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Pink Palace Family of Museums,
History Comes Alive at Pink Palace Museums
by Tommy Ford
The Pink Palace Museum and Planetarium in Memphis, Tennessee is a fascinating destination for anyone interested in nature, history, science or culture. If that description sounds broad we you'll find that the Pink Palace lives up to it's reputation. Just the name is enough to get most people's attention. The Pink Palace gets it's name from the pink Georgian marble building which partially houses the museum. The building was constructed in the 1920's as the home of Memphis entrepreneur, Clarence Saunders. Mr. Saunders was the founder of the Piggly Wiggly grocery store chain. The Piggly Wiggly was the first self service grocery store and began many of the shopping innovations we take for granted today. Customers could choose products directly from the shelves by themselves. The idea was hugely profitable. At it's high point the chain boasted over 2,600 stores. However, through a series of Wall Street maneuvers, Saunders was forced into bankruptcy and lost control of his stores. He would never occupy the ornate home he had built. The mansion became the property of the City of Memphis and became the city museum in 1930.
Your tour will begin with natural history exhibits. There is a display of skeletons for numerous creatures. The teens in our group especially enjoyed the large collection of rocks and crystals. Next you'll find fossils from many different eras. We appreciated the fact that many of the fossils on display came from the mid-south region. We were actually able to identify some strange fossils we'd found at the creek behind our home by comparing them with those on display.
After the natural history exhibits the historic exhibits begin, staring with the native American period on through all stages of European settlement. Want to know what the inside of a pioneer cabin would have looked like? It's here. How about the parlor of a home in the Victorian era. That's here as well. A large collection of medical devices, including a mock up of an early pharmacy is fascinating, giving a real glimpse into the past. There is also an early general store, complete with creaking wooden floors.
Exhibit of an Early General Store
One of our favorite exhibits was the model of one of the first Piggly Wiggly stores. Everyone had a good time scanning the shelves for products we recognized. We old timers got to tell the younger folks about some of the things we remember that are no longer found in today's supermarket.
A hands down crowd pleaser is Clyde Parke's Miniature Circus. The hand carved, animated circus came about through many years of hard work by Mr. Parke. Watching the circus, it's easy to imagine what things must have been like in the old days. The circus parade slowly circles the big top. Carnies make their pitches to passersby. Animals restlessly pace their cages. Underneath the big top however is where the real action is. Acrobats glide through the air, clowns bring the crowd to tears, and animals perform amazing tricks. The circus is open for viewing during all museum hours, but is only "in motion" at set times during the day. Check with the museum office for a schedule.
In addition to fascinating exhibits the Pink Palace houses the Sharpe Planetarium. Open Tuesday through Saturday, the Sharpe is a great place to explore the universe.
Finally, at the Pink Palace you will find the Crew Training International IMAX Theater. This is one of only three IMAX Theater's in the world with a movable screen. Different films are shown on the four story high IMAX screen throughout the year. You can check the Pink Palace website to see what is currently showing.
Most exhibits are housed in a modern building next to stately home. During our visit most areas of the house itself were closed to visitors. We hope that next time we're in Memphis we will be able to see more of Clarence Saunder's never occupied home.
The Pink Palace is a great facility with wonderful exhibits that are both fun and educational. Allow yourself at least two hours to tour the exhibits and additional time if you're taking in the Planetarium or the IMAX. Plan a Pink Palace visit with a trip to the nearby Memphis Zoo and you'll have a full day that's sure to entertain, and exhaust, the whole family.
Today, the Pink Palace houses exhibits of interest to almost everyone, from a shrunken head to Elvis Presley's army uniform he wore in the late 1950s.
The Memphis Zoo includes giant pandas, one of only four zoos that have them in the US. Read more about our recent visit.