Queen from 1982 to 1984, from the ground up. They made the hulls at Meanley Shipyard behind Captain Tom's house in Whitehaven, and then a house-moving company took them to McKellar Lake about 12 miles away. From there, they were towed to the cobblestone landing where the smokestacks, pilot house, and decks were added. You can ride the Island Queen, the Memphis Queen III, or the Memphis Showboat on sightseeing trips, dinner cruises, and private charters.

For full show notes, go to