Host, Rachel Christopherson, sits down with historian Jimmy Ogle and
City Councilman Worth Morgan to talk about Memphis’ past and future.
Then hear how the Bluff City is attracting young entrepreneurs like
Published on Apr 12, 2019 by Germantown High School Television GHS-TV
GHS-TV is a community television station operated by the students of
Germantown High School. GHS-TV is seen online at ghstv.org and its
programming airs in the Memphis area on Comcast C19. GHS-TV serves as a
model facility that continues to produce original programming, inform
citizens and educate young people interested in telecommunications
careers. We have been named the nation’s best access station an
unprecedented 14 times by the Alliancefor Community Media. Our students
have won over 172 Hometown Video Awards, 50 regional and 2 national
Doug Stephan refers to Jimmy Ogle during his Good Day
Doug Stephan is an
American radio talk show personality and hosts the nationally
syndicated Doug Stephan's
Good Day program.
is a "call-in" and interview show airing live Monday through
Saturday featuring a fast paced format covering variety of topics.
According to Talkers Magazine estimates, Good Day has over 3 million
listeners per week on over 300 stations. The Doug Stephan's good day
show is listed as number 13 in the "Heavy Hundred" list published by
Talker's Magazine in 2010.
Listen to the comments on mp3.
16 Obviously Insane
Things We’ll Never Do Again
(and the Valuable Life Lessons We Learned Along the Way)
trip to all 50 states in search of little-known historic sites, I
took an invitation from a tour guide named Jimmy Ogle in Memphis to
explore the storm drains beneath the city. In 1880, Memphis became
the first major municipality to create “a separated sewer system,”
which entailed two pipe systems—one for storm water runoff and the
other for the nasty stuff. The designer was George Waring Jr., the
same engineer who transformed an 800-acre section of Manhattan
wetlands into what became Central Park.
trekked through the massive drains only a few times before, using a
map from 1919 to guide his way. Before embarking on his first foray,
which he did alone, he left a copy of his intended route on his desk
with a note saying “Open This Monday”—meaning “If I’m not back by
now, here’s where you might find my body.”
By the time
Jimmy took me, he had a little more experience. He led me to an
opening into one of the main tunnels and then flicked on his small
flashlight. We began sloshing through the ankle-deep water, passing
architecturally stunning “chambers” with stone arches and gushing
waterfalls flowing over exquisite brickwork. The trickling of water
and the occasional boom of a truck’s wheels overhead were the only
noises that broke the silence. The experience was exhilarating, and
we covered several miles in one afternoon.
day, during a meeting with one of the city’s sewage maintenance
employees, I told him proudly of my excursion. He was aghast. “You
did what?” He went on to list the things that could have killed me:
pockets of odorless methane, poisonous snakes, flash floods,
infestations of lethal brown recluse spiders. I had no idea how
close to certain death I’d come. When I mentioned all of this to
Jimmy, he laughed it off. I admired his courage and am happy that
there are people willing to venture into these dark and obscure
places. I’m happier still that I’m not one of them.
real blue collar' stories of Downtown streets
Far from the opulence of Graceland and
soul of the Stax Museum, seldom-told tales of Memphis' history live between the
walls of an alley that snakes through Downtown.
"It's like the backline musicians in the
band: The front line singers get all the attention, but there's people playing
the drums and playing other instruments," said Jimmy Ogle, community engagement
manager with the Riverfront Development Corporation. "These alleys in Memphis
are just as important as the front streets... The sidewalks, the streets, the
plazas; everything has a role to play in Downtown Memphis."
Ogle led the free inaugural tour of
November 6th Street -- which he is quick to note is more an alley than a street
-- on Sunday, guiding about 100 people from its Beale Street aperture to the
Named for the date Memphis voted to join
the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1934, the alley crosses 17 Downtown streets
through 27 turns, each of which holds "behind-the-scenes, real blue collar"
stories of Downtown Memphis, Ogle said. Among the destinations that the tour
intersected is General Washburn's Escape Alley,
in 1864 the Union officer was believed to have escaped Confederate troops
searching for him at the Gayoso Hotel. The route winds between some of
Downtown's oldest buildings, including the DT Porter Building at 10 N. Main,
once the tallest building in Memphis at 10 stories.
Ogle called the alley "the spine" of
Downtown, a brick-lane passage where the past overlaps the future. "Memphis is
reflected in the personality of November 6th Street, and really Downtown, with
all the construction that's been going on the last 30 years," he said.
JoEllen Todd of Memphis found the alley, though beset with cigarette butts,
gravel and broken glass at some turns, to be photogenic, maneuvering between
other attendees during Sunday's tour in search of her shots. "Because we were
going down the alleys -- and I like to get pictures of old stairways, and doors
and things like that -- I got to take quite a few pictures of that," she said.
Todd, a native of Indiana, marveled that November 6th Street still exists.
"It's still here," she said. "That's another
thing, is that a lot of other cities that you go to, (the history is) gone.
Memphis has managed to retain some of the historical points. ... There's just a
lot of historical things left in Memphis to explore."
For Eddie Settles, a native Memphian, the tour was a chance to get
reacquainted with his hometown. "If you're a real Memphis history nut, this is
the tour," he said.
his encyclopedic knowledge
of Memphis during a Tuesday Tour.
Any stroll with
Jimmy Ogle is brisk. At
60 years old, he sets a quick pace for his walking tours – I even saw him
jump swiftly onto the back of a flatbed truck to better address our audience
on the tour I joined earlier this week. He talks fast, too (so would you if
you knew as much as this man knows about all things Memphis). For our tour,
the weather was similarly brisk – low ’50s with a gray sky to boot. Yet
40-some people were gathered at the Elvis statue on Beale Street, bundled up
and waiting for Jimmy to commence his free Tuesday Tour – ready to follow
wherever he’d lead; perched to hang on his every word.
When I say that Jimmy knows about all
things Memphis, I mean it: He illuminates
brass notes, squares, alleys and bridges (ask him why Memphis has a
November 6th Street, or why General Washburn needed an escape alley). He
talks of architecture wrecked and restored – let him point out the city’s
first skyscraper and explain its largely window-less design. He segues
fluidly from the Civil War to civil rights, touching on everything that’s
anything to Memphis, from Andrew Jackson to
David Porter. He paints a picture of Beale Street’s reticent years; then
recounts, in the cadence of the victorious, its redemption and resurrection.
He is intimately acquainted with the city’s movers and shakers – and calls
out to them as he walks. You can’t help but feel like you’re on the inside
track when you’re with him.
Jimmy’s knowledge and
relationships are the trappings of a hometown boy grown up: Since graduating
from University of Memphis, he’s directed the city’s park commission and its
Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum;
worked for its convention and visitors bureau and served on the boards of
organizations including the West Tennessee Historical Society and the Shelby
County Historical Commission. (The first time I saw him in person, he was
advocating before the school board for a historic marker to be placed
outside of Humes High School. The initiative passed. Sidebar: What is the
significance of Humes High School? Leave me a comment in the comments
section of this blog post if you know!)
Jimmy is currently named Community
Engagement Manager with the Riverfront Development Corporation, which is a
fancy way of saying he gets to promote Memphis’ grand-new steamboat, the
American Queen, and even hop aboard to give history talks from time to
time. But I’d recommend getting to know him, and Memphis, on a walking tour.
Though the Tuesday Tours just wrapped for the season (they’ll return in
spring), you can view Jimmy’s other scheduled tours and talks
Why does Memphis have a street named
and why did General Washburn need an escape alley? Ask
Shelby County Courthouse Tours
Sightseers and cameras aren’t always welcome inside official buildings –
unless you’re with Jimmy, of course. Wait until you get a glimpse of
Memphis’ 1910 courthouse with its marble statues, antique courtroom and bust
of Andrew Jackson dating to 1835. The next tour is scheduled for Dec. 20.
Old Forest Trail Hikes in Overton
Park These 90-minute hikes through Memphis’
Old Forest reveal the changing personality of the landscape throughout
each season as well as the stories it holds – namely, the underdog tale of
how a group of local citizens saved it from being turned into an interstate.
The next tour is scheduled for Nov. 25. Jimmy doesn’t lead, but accompanies
each of the hikes to add perspective.
Walking and driving tours of
Memphis For a DIY experience, download one of the
walking or driving
tours of Memphis Jimmy has created on African-American history and the
Private tours Jimmy’s
always up for taking groups out on private, even customized, tours. Call him
at 901-604-5002 to arrange yours.
Use the comments section below to tell
me what type of tour you’d ask Jimmy to take you on in Memphis. And if you
know why Humes High School deserved that historic marker, don’t forget to
let me know that, too.
I am not an expert
on Memphis history. But I know someone who is.
His name is Jimmy Ogle. He is a historian, a walking-tour guide, a
consummate volunteer, a historic preservationist and the official Shelby
County historian. Ogle is also the community engagement manager for the
Memphis Riverfront Development Corporation. As such, he coordinates the
landings of the overnight passenger vessels at Beale Street Landing.
The last time I heard Ogle talk, I
noted some of the amazing things he said about Memphis history: According to
Billboard magazine, more than 1,000 songs have the word “Memphis” in the
title or in the lyrics — more than any other city in America. Some of the
better known are “Graceland” by Paul Simon, “Memphis” by Jerry Lee Lewis and
“Walking in Memphis” by Marc Cohn. “My favorite is ‘Memphis, Tennessee’ by
Chuck Berry,” says Ogle.
Since Hernando de Soto discovered the Mississippi River in or near
present-day Memphis in 1541, Memphis is one of the earliest points of
discovery in the United States. “I’m not sure if this is appreciated fully,”
Ogle says. “To put that in some context, this was 79 years before the
Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock.
“As I remember grade school, in history class, Plymouth Rock was treated
as Genesis 1, Chapter 1!”
The first railroad connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River
came through Memphis. It was completed in 1857 and was known as the Memphis
& Charleston Railroad. “At this time, most railroad lines were only about
100 miles long,” Ogle says. “So the idea of a single railroad that went all
the way from Memphis to Charleston (S.C.) was huge — it was like going to
As part of the opening festivities, water was brought from the Atlantic
Ocean and poured into the Mississippi River, and water from the Mississippi
River was transported and poured into the Atlantic Ocean. “They called it
the ‘Wedding of the Waters,’” says Ogle.
Like the Nashville & Chattanooga Railway, the Memphis & Charleston
Railroad was completed just in time for the Civil War. In fact, the Memphis
& Charleston had a lot to do with why the Battle of Shiloh was fought in
The largest inland naval battle in history occurred on the Mississippi
River right in front of downtown Memphis on June 6, 1862. In the 90-minute
Battle of Memphis, nine Union gunboats defeated eight Confederate vessels,
resulting in the surrender of the city to Union forces. “The battle was so
greatly anticipated by the citizens that more than 5,000 lined the banks of
the Mississippi River to watch the battle out in the river,” Ogle says. “It
was as if they were spectators at a modern football game.”
Only three years later, the largest maritime disaster in American history
occurred when the steamboat Sultana exploded about six miles upstream from
Memphis, killing 1,700 people. The vast majority of the casualties were
Union soldiers on their way home from Confederate prisoner of war camps. In
spite of its significance, the Sultana explosion of April 1865 is overlooked
in the history books because it took place when newspapers were dominated by
the news of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, his funeral
procession and the capture of John Wilkes Booth.
Memphis is the site of the nation’s largest remaining original cobblestone
landing. Today an estimated 800,000 of the original stones remain along the
Mississippi River bank between Beale and Jefferson streets. Many of the
people who see the cobblestones appreciate the appearance but may not
understand their original purpose. Before the stones were put in (between
1852 and 1891), the mud was so thick along the riverbank that it was hard
for people to walk to and from riverboats.
“The mud was so deep that when passengers stepped off a boat and into the
mud, they would sink almost knee-deep,” Ogle says. “When they pulled their
legs out of the mud, sometimes the mud would suck off a shoe or boot. “Not a
very friendly way to be welcomed to Memphis!” In the 1990s, an
archaeological survey of the landing showed that the most common items found
underneath the cobblestones were not arrowheads, bullets or belt buckles.
They were shoes and boots!
Between 1880 and 1920, 70 percent of the cotton grown in the United
States was harvested within 200 miles of Memphis. Because of that, Memphis
was known as the Cotton Capital of the World. At that time, 40 percent of
the cotton being used in English cotton mill towns of Manchester and
Liverpool came through Memphis. All of this cotton was bought and sold at
the Memphis Cotton Exchange. Today, the exchange has been renovated and
turned into a wonderful museum about Memphis and the cotton industry.
In the 1880s, Memphis was the mule-trading capital of the world. About
75,000 mules a year were bought and sold in Memphis in that period.
The mule industry reminds us that, when West Tennessee first became
agricultural, there were no tractors. “All the trees that were harvested and
all the cotton that was planted was done by mule power,” Ogle says. This is
why you hear so much about mules in some of those early blues songs. “To
many farmers and sharecroppers, mules were the best friends that they had!”
Memphis contained the largest building in the South starting in 1930 and
continuing for several decades. This was the 29-story Sterick building. It
remained the largest building in Tennessee until the L&C Tower was built in
Nashville in the 1950s. Sadly, the Sterick building has been empty for
several decades and is near the top of Tennessee’s historic preservation
list of endangered structures.
Memphis contains the first radio station that was programmed entirely for
African Americans. The station (WDIA) switched to an entirely black format
shortly after it went on the air in 1948. Many music legends got their start
by working at the station, including B.B. King and Rufus Thomas. In its
early years, not all of its listeners were black; young Elvis Presley used
to love listening to WDIA. Ogle points out that not only did Memphis break
the color barrier in radio, but it also broke the gender barrier when the
first all-female station (WHER) went on air with eight female deejays!
Memphis is associated with the birth of three different types of music.
The city is considered “Home of the Blues” because W.C. Handy published
the first blues song there in 1912.
“Although the blues came out of the Delta, W.C. Handy’s biggest
contribution was putting the music to paper for others to be able to read,
learn and play at a time when publishing was not readily available,” Ogle
Memphis has a claim to be the birthplace of rock and roll because of Sun
Records, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and such. It is considered the
birthplace of soul music because of Stax Records, which produced music by
such acts as Isaac Hayes and Otis Redding.
Finally, Ogle points out that Memphis has
the largest freestanding letter in the alphabet — on the Hernando de Soto
“The bridge arches create a letter ‘M,’ which is 1,740 feet long!” Ogle
To learn more about Jimmy Ogle and his
Memphis walking tours, check out his website,
Memphis Magazine - Explorer Extraordinaire Tour guide Jimmy Ogle enlightens, entertains, and
enjoys every minute.
This guy gets around. You’ll spot him in alleyways and parks, on riverboat
decks and tour buses. One day he may be telling tales to the student body at
Memphis University School (his alma mater), the next he’s regaling retirees at
Wesley Highland Terrace, where he says the residents tell him, he’s “more
popular than Bingo.”
His schedule — neatly hand-lettered on a creased piece of paper — reveals few
gaps of unclaimed hours. In 2011 alone, he gave 281 talks and tours. He shrugs
off the idea of keeping his appointments on an iPad, saying, “I didn’t get cable
or the Internet till three years ago and I’ve had the same cell phone 11
Meet Jimmy Ogle, whose official title is community engagement manager with
the Riverfront Development
Corporation, where he serves as the city’s liaison with
Company, owners of the American Queen. But on his lunch hour,
weekends, or during a spare niche of time, Ogle can be found speaking to anyone
who’ll listen about the history and lore of his native city. And a whole lot of
folks listen. Whether he’s holding forth on “the origins and oddities of local
streets and bridges,” or pointing out the designs and purpose of manhole covers
at his feet, he holds attention with flair and a rich knowledge acquired over
decades. “I get out a lot and wander,” says Ogle. “I’m a learn-it-all, not a
know-it-all, and everything I ever did before brought me to this.”
“Everything” includes learning sports stats he’d devour as a boy growing up
in East Memphis. “I’d memorize averages and percentages and lineups,” he says.
“And my older sister, Linda, said if it hadn’t been for the sports page of
The Commercial Appeal I’d never have learned how to read.” He gradually
earned his B.S from the University of Memphis — “I did it on the 10-year plan,”
he says with a smile — while working in recreation programs at First Baptist
Church and later at the Memphis Parks Commission. He started there as special
events supervisor and ultimately became the system’s deputy director.
“Everything I get into is kinda like the Forrest Gump philosophy,” says Ogle.
“Something good’s gonna come from it.” Certainly that’s true of Ogle’s
management jobs from 1985 forward — at Mud Island, the Memphis Queen Line, Beale
Street, and the Rock ‘N’ Soul Museum. “You had to really know your story,” he
recalls, “and all those years of memorizing stats, [audiovisual] programs, and a
million facts — they’re just part of who I am today.”
“It’s a world that dates back more than 100 years . . .”
In 2008, while employed in operations for the Ericson Group marketing
company, Ogle wasn’t giving daily talks or tours and discovered how much he
missed them. Knowing he could still work them into his schedule, he approached
the Center City Commission — now called the Downtown Memphis Commission — “and I
pitched all sorts of things. I’d throw anything at the dartboard to make it
stick. They weren’t interested.”
Then he came up with a novel idea sparked from years of riding his bike and
walking the streets and seeing the ornamental manhole covers around downtown.
“They’re round, square, rectangular, with rosettes, florettes, and hexagonal
patterns,” says Ogle, “and they have seven different uses — telephone, water,
gas, storm drains, traffic signals, electrical, plumbing.” Between Danny Thomas
and the river, and between A.W. Willis and G.E. Patterson (formerly Auction and
Calhoun), the roving raconteur discovered 2,000 slabs of metal that were
beautifully crafted by foundries around town.
Knowing he couldn’t include all 2,000, he developed a 40-minute tour that
stretched down Union Avenue between Riverside and The Peabody. The Commission
agreed to the Great Union Avenue Manhole Cover & History Tour, which, Ogle
explains, opens a huge network of utilities below the surface of Memphis
streets, alleys, and sidewalks. “It’s a world that dates back more than 100
years,” he adds, “and it has kept our city running.”
The Commercial Appealgot wind of the event and Ogle met the
photographer near some manhole covers. “The next day they ran four big
pictures,” says Ogle, “and 90 people showed up for the tour. After that, the
Commission told me, ‘Do whatever you want.’”
photograph by Andrea
Ogle soon created several free public walking tours on Tuesdays and
Saturdays. “I’ll do Court Square, Beale Street, Cotton Row, the Shelby County
Courthouse. I’ll take folks down Adams, Jefferson, Monroe. People really enjoy
walking along, seeing old buildings and learning what was there then and what’s
“Nobody does the variety I do.”
Last fall, a new event was launched: the November 6th Street Tour — a street
whose name commemorates the day in 1934 when Memphians voted in favor of the
Tennessee Valley Authority power system, This tour, with 27 turns over 17
streets and a few alleys to boot, drew 116 people. “We were within eyesight of
all tall buildings and major thoroughfares and could see parks and plazas, the
river, statues, urban art pieces,” says Ogle, “so it’s a wonderful way to learn
Another urban feature that appeals to Ogle, though it’s not included in his
tour lineup, is the Gayoso Bayou. Made up of slippery tunnels beneath the city,
the “bayou” was a natural drainage canal when Memphis was founded in 1813.
Though it’s generally off limits except to city engineers, Ogle holds lectures
about the historic waterway and describes it as “the last great downtown
adventure.” And that 11-year-old cell phone he owns? “It survived being dropped
in the Gayoso Bayou.”
Often Ogle is invited to be a step-on guide downtown for motorcoach tour
companies visiting from out of town. And while he gives credit to other guides
or groups, he takes unabashed pride in what he offers: “Nobody does the variety
Asked if a question had ever stumped him, Ogle shrugs and says, “Yeah, but
that doesn’t bother me.” What bothers him is people who are too lazy to look up
answers to questions themselves. “And some will actually say, ‘Will you give me
a copy of your notes?’ No. They can take notes from my tours or lectures, but
I’m not handing mine over.” He explains tha e about Memphis.”
Ogle’s favorite tour is on the American Queen Line. Readers may recall the
vessel’s arrival at the revitalized Beale Street Landing in April, when the
Great American Steamboat Company established its home port here. The
American Queen, billed as the largest paddlewheel steamboat ever built,
makes several voyages each year from such cities as New Orleans and St. Louis,
Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. “It’s a real honor to talk to people about Memphis,”
says Ogle. “They come from the West Coast, the East Coast, and whether it’s
about our history or music, I can really get into it. And I wear a double hat
with them, “he adds, “because when they land, in my role with the [Riverfront
Development Corporation], I’m in charge of their docking and operations on the
Ogle credits the RDC for allowing him to continue his speaking engagements
and tours while developing new ones for riverfront parks. “I can make my own
bookings,” he says, “but still be available for the RDC business” — like the 43
Hard Hat tours of the Beale Street Landing construction site he gave earlier
Another big plus about the American Queen, he adds, is how Ogle
rewards himself after a tour. “The boat has a 24-hour snack shop and my room is
just seven doors down from the self-serve chocolate ice cream machine!”
“He lost a leg, not an arm!”
Ogle also ushers history fans on field trips to nearby counties, and nature
lovers to the Old Forest Trail in Overton Park. And if he’s not on far-flung
excursions or wandering down streets, he’s standing at podiums or sitting at
head tables. Now and then, he admits, he’s a little uncomfortable. While giving
a talk to the General Nathan Bedford Forrest chapter of the United Daughters of
the Confederacy, he told the audience, “I really don’t like being here. Y’all
know more about this than I do. You’ll kill me!” The presentation went well,
says Ogle, except for one detail. “J. Harvey Mathes was an editor of the
newspaper then,” Ogle explains. “He’d gotten engaged before the Civil War, and
in telling about him, I said he lost an arm in the war and was worried about
coming home to his bride.” A member of the audience quickly set him straight,
saying, “He lost a leg, not an arm!” The person who spoke up happened to be
Mathes’ great-grandson, explains Ogle, “and I said, ‘Why don’t you finish the
story?’” Laughing about the incident now, Ogle says he’d seen Mathes’ armless
bust at Confederate Park prior to the luncheon and that image caused “my mouth
to disconnect from my brain. But it also helped me find an interesting source,”
he adds, “Mathes’ relative.”
photograph courtesy Jimmy Ogle
Sometimes Ogle receives calls from out-of-towners asking for customized
tours, and one came from a couple who lived in Greenwich Village. “I could tell
from the start it would have an Elvis bent to it,” says Ogle, “and that they
were sincere in their interest.” In addition to showing them such sights as
Lauderdale Courts and Humes High School (where the King lived and attended
school), “I took them to see certain photos I had collected over the years, and
to visit George Klein in his Graceland Sirius studio.” Of particular interest to
the wife was Plastic Products Record Plant, at 1746 Chelsea, which mastered many
of the early Sun, Stax, and other record labels. She was so impressed by this
gem, says Ogle, that she donated $2,000 for a commemorative plaque, which will
be dedicated on August 17th at 9 a.m.
“You’re ham enough. You’re in.”
With a website that claims his motto is “have mouth will travel,” Ogle says
that mouth got him in trouble as a boy. As a kid in church he’d sit and chatter
on the back row, and it never failed that when the family got home from church
the phone would ring with “some busybody in the choir loft” reporting his
behavior. He’d hear his mother say, “Jimmy talking again?” Then: “Jimmy, go to
But his gift of gab, not to mention his love of history and dedication to
research, has not only shaped his reputation as a solid tour guide; it also
landed him an acting job with historic Elmwood Cemetery Costume Players. “They
were there at Court Square one year with their Costume Twilight Tour. I went to
the director and said, ‘I’d like to be in that tour,’ and he said, ‘You’re ham
enough. You’re in,’” recalls Ogle, who got the role of a railroad engineer.
During rare moments away from his “hobby” or his real job with the RDC, Ogle
works in time to see his family — his mother, two brothers, and one sister, who
all live in the area and who show up for some events in T-shirts bearing the
slogan “Team Ogle.” He recently made a trip to Knoxville to see his
grandchildren, Macie Lynn, age 4, who calls him Pops O, and James Ogle III, born
June 29th. And he finds time to serve as scoreboard operator for the U of M’s
men’s basketball, and on the stat crew for the school’s football team, while
also serving as an instructor at Rhodes College’s Meeman Center for Lifelong
He’s garnered a few awards along the way, including serving as Honorary
Duckmaster for a day at The Peabody, receiving the Harcangel Award from the
Highland Area Renewal Corporation for the many tours and lectures he’s given in
that area, and being named 2011 Volunteer of the Year by the Memphis Charitable
Foundation and The Blues Ball.
Not bad for a guy who makes a living and pursues a pastime doing exactly what
he wants to do. “I’ve always been good on my feet,” says Ogle. “And I love
learning new things.” Sharing what he’s learned with others has become more than
just a hobby. Says Ogle: “It keeps me going.”
Monument at Memphis National Cemetery at 3568 Townes Avenue
is a granite-and-bronze sarcophagus commissioned by the state of
Dedicated in 1929, it depicts a soldier in repose.
It happened during a period of
great tumult in Memphis, in an era when the dynamic of race was transforming,
power was shifting and a once-revered figure became reviled for convictions
rooted in a different historical context.
A bust of Andrew
Jackson has been in the Shelby County Courthouse since
1921. Located in the south hallway of the Shelby County
Courthouse, this marble bust and pedestal was originally
cast in 1835 in the White House; arguably the oldest
known bust of a sitting President in the United States
today. Photo by Mike
Buy this photo
A giant statue of
Elvis can be seen in the Tennessee Welcome Center on
The John Overton monument
in historic Elmwood Cemetery is just one of hundreds of
interesting and historical monuments in the 80-acre
cemetery. Overton was the grandson and namesake, of one
of the founders of Memphis.
October 2006, a bronze sculpture by artist David Alan
Clark was erected in Tom Lee Park to honor the civil
hero. The sculpture depicts the rescue of a survivor
saved from drowning in the Mississippi River.
It involved a monument to a Tennessean famous for his military and political
leadership, a man not from Memphis but integral to its history. History books
and newspaper articles over the years have chronicled how a bust of Andrew
Jackson, the former U.S. president and a founder of Memphis, was dedicated at
Court Square in 1859 with great fanfare but then defaced just a few years later
when political sentiment had changed radically.
As Jimmy Ogle, one of Memphis’s most public history buffs points out, the bust
had included an inscription of famous words from Jackson: “Our Federal Union: It
must be preserved.”
That, according to a later newspaper account, “enraged some Confederates, who
tried to erase them.” It would be 1908 before the words were restored.
The bust now holds a place of prominence in the elaborately restored lobby of
the Shelby County Courthouse. It originally was moved there in 1921, and even
was moved from place to place in Court Square, with an 1886 newspaper clip
declaring it “has been moved nearer the Main Street entrance to the park where
it will be more conspicuous.”
As controversy stirs anew over the public park and monument honoring another man
integral to Memphis’s history, Nathan Bedford Forrest, Ogle helped The
Commercial Appeal inventory many of the people honored around the Memphis area
by monuments in public places.
Some of them are very prominent — think the Elvis Presley statue on the west end
of Beale Street or the W.C. Handy statue a few blocks east. Some are more
obscure — the statue of Christopher Columbus at Adams and Third in what Ogle
says is the smallest park in the city.
There is a larger-than-life depiction of Memphis’s most significant political
figure of the first half of the 20th Century — E.H. Crump welcoming visitors
into an Overton Park entrance. And there is a grand salute to the most
significant political figure of the second half of the 20th Century — W.W.
Herenton greeting visitors to the mixed-income College Park development across
the street from his alma mater, LeMoyne-Owen College.
Some, like those of Jackson and Forrest, are quite old. Others are very new,
like the one of Margaret Polk, famous for being the actual “Memphis Belle,” that
was installed in 2011 at Veterans Plaza in Overton Park.
One statue that might actually fall among the “newer” installations is one at
Confederate Park, of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States of
America who spent meaningful years after the Civil War working in Memphis. He
wrote a large portion of his memoir here, and two of his sons died here — at
ages 17 and 11.
“Statue Of Davis Proudly Placed In Proper Park,” ran the front-page headline, on
Oct. 5, 1964.
A neighboring front page story captured tumultuous current events, with
Congressmen pressuring the first southern president since Reconstruction, Lyndon
Johnson, “to order massive Federal action aimed at halting racial violence in
Just 17 years later, in 1981, The Commercial Appeal would run a feature pointing
out just how much had times had changed. Most people no longer marked nor were
even aware of Davis’s birthday, which had for many years had been a holiday
throughout the South.
“Not only did they all ignore the bronze figure that stands on a pedestal in the
center of the park,” wrote William Thomas, “but most people didn’t realize it
was his birthday.”
In 1999, when the Memphis Parks Commission considered replacing Confederate Park
with a park dedicated to cancer survivors, it stirred debate.
In a quote that could be transported to 2013 and the current parks renaming
controversy, the then director of Memphis Heritage, Judith Johnson, said: “I
know a lot of people at the end of the 20th Century feel the Confederacy is not
something that we can hold up as a value we can embrace, but we can’t erase our
The Cancer Survivors Park, with an array of sculptures, was eventually put in
Audubon Park in East Memphis.
Several people over the years have called for creating a detailed, comprehensive
inventory of everyone honored in any corner of Memphis and Shelby County, but it
does not appear that one has been completed, Ogle said.
Whitney Ransom of the UrbanArt Commission said she was also unaware of such a
database. UrbanArt does keep track of the many works it has helped bring into
Memphis’s public spaces over the years, but those tend toward the abstract and
away from the personal — like the “Aspire” sculpture at Brewster Elementary
School or the “Whirl” at Vance Park conveying the current of the Mississippi
The newer the work, the more fresh and clean its appearance, for the most part.
An article from 1978, headlined “Statues Here Reap Varied Indignities,”
described the deterioration of many statutes around town — a leg missing from
one of the children on Court Square’s “Hebe Fountain,” a “fingerless” St.
Patrick, a replacement sword on the Forrest statue because the original was
And, of course, that bust of Andrew Jackson, with the words chiseled off and
face beaten “with hammers and hatchets.”
Ogle, when he was director of Memphis’s parks, often received calls about how
guitar strings on a different statue of Elvis had been stripped away. A
replacement statue now sits on Beale in the plaza in front of the MLG&W
“So the statue at Beale now, it’s basically vandal proof,” Ogle said. “The
strings are part of the body of the guitar, and there are no tassels on his
That old Elvis statue is now housed at the Tennessee Welcome Center downtown,
near another statue of one of blues legend B.B. King.
Ogle, who conducts many public tours and gives presentations to groups
throughout the area, likes to include in his slideshow the famous shot of
Presley and King posing together as young men in the 1950s at the old Ellis
“Who’d have thought 60 years later both of those kids would have statues two
blocks away at the Tennessee Welcome Center,” Ogle said. “That’s what’s cool
about Memphis. Two kings, too.”
But as music historians know, those two kings are not actually Memphis natives,
but, rather, immigrants from North Mississippi.
Another 1981 article actually bemoaned the fact that Memphis’s public monuments
lacked the presence of actual Memphis natives.
The source for the discovery was Ernie Lubiani, then working on a master’s
degree in Southern history at the University of Memphis: “My observations show
that, hell, there’s been no Memphians honored with full-fledged statues in
Some correction to that has been seen with recent additions, like the statue of
Polk, the Memphis Belle, and the one of Herenton. And recent calls to honor
others like crusading anti-lynching journalist Ida B. Wells suggest there could
be more coming.
Miraim DeCosta-Willis, professional historian and author of many books on
Memphis’s African-American history, said a meeting was held last week for an
effort toward a significant monument honoring Wells. But she would like to see
more, and likes the idea, for instance, of a monument at the renovated
Fairgrounds honoring the late Larry Finch, who played and coached basketball for
the University of Memphis at the Mid-South Coliseum.
“When you come right down to it, there are so many people, black and white and
Chinese and whatever, notable Memphis, who deserve to be remembered,” DeCosta-Willis
said. “People’s memories are so short.”
Memphis Mayor A C Wharton showed agreement with that sentiment during a recent
talk with the Memphis Rotary Club.
“My personal philosophy is that we always need more history,” Wharton said. “So
as opposed to spending a lot of time getting rid of something, let’s give more
prominence to everybody’s contributions.”
Who we honor:
The following list is an inventory of some of the monuments, in public places
around the Memphis area, honoring people. This does not include monuments in
less public places, like that of Danny Thomas at St. Jude Children’s Research
Hospital or the Chickasaw Indian Chief Piomingo for First Tennessee Bank.
Al Chymia Shrine Temple: depiction of a shriner comforting a child, on Shelby
Cancer Survivors Park: several installations honoring cancer survivors, at
Robert R. Church Sr.: bust on east end of Beale Street of the city’s first black
Christopher Columbus: statue at Third and Adams in city’s smallest park.
E.H. Crump: powerful political figure welcomes visitors to one Overton Park
Jefferson Davis: statue dedicated in 1964 at Confederate Park.
Doughboy Statue: largest statue at Overton Park’s Veterans Plaza stands for
“everyman” fighting in World War I.
Nathan Bedford Forrest: majestic depiction of Civil War general and later
Memphis politician on horseback.
Willie Herenton: private funds built statue of Memphis’s first black schools
superintendent and first black mayor.
W.C. Handy: statue for “Father of the Blues” is on Beale Street.
Hiker statue: An “everyman” depiction honoring veterans of Spanish War, at
Central and East Parkway.
William J. Leftwich Memorial: bust and marker at Leftwich Tennis Center at
Audubon Park is for a Lt. Colonel who died in Vietnam in 1970.
Andrew Jackson: bust from 1859 in Shelby County Courthouse.
B.B. King: statue of the blues legend at Tennessee Welcome Center.
Tom Lee: an obelisk and a more recent sculpture at Tom Lee Park depict Lee
saving a man from drowning.
Martys Park sculpture: honors victims of Memphis’s Yellow Fever tragedy,
overlooking Mississippi River.
Capt. J. Harvey Mathes: former editor said to have lost a leg in the Civil War.
Cary Middlecoff: sculpture at Tournament Players Club at Southwind honors
Memphis golf champion.
Mountaintop: sculpture honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., on Main Street near
Movement To Overcome: sculpture inside National Civil Rights Museum with
depictions of those involved in Civil Rights struggle.
“Memphis Belle” Margaret Polk: famous model for B-17 bomber shown looking
skyward in Veterans Plaza at Overton Park. One of just a few native Memphians
honored with a statue. Elvis Presley — two statues Downtown, one on west end of
Beale Street and another at Tennessee Welcome Center.
Carol and Jim Prentiss: Memphis Zoo benefactors honored with statues near the
Rameses: towering statue of Egyptian king now at the University of Memphis.
Truth Seekers: Sculpture inside Benjamin L. Hooks Library formerly was in front
of Cossitt Library Downtown.
Historian Jimmy Ogle launches Mississippi River bridge tours.
You don't have to wait for the Harahan Bridge greenline to be constructed
to walk across the Mississippi River.
Historian Jimmy Ogle will begin offering bridge tours across the Memphis
& Arkansas Bridge on Sunday, April 22nd, on the pedestrian path attached to the
I-55 vehicular traffic bridge.
"It's a legal sidewalk, and you don't have to walk all the way to the
other side to enjoy the high view of the river and look back at the bluffs and
the [Valero] refinery," said Ogle, who hosts tours all over downtown in his role
as community engagement manager for the Riverfront Development Corporation.
Ogle said he hopes the bridge tours can acclimate pedestrians to the idea
of crossing a massive river bridge on foot since the proposed Harahan Bridge
greenline would create a walking and biking path across the adjacent Harahan
"It's a little scary because the expansion joints make the bridge
vibrate, and you have all those trucks whizzing by at 70 miles an hour," Ogle
But he assures that his bridge walks will be safe and monitored. There's
no limit on how many people can attend the free tour, but if the group is
particularly large, Ogle said he'll take people over the bridge in small groups.
"We'll watch the cars go by and make it fun for people," Ogle said.
While on the walk, Ogle plans to talk about the history of the Memphis &
Arkansas Bridge, the Harahan Bridge, and the Frisco Bridge.
The tour will meet at 2 p.m. at Crump Park. The same bridge tour will be
repeated on April 28th and May 12th and 19th. There are stairs and a grassy
slope leading to the bridge sidewalk, but Ogle said he will assist anyone who
may need help getting to the sidewalk in a wheelchair.
"It's not [Americans with Disabilities Act]-compliant, but maybe this
attention will bring that to light," Ogle said.
Also in preparation for the Harahan greenline project, Ogle has scheduled
a series of riverfront park tours that will take walkers along the river bluffs
and into little-known and hard-to-find city parks.
"Just about everybody knows about Mud Island and Tom Lee Park and
Greenbelt Park, but when you get down to the South Bluffs area, you've got some
neat areas on the high bluffs that are really hard to find," Ogle said.
The first Riverfront Park Series tour will begin at Chickasaw Heritage
Park, south of the National Ornamental Metal Museum on Saturday, April 21st, at
"We'll tour the grounds of the Metal Museum and the grounds of the old
Marine hospital, and then we'll end up at Crump Park," Ogle said.
Other riverfront tours will meet at Martyrs Park on April 28th,
Confederate Park on May 12th, and Greenbelt Park on May 19th. Each will lead
walkers into smaller downtown neighborhood parks and landmarks, such as the
Gayoso Bayou and Ashburn-Coppock Park.
For more information on the bridge tours or riverfront tours, visit
Downtown Manhole Tour
Blows The Cover Off Memphis
Jimmy Ogle points out unique
characteristics of a manhole
cover in a Downtown alley
off Union. Ogle's tour of
manhole covers reveals the
"underground" history of
his historic Memphis mode gets
going, Jimmy Ogle's commentary
takes off in a seemingly
inexhaustible monologue of local
facts, tidbits and trivia.
can talk about the street
widening ordinance of 1922 that
shaved seven feet off Downtown
buildings like the Front Street
Deli. Or that the building that
houses the Memphis Convention &
Visitors Bureau is the oldest
commercial building in the city.
And he can tell you that there
will be exactly 151 manhole
covers on The Great Manhole
Cover Walking Tour, Ogle's
contribution to the Downtown
Alive program sponsored by the
Center City Commission. He knows
because he counted them.
Finding and photographing
Downtown Memphis manhole covers
has been something of a hobby of
Ogle's for at least a decade.
Wednesday he'll lead a free
30-minute walking tour on Union,
starting at Riverside and ending
at November 6th Street. (Why the
alley got that name is included
in the tour.)
"I've lived Downtown for about
20 years and during my course of
rambling around ... I've noticed
lots of different manhole
covers," said Ogle, vice
president of operations for the
With a study area from The Pinch
to the South Main Historic
District, he's archived the
various shapes, sizes, patterns
and foundries where they were
made. Recorded are the long-gone
electric or phone companies they
were made for and the many ways
Memphis Light, Gas and Water has
for decades been immortalized in
One of his favorite manhole
covers is one he's named
"No-name Spider Web" at Union
and Center Alley.
"Is it art in the gutter? I
think it is," Ogle said.
Tossed in with the tour is a
mini-history lesson on Memphis.
"Everything I say is true to the
best of my knowledge and
research," he said.
Downtown Alive is a lunchtime
program to bring art, cultural
and creative events to the
70,000 workers in the city's
"office campus," said Leslie
Gower, director of marketing and
communications at the CCC.
"We've contacted dozens of arts
and creative cultural
organizations throughout the
whole city to bring free
performances and demonstrations
to Main Street," she said.
They've had Ballet Memphis,
Middle Eastern dancers, Walnut
Groove, the Christian Brothers
High School jazz band and a
demonstration from the National
Ornamental Metal Museum.
Those who take Ogle's walking
tour are advised to wear
comfortable shoes and pay close
There's no test, but the best
participant will get a free
chocolate milkshake from the
Front Street Deli.
And they'll need to follow a few
rules, Ogle said. Among them:
Stay close so he doesn't have to
shout, autographs will be signed
only at the end, and don't get
hit by a bus.
Wanna know a great way to learn about Memphis history and get active? How about
a walking tour with Jimmy Ogle!
Jimmy is a lifetime Memphian and a Memphis historical buff.
He does tours and classes on different facets of Memphis history. What makes his
tours unique is how he arranges them around a block, but tells the expansive
knowledge of that part of Memphis. Some of his tours include:
The Tuesday Tours: Free and open to the public (wheelchair
accessible) featuring a specific area downtown (around 4 blocks) and
is about 45 minutes in length.
The Step-on Guide: A tour on the Riverfront downtown for motorcoach
and tour companies visiting from out-of-town that request the
Private Group Walking Tours: Several school groups and affinity
groups have requested walking tours of certain areas of Downtown or
One-On-One” Tours: Private tours can be arranged by contacting Ogle
by phone or email.
Custom Tours: Jimmy has even been given as a “Christmas present” to
parents or grandparents. This tour normally involves a ride around
Downtown and the riverfront culminating in a meal or dessert at a
As you can see this is an active, unique, and fun
way for lifelong and new Memphians to learn about the city.
Visit Jimmy’s website, and take a tour.
Bryce Miller: Memphis expert fascinated by
piece of Iowa lore
MEMPHIS, TENN. — Just days before Christmas in 1969, 17-year-old Jimmy Ogle was
watching television icon Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show” when his mother
rushed in to tell him his father needed to go to the hospital.
Then, the moment slows to a crawl as Ogle replays it in his mind.
“He came up and knocked his pipe out on the mantle, looked at me and said,
‘Catch me, I’m falling,’ ” said Ogle, the memory vivid and fresh despite the
passing of more than four decades. “He died in five minutes of a massive heart
attack. He was 51 years old.”
In an instant, the teenager had lost the man who shoved his hand into a baseball
glove at a moment’s notice to play catch, the person who rebounded basketballs
for hours under the driveway hoop — the whistle-toting coach of so many of his
With the American Queen Riverboat
on the Mississippi River
behind him Memphis historian Jimmy Ogle shows off an ear
of corn he picked at the Field of Dreams site in Dyersville,
Iowa. Ogle later had actor James Earle Jones who appeared
in the movie Field of Dreams autograph for him. Ogle has
been to the Field of Dreams site in Dyersville four times.
(David Purdy/The Des Moines Register)
All of these years later, Ogle explained Friday on the American Queen riverboat
as the Mississippi River meandered slowly past, the loss of his father is the
reason he connected so personally with something so, so Iowa.
Ogle is the man many from this music- and barbeque-soaked corner of Tennessee
call the unofficial historian of Memphis.
As Iowa State fans begin to descend on the home of Graceland and Beale Street to
play Tulsa in Monday’s Liberty Bowl, waiting will be Ogle — the city’s most
impassioned fan of the “Field of Dreams” movie site in Dyersville.
Ogle has trekked four times to the field that anchored the 1989 baseball film
starring Kevin Costner, Burt Lancaster and James Earl Jones.
When he’s there, he sees and smells something as American as Elvis — the game of
He also thinks of dad.
“You have those dreams of just one more game of catch … one more time together,”
A Memphis Original
Ogle, who works for the Riverfront Development Corporation, is chairman of the
Shelby County Historical Society.
Rest assured that Ogle will run out of breath long before he runs out of facts
about Memphis. And he rarely runs out of breath.
As he sits on the American Queen, he’ll rattle off its dimensions — 89-feet
wide, 418-feet long, six stories high with room for 436 passengers and 175
members of its crew — without tapping his mental breaks to steer the
conversation to Memphis music.
Ogle blurts that the first all-black radio format came in 1948 (WDIA), and Elvis
released “That’s Alright Mama” in 1954, leaning forward in his chair to proudly
proclaim that moment the birth of rock ’n’ roll.
“In 1955, Sam Phillips (who opened Sun Studios) put a microphone in front of a
woman (at an all-woman station),” said Ogle, pausing for effect as his
history-laced zinger moved to the on-deck circle. “So we broke the color barrier
in radio and the gender barrier in radio, in little ol’ Memphis, Tennessee.”
He’s not done. He’s only building up steam.
“The city has two Tony Award-winning musicals, Memphis and Million Dollar
Quartet,” he said.
A person begins to utter a question. Not yet, Ogle seems to say with body
language and voice inflection — the facts train is just reaching top speed.
“... There are more than 1,000 songs that mention Memphis,” he said. “That’s
more than Paris or London, or any city in the world.”
Pause. But only for effect. There’s more, of course.
Memphis is where U.S. business icons Holiday Inn, FedEx and Auto Zone
originated, he’ll tell you.
Not impressed? Ogle knows there are roughly 2,000 manhole covers in the downtown
area, with three different shapes and seven different uses. He pitched a free
“manhole cover” tour of a four-block section of downtown to city leaders.
It took multiple laps to convince them. Then, the day after a story appeared in
the Memphis Commercial-Appeal newspaper published, 91 people and two TV stations
“They said, ‘Do as many tours as you want,’ ” he said. “I had to make up the
tour. I didn’t have it in my pocket. But I learned about all the ornamental
iron, what shapes mean storm drains, which meant sewer, gas, traffic lights,
Ogle had created a unique way to walk the streets of Memphis long before
songwriter Marc Cohn released “Walking in Memphis” in 1991.
In the last year, Ogle conducted 280 talks and tours in the last year, from
anywhere and to anyone who would listen.
“Rooftops, alleys — I even do a tour in the storm drain that runs from St.
Jude’s (hospital) to FedExForum (home of the NBA’s Grizzlies),” he said.
Ogle also has run the scoreboard for the Grizzlies, still works at University of
Memphis sports events — and will keep tackle stats in the press box Monday when
Iowa State lines up for its Liberty Bowl kickoff.
Does … this … man … sleep?
“I try to stay busy,” he said, avoiding tip-of-hand on whether the answer is
straight or punchline.
If there’s anything that challenges for a spot in his bloodstream as much as
Memphis, it’s the Iowa-based Field of Dreams.
When James Earl Jones boarded a Memphis riverboat for a wrap party after filming
the 1996 movie “A Family Thing,” Ogle was working with the group running the
boat. Ogle asked Jones to sign the husk surrounding one of four ears of corn
he’d gotten for each trip to Dyversille.
“He said that was the first ear of corn he’s ever signed,” said Ogle, grinning
at the memory.
Then, last month, two of Ogle’s unabashed loves again unexpectedly overlapped.
On the day of Ogle’s 60th birthday, he was aboard the American Queen to give a
talk about the area’s history when he found out the movie they showed passengers
that day. Yep. “Field of Dreams.”
“Not planned at all,” he said. “Right before my lecture, so I thought that was
kind of special.”
The movie which inspired classic lines such as “If you build it, he will come”
and “Is this heaven? … It’s Iowa” began to strike a chord with Ogle’s son,
Jimmie Mac, as well.
The younger Ogle asked his dad to visit the field in Iowa for his 21st birthday.
A divorce when Jimmie Mac was 5 had created gaps in the father-son experience as
the miles between them grew.
When they stepped on the field, the magic felt as tangible as it did at the
“It was a Monday, real foggy,” Ogle said. “It was Sept. 20, 1999. … That’s the
greatest father-son moment you can ever have, to see an expression like that on
a kid’s face.
“It’s something you can’t touch. It’s very sensory. It’s very emotional.”
Mr. Memphis and Mr. Iowa Movie leaves the riverboat a few minutes later, opening
the door to his Lincoln Town Car. Inside sits a Field of Dreams coffee cup with
dirt from the field.
History is about appreciating and never, ever forgetting the past.
Ogle appreciates. Ogle doesn’t forget.
When fans from Iowa State stroll the river he knows so well and walks over the
manhole covers with stories all their own, he hopes they enjoy all that
surrounds them as much as he does.
“We have crime, we have problems — like everywhere else,” he said.
“But if you love history, you have to love this place.”
Jimmy Ogle likes to set the record
straight: he is not a history teacher. "I’m a history presenter," he declares.
"Definitely an adventurer."
By day, Ogle is community engagement manager for the Riverfront
Development Corp. He works on projects such as Beale Street Landing and American
Queen steamboat cruises. His goal is to cultivate grassroots activities along
Ogle, though, is better known for his manhole cover and history tours of
(For the record, there are about 2,000 manhole covers. They come in three
shapes and have seven different usages.) Scouring the streets for manhole covers
sounds a little quirky, but there’s an infinite amount of history that can be
gleaned from them. (Did you know 100 years ago there were two competing
telephone companies in Memphis: Western Union and Continental?)
"Everything fascinates me," Ogle explains. "I notice things — manhole
covers, sidewalk stamps, street signs."
His 15 unique lunchtime tours average four blocks, and might take in
anything from Confederate Park, Cotton Row, Beale Street or Court Square. For
the more adventurous — or athletic — Ogle’s Saturday Super Tours of downtown run
about three hours, with routes from Civic Center to the Pinch District or along
the Trolley Loop.
Other tours may cover only a particular street, such as Adams, Madison or
Monroe. Last year Ogle (BSEd ’80) led his inaugural tour of November 6th Street
— which he notes is "more of an alley." It was named for the date Memphis voted
to join the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1934. Sporting his signature blue
sweater vest and bow tie, Ogle climbed on top of a large flower planter on Main
Street to point out sights during the tour, which covered 17 blocks through 27
turns. "It was supposed to be a 90-minute tour," he recalls. "I started with 114
people. Three hours later 85 people were still there."
During the U of M’s centennial celebration, Ogle is presenting a series
of "Know Your Neighborhood" programs on the history of the University area. The
lectures and walks cover everything from the history of the six University-area
neighborhood districts to its 13 churches.
With unbridled enthusiasm, Ogle will stop traffic on Walker Avenue to
snap a picture of a square manhole cover. He can rattle off the exact number of
crape myrtle trees along the railroad tracks and points out his favorite fire
hydrant — one painted bright red with a Dalmatian at Patterson and Watauga.
He is exhaustive in his research. When Tom Mendina, formerly with the
University Libraries, approached him about the University neighborhood series,
Ogle spent four weekends driving around the area and taking 1,500 photos. He has
read more than 300 books on the Memphis area and its history.
Ogle’s connections with the U of M don’t stop with talks and walks. He’s
the sideline clock operator for Tiger home basketball games (an "adrenaline
rush") and keeps radio statistics for Tiger football.
At one point he decided the only angle he hadn’t viewed Memphis from was
from underneath. He climbed into the Gayoso Bayou and walked from St. Jude
Children’s Research Hospital to FedExForum, an expedition that ended up taking
five-and-a-half hours. "I took some wrong turns," he explains. "I came out of a
manhole — luckily in a sidewalk, not in the street."
A self-described urban historian, Ogle never misses an opportunity to
learn. "It’s better not to be a know-it-all and open up your ears and listen,"
he says. He often picks up new facts or clues from comments made during a
presentation. People often give him items, which inspire him to delve further
into the lore of the Bluff City. After a recent lecture, a woman handed Ogle
several books, including
Settlers of Shelby County and Adjoining Counties and Metropolis of the
American Nile: A History of Memphis. He also received a church pamphlet, which
described how President Abraham Lincoln was convinced to order occupying federal
troops out of Second Presbyterian Church during the Civil War.
Of all the areas of Memphis, downtown is Ogle’s favorite. "Downtown is
the real identity of any city," he says. "It’s usually the oldest part, it’s
usually on a river. There are plazas, waterfront views, historical street
markers, tall buildings."
He said the city has done a good job resurrecting its downtown since the
late 1970s, including the revitalization of The Orpheum and The Peabody Hotel.
"In 1979 there were more people living in jail than residentially downtown," he
Interest in Ogle’s downtown walking tours and lectures spiked during last
year’s Mississippi River flood. He took it upon himself to refute what he calls
the national media’s exaggeration of the flood’s impact. "For five nights I
stood on Riverside Drive between Beale and Union and barked like a street
preacher," he recalls. "I talked about the flags, settlers, bridges, river
traffic, industry, the flood, high and low water marks. In truth, only 500
people were affected. Diane Sawyer was standing on Beale Street in water up to
Ogle’s professional background has provided him with plenty of
opportunities to absorb Memphis history. He started as a recreational specialist
at the Memphis Park Commission and ended his tenure there as deputy director,
overseeing such city-owned facilities as the Memphis Zoo, Liberty Bowl Memorial
Stadium, Memphis Pink Palace Museum and Memphis Botanic Garden. Ogle spent eight
years as general manager of Mud Island then held the same position for the
Memphis Queen Line. He also served as director of operations for the Memphis
Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, where he created the first Gibson Guitar Factory tours.
"Jimmy has woven himself into the fabric of Memphis, first as a life-long
student of its history and now as a keeper and teller of that history," says
Benny Lendermon, president of the Riverfront Development Corp (RDC). "The good
news is that tomorrow’s history is being created today and Jimmy loves being in
the middle of all this activity. What Jimmy brings to the RDC is his unique
ability to tell the story of the development of the Memphis riverfront from a
historical perspective with all the enthusiasm of an eyewitness. He genuinely
connects with a wide variety of people and loves sharing his knowledge about
Memphis with them."
The 59-year-old’s energy is boundless. Last year Ogle, who is chair of
the Shelby County Historical Commission, gave 280 talks and tours. One day might
have him giving a presentation to 35 senior citizens at a retirement community
or to the Sons of Confederate Veterans; the next day he might be talking to a
room full of elementary school students. Once Ogle was expecting to speak to a
third-grade class, but instead came face-to-face with a group of 3-year-olds.
"You go slowly," he says of the experience. "I talked about bridges, the river,
pyramids and how you can spell Mississippi with four letters."
Luckily, Ogle has a remarkable talent for accurately recalling names,
dates, faces and places. That ability serves him well in another of his roles —
portraying a "resident" of Elmwood Cemetery during its Costume Twilight Tour
held each October. Performers must memorize a seven-minute script and repeat it
25 to 30 times a night. Ogle’s characters have included Avery Warner, engineer
of the Cannonball Express (the train that took Casey Jones to his death), and
Lloyd Binford, head of the infamous Memphis Censor Board. "I like the discipline
of memorizing a script," Ogle says.
Ogle also is passionate about preserving the history that so fascinates
him. As a member of Citizens to Preserve Overton Park, he was a key force in the
fight to save 127 acres of old-growth forest in the park from future intrusive
development. In fact, he made a presentation to a mayor’s study committee in
which he portrayed the park. "Overton Park’s pedigree is Central Park in New
York," he points out. "The golf course is the second oldest municipal course in
Ogle may be one of the few residents of Memphis who actually likes the
railroad, which many find a nuisance for causing traffic delays. "In 1857 the
Memphis and Charleston Railroad was the first to connect the Atlantic Ocean with
the Mississippi River, 784 miles away," he points out. "We’re in its way, not
the other way around."
Memphis is not an all-American city, Ogle claims. "But we are the
American story. If you slice us open, you find explorers, the Civil War, civil
rights, music, medicine, agriculture, and entrepreneurs for the first
self-service grocery store, franchise roadside lodging, package delivery by air
and miracles like St. Jude Children's Research Hospital."
It’s a city founded on the river, built on cotton, and who better to spin
its stories than this urban adventurer? "I’m like Forrest Gump," says Ogle.
"Good things happen to me. People give me things about history. My eyes are wide
From Buzzard Hall to
the Banks of Beale Street
Ogle Guides Your Steps
THE CITY - On the first stop of our
tour, we meet an explorer preparing for a mission. He is wearing rubber
boots and is equipped with a headlamp, a tape recorder, a camera, a
spotlight, and an 1819 map of Memphis. His name is Jimmy Ogle ’70.
Though it is November 2, 2008, he has not packed any
modern survival gear such as a GPS, firearm, or leather whip. He locks his car and hides the keys behind the tire. Better
there than lost on his journey into the unknown. Where he’s going, there are no cars. In fact, he
has no idea what he’ll find in the murky intestines of the city. Albino alligators? Fugitives from the law?
Subterranean cave creatures that feed on human flesh?
Mindful of the dangers, but with the resolve of the
daredevil travel writer Richard Halliburton ’15, he takes his first steps
into the labyrinth of storm water drainage tunnels that run beneath Memphis,
a vast network of culverts and cisterns built in the wake of the Yellow Fever
Epidemic of 1878.
He thinks up an epic and somewhat ominous name for this
chapter of his life. He calls it: “The Last Great Adventure of Jimmy Ogle.” His adventure does not end unhappily. He
does not discover a lost civilization or even a cool location for a criminal mastermind’s hideout.
In the end, after six hours of trudging – and, at times,
duck walking – through miles of plumbing, the
explorer pushes open a manhole cover and flops onto a sidewalk outside of a
tattoo parlor near Beale Street. He’s traveled several miles, at least, from his entry point near St. Jude
Children’s Research Hospital. His documentation will one day lure movie producers, civic leaders, and media
types into the tunnels with him. It may not be a brave new world down there, but it’s a fascinating old
Three years later, a group of people are standing around
the same manhole where he crawled out. The man issues a warning.
“Now before you get any ideas, I wanna tell everybody that
I feel kind of certified in going down there,” he said. “I didn’t just get drunk at a bar and say, ‘Hey, let’s go
down a manhole.’ I’ve done a lot of research on this.” He waves his arm in a “follow me” gesture.
INTO THE HALLS OF MUS -
On our next stop, we are standing behind the
desk of MUS Varsity Head Coach Jerry Peters in
order to bring three artifacts to your attention: a
team picture, a patch, and a button, all from the
extraordinary 1970 varsity basketball season. That
was the year the Owls were unofficially christened
the Buzzards by the football team, who deemed them
scrappy enough to earn a more fearsome totem.
The man from the storm drain, Jimmy Ogle, is
in that photo. He was the team captain and a point
guard. His senior year started with ambivalence for
the game, feeling burnt-out on high school sports.
Besides, the team had lost four starters from the
Even so, they won their first game. Then the next,
and the next. The winning streak seemed miraculous.
One evening, during fall exams, the player was
at home with his father, an obstetrician, who was a
fixture at all the games. Dr. Ogle was known for the
smell of his cherry pipe tobacco, wishing the players a
“good game” as they hit the locker rooms, and telling
his patients not to give birth on Tuesday and Friday
The father was reaching for his pipe on the mantel
when he collapsed. Moments later, he was dead in his
son’s arms of a massive heart attack.
The funeral was on a Thursday. On Saturday, the
team captain led the Buzzards in a 54-53
victory over their
them in a haze of
tears. They’d go on to
be the last unbeaten
basketball team in the state of Tennessee
going into the district
In the spring, the
team captain received
the school’s first Most
Valuable Player award
for varsity basketball.
Of course, when people
ask about the “Ogle
Award,” the kid in the
picture is quick to point
out that it’s named not
in his honor – but in the
memory of his father,
Dr. L.C. Ogle, Jr.
BY A FLOODED RIVER - We’ve come
quite a ways to this point, but here we are, back Downtown, on the river walk.
It’s May 11, 2011, and the swollen Mississippi River is a stunning backdrop for
the urban explorer and
former high school basketball hero. He’s wearing a white polo shirt and
seersucker pants, but he
resembles a street preacher with his public address system and is inviting over
anyone who will stop
He’s here because he saw Al Roker on the
national news standing in chest-deep water at
the foot of Beale and thought it was sending the
“I got a little irritated, you know, because of
all the wrong information,” Ogle said. “These are
historic times. Someone needs to be down here
helping people with perspective.”
He knows more about historic floods than just
about anyone in this city. As he rattles off facts and
figures from previous flood years, he literally has
his credentials at his back.
Peeking out from the river, just over his
shoulder, is the high ground of Mud Island River
Park, where he was the general manager from
1985 to 1993. Just behind him, atop the submerged
cobblestone landing, are the riverboats that take
tourists out on sightseeing cruises. He was the
general manager of the Memphis Queen Line
between 1993 and 1998.
“You see these riverboats over my shoulder?”
he asked a crowd of joggers, executives, and
tourists. “People are worried about the boats during
the flood. Hey, that’s just more water to float on!”
Over the course of five days, he re-educates
around 2,000 people about the great flood of 2011.
IN JIMMY'S HEAD - There’s more to this tour,
much more. But to get a bigger perspective on this civic-minded
MUS alumnus, it’s far more entertaining to join him on one of his
When he’s not
working for the FedEx St. Jude Classic or a myriad of other
part-time jobs, he’s busy talking about Memphis history, though he dislikes the title of
“I like to say I’m an adventurer and a
storyteller,” he said. “I’m a combination of Richard Halliburton and
Prince Mongo.” His friends add that there’s some Forrest Gump in
He started giving presentations strictly as a
hobby in 2008 after listening to a lecture that he found wholly
uninspiring. “I thought: I probably know more about history than
this guy,” he said. “I’ve worked for the Memphis Parks Commission
and the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum. I’ve met the historians, and I’ve met
the people who made history. So I asked the Center City Commission
if they’d mind if I gave a free walking tour. They said, ‘Yeah, sure
In Jimmy Ogle fashion, he drummed up publicity
for his first walking tour in The Commercial Appeal. The “hook” was
that he’d use manhole covers as a way to explain how the city’s
infrastructure was built. More than 90 people and two TV news crews
showed up that day.
He now conducts a series of free walking tours
that cover almost every aspect of Memphis history. In Overton Park,
for example, he can tell you about
the changes in elevation, the
ages of trees, and the history
of the Memphis Zoo, and he
doesn’t hesitate to swing on a
vine or climb into the hollow of
On many weekends, he
does all the talking on the
Island Queen riverboat during
a 90-minute sightseeing cruise.
He also teaches an adult
education class in local history
out of the Memphis College of
Art’s Nesin Graduate School
Recently, he’s written the text to several bronze historical
ON TOUR WITH
JIMMY OGLE The best way to get the Jimmy
Ogle experience is to invite him to
give a talk. He gives presentations
to civic groups, senior centers, and
businesses on various topics. He
can be contacted via email on his
Ogle currently offers weekly
walking tours of Downtown
Memphis, 11:45 a.m. every
Tuesday. For meeting locations,
visit his website.
Keep an eye out for his
Saturday “Super Tours,” which
combine walking tours of several
different locations Downtown.
Special event: Ever wonder
why November 6th Street is called
that? At 2:00 p.m. on November 6,
Ogle will have a special tour of the
entire street. He’ll have t-shirts and
special “Jimmy Ogle Bottled Water”
to give away.
He’s curating a
museum exhibit called “Art in
the Gutter,” which he hopes
to debut in the spring of
2012. Ogle is also the current
chairman of the Shelby County
His website, jimmyogle.
com, is an expanding guide
to his tours, exploits, and
achievements (he’s been an
Honorary Peabody Duckmaster,
a costumed re-enactor at
Elmwood Cemetery, the scoreboard
operator for the Memphis
Tigers, and a professional
calligrapher, among other
Carol Perel, director of
operations for the Cotton
Museum, says his tours have
made people more excited
“He has more in his mind
than anyone I’ve ever met,” she
said. “He’s a real student of
history, but more importantly,
he shares that knowledge with
others. He’s a promoter of
Memphis, a real treasure.”
Lendermon, president of the Riverfront
Development Corporation, agrees. He recently hired Ogle to head up
riverfront programming and events
by continuing to preach the importance of the Mississippi
“His job is going to be bringing more activities
to the riverfront, getting more groups doing things,”
It’s just one more step forward for Ogle and his
gospel of Memphis history.
“Everything I’ve done in my life has led up to this
culmination,” he said.
But how does he keep all those facts and figures
in his head? How can a man possibly know so much,
from how many horses Nathan Bedford Forrest had
shot out from under him (29), to how much Jack Belz
paid for the Peabody Hotel on July 31, 1975 ($550,000),
to the starting line-up of the 1964 Cardinals (too long
“When I was a kid, I was really into sports,
numbers, and statistics. I used to memorize baseball
cards,” he said. “My sister told me that if it wasn’t for
the sports page in the paper, I wouldn’t have learned
how to read.”
Published September 2011 in
Story By Christopher Blank
Jimmy Ogle: Pride of
by classmate Dr. Steve “Bubba”
In an interview with me, Jimmy Ogle ’70 discussed
“More people remember me for 12th-grade basketball
than for these other things I’ve done,” Ogle said, “which is
fine with me.”
But it’s not fine. Ogle earned his place in MUS
athletic history in his senior year, but this is the story of
what he has done since his graduation in May of 1970.
MUS Today has chronicled the lives of alumni that have
gone on to great success as doctors, lawyers, teachers,
authors, developers, CEOs, philanthropists, and military
men, but it has never traced a 41-year journey that turned
an all-state basketball player into the man The Commercial
Appeal declared a “raconteur.” After reading this, I know
you will agree that James McAlister Ogle has led the most interesting life
any alumnus in the history of modern MUS.
Ogle thinks his drive came from the confidence he
gained by winning the Presbyterian Day School spelling
bee in 1964. He spelled “judgment” and “extraordinary”
to take home the prize. But perhaps it was his point guard
training that prepared him to take every opportunity that
Ogle started his post-1970 work history as a clerk on
the graveyard shift at the 7-11 on Central Avenue. After
less than a month on the job, a 4:00 a.m. holdup convinced
him to seek another career.
many adventures, he has encountered many characters, such as Tiny
Tim, Ringo Starr and Shaquille O’Neal.
After attending Southwestern at Memphis (Rhodes
College) for two years, Ogle left to begin work in the
recreation department at First Baptist Church. In 1974, he enrolled at
Memphis State University, where he
roomed with Phil Cannon, the future director of the
FedEx St. Jude Classic. Ogle started with the Memphis
Park Commission’s Recreation Department in 1979; by
1983, he was an administrative manager for the MPC’s
executive director, and he was made deputy director the
Ogle solidified his connection to Downtown
Memphis when, in 1983, he began a four-year role as
general manager of Mud Island River Park. From there,
he was general manager of the Mud Island Management
Authority from 1989-93 and general manager of the
Memphis Queen Line from 1993-98. He spent
1998-2000 as vice president of operations
for Performa Entertainment
(Beale Street), 2000-03 as director
of operations for the Smithsonian
Institution’s Memphis Rock ‘n’
Soul Museum, and 2003-09
as vice president of operations
for Ericson Group, Inc.
Since 2009, he has been a consultant
for the Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau and a tournament coordinator
for the St. Jude Classic. But it’s when you get into Ogle’s part-time jobs
that you start getting jealous. How would you like to sit at center court
for Memphis Tigers and Grizzlies basketball games and get paid for it? Ogle
has been the clock operator for the Tigers since 1998 (and on the statistics
crew since 1973) and was the clock operator for the Grizzlies from 2001-03.
In addition to countless NCAA basketball and football games and tournaments,
Ogle has also run the clock and scoreboard for the Harlem Globetrotters.
He’s also done some quirky things. In 1997, James Earl Jones was in town,
filming A Family Thing with Robert Duvall. The movie had a wrap party on the
Memphis Queen, and Jones wanted to drive the boat. Ogle agreed, but in
return, Jones had to autograph an ear of corn (Field of Dreams) and talk in
his Darth Vader voice as he steered the paddle boat.
Watching the trains go by the river from the Memphis
Queen was too tempting for Ogle, so in 1998 he bought an
Amtrak pass and traveled 7,000
miles in 21 days, riding on
the City of New Orleans, the Empire Builder, the Coastal
Starlight, and the Southwest Chief. On the way out, he
stopped in Chicago and saw Sammy Sosa hit home runs
Nos. 50 and 51, and, at his last stop in St. Louis, he saw
Mark McGwire tie Roger Maris’ record with home run
No. 61 on Labor Day. Before the game, he sold his two
extra tickets and paid for the whole trip. It’s just not fair.
deputized from the Class of 1970: Steve Bledsoe,
Bev Ray, Frank Crumbaugh, Jimmy Ogle, and Tom Berdeja
But what has Ogle done for MUS since 1970? He
has addressed MUS students on several occasions, but
his greatest gift was his arrangement for a new Buzzard
portrait by the original artist, Dr. David Morris ’70, and
his organization of the reunion of the 1969-70 basketball
team (see article in MUS Today, March 2010, page 33).
This successful reunion formed the nucleus for the Class of
1970’s “40 Years of Domination” reunion in September of
2010, attended by
51 of 67 graduates.
work on our
Bureau of Investigation),
of the M.B.I. badge
and had 100 copies
made at a personal
expense of $700.
He then came up
with the protocol for being “deputized” into the M.B.I.
and performed most of the ceremonies himself. To top it
off, he had a plaque made to place on the wall in the Ross
Lynn Arena to finally honor Morris as the artist of the
Along the way, Ogle has been blessed with a son,
Jimmie Mac; a daughter-in-law, Tiffany; and a granddaughter,
Describe Jimmy Ogle as you will:
all-state MUS basketball player, public servant, 7-11 clerk,
Memphis historian, museum director, clock operator,
sports statistician. The truth is, along the way, his last 40
years have been a lot more interesting than mine, and I’ll
bet more interesting than yours. Go, Buzzards!
Ogle This: Tour Gives Detailed History of
Sidewalks, buildings, street signs and railroad tracks can’t tell their story –
but Jimmy Ogle can.
During four walking tours and one lecture in September, Ogle (BS ’80) described
these and other lesser-known history of the southwest and southeast
neighborhoods surrounding the University, plus historical nuggets about the U of
“The stuff you don’t think about, like the sidewalk stamps or the fire hydrants,
he brings that to light,” said tour participant Chris Greganti. “It’s something
you wouldn’t think to learn about.”
The programs are part of the University Libraries’ “Know Your Neighborhood”
event to highlight the history of the U of M during the University’s centennial
Ogle’s enthusiasm for history is infectious. Even the history of manhole covers
is interesting when Ogle describes it. His fervor doesn’t stop when the tours
end. He’s always learning, talking to locals at neighborhood meetings and
snapping pictures of things to research.
On one of the tours, Ogle stopped traffic on Walker Avenue as he was about to
take a picture of a square manhole cover. The drivers watched with perplexed
expressions, but that didn’t stop Ogle, who is also known for his manhole-cover
tours of downtown Memphis.
As he continued describing Walker Avenue, he pointed to the crape myrtle trees
lining the railroad tracks, stating that 219 of those trees are along the
tracks. Also, along the southwest corner of Patterson and Walker near the tracks
is where the President’s Mansion was once located, Ogle said.
In this area behind Patterson Hall, the sidewalks have a story. Before pouring
any sidewalks for the interior of this area of campus, administrators allowed
students to walk along the grass to cut to class. Once there were worn footpaths
in the grass, the sidewalks were designed in those directions. This is why the
sidewalks are not in straight lines.
Several names of streets are also in honor of past U of M presidents, such as
Mynders Street for Seymour A. Mynders and Brister Street for John W. Brister.
Ogle leads dozens of Memphis area walking tours and lectures each year. This is
the second year he has visited the U of M for neighborhood tours. He will
continue researching the history of the U of M neighborhoods because he believes
the University is an important factor for the development of the area.
“Whether it was West Tennessee State Normal College, West Tennessee State
Teachers College, Memphis State College or the University of Memphis, a lot has
happened,” Ogle said. “The city has grown up around this University.”
The Memphis city limits were not extended to the U of M until 1929, 17 years
after the school’s opening.
Ogle is also researching the history of the 12 churches around the U of M. These
will be the theme of a presentation in January.
“Boy, he sure knows a lot of stuff,” said Bob Boone, retired U of M director of
financial aid. “Jimmy’s got a pretty good handle on most everything that’s going
on around here. It fills in some gaps that have been in your mind for a long
To listen to Ogle or join him on a tour, visit
www.jimmyogle.com for upcoming dates for
walking tours and presentations. All events explore the history of Memphis,
Shelby County and the Mississippi River.
Jimmy Ogle, performance historian and keeper of esoteric Memphis lore, is like
an informational slot machine that pays off every single time you play. Simple
questions like, "Why did your Shelby County courthouse tours go away?" get
rapid-fire answers: "I was working out east, 26 miles away. That's a 52-mile
round trip if you're counting." Ogle's new position as community engagement
manager for the Riverfront Development Corporation brings him back downtown so
his free walking tours of one of Memphis' most detailed buildings is returning.
Ogle explains: "We meet at the southwest steps by the statue of Justice. There
are six statues, all of which were carved from a single block of marble, the
largest in the state of Tennessee, which is interesting. We'll look at the
pediments and the markers. And there's a 26-year-old tulip poplar tree planted
for the building's 75th anniversary, so you can see exactly what a 26-year-old
tulip poplar is supposed to look like."
The courthouse's seven kinds of marble will be identified, as will its Cuban
mahogany. Ogle will spin yarns about a bust of Andrew Jackson and drop some
details about films that have been shot on location there. He will also
introduce visitors to the famous cuspidor.
"There was a time when spitting — or should I say expectorating? — was in
fashion, and there were cuspidors everywhere," Ogle explains. "Well, it went out
of style in the 1960s, and they were all given away. After the centennial
celebration, someone loaned one back, and we have it on display."
Shelby County Courthouse tours begin at noon on Thursday, September 15th,
October 27th, November 17th, and December 22nd. tours are free, and cameras,
which are usually prohibited in the courthouse, are welcome. The courthouse is
located at Second and Adams.
Dead Reckoning With Ghosts Of Our Past
By Dan Conaway
GHOST OF A
RIVER. Jimmy Ogle is a Memphis history savant. He knows things about people and
places around here that even those people didn’t know in the first place.
Last & Only Known
Extant Photograph of the Sultana & Doomed Passengers
Helena, Arkansas, April 26, 1865
Library of Congress
Going somewhere with Jimmy is a trip.
The other day, Jimmy navigated and I
handled my car’s tiller across a 30-mile-wide lake – on dry land. I plowed
upstream in the main channel of the Mississippi – in a plowed field. In the
surreal light of fire on water, I wove my way through hundreds already dead and
heard the desperate screams of hundreds still alive – as I passed the water
features and faux Georgian facades of a brand-new subdivision. In the dusty
reality of today’s all-but-forgotten Mound City, I remembered that day’s Mound
City and its citizens throwing together rafts to save all the souls they could.
I saw her go down, a spectacular tragedy at the end of a spectacularly tragic
war, her fiery gunwales disappearing – 40 feet below a farmer’s field. I steered
to the landing at Marion, a bustling Mississippi port – and parked my car in
front of a still Southern swamp.
It was a late afternoon in March, but Jimmy and I were spending quality
time with the ghosts of an early morning in April of 1865.
Before the levees, the river was 30 miles wide this time of year, perhaps
but ankle deep in places but all wet. Then, the channel north of the Desoto
Bridge was the Tennessee Chute, choked with sandbars. Then, the chute we now see
against the river’s west bank was the main channel, sweeping six-plus miles west
and then north, placing Mound City and Marion on the Mississippi.
Before there was the Titanic, there was the Sultana.
The Titanic carried 2,229 when she hit that iceberg. The Sultana had a
capacity of only 376, but carried 2,300 when her boiler exploded, igniting the
dawn off Marion, visible from Memphis eight miles south.
The Titanic lost 1,517, capturing the attention of the world then and
even now. The Sultana lost at least 1,700, the greatest maritime disaster in
American history, and she couldn’t even capture a regional headline. Her news
was lost in the wave of mourning for Abraham Lincoln, awash in the gunshots that
killed his assassin the day before.
She carried the weak and wasted human detritus of war, Union prisoners
heading home after somehow surviving the infamy of Andersonville only to die in
hot, bright flames or beneath cold, dark water. Where their hope sank, where
there was once a great river, a great tragedy and a singular marker in the
nation’s history and ours, that place should be properly marked and always
Folks in Marion and around the country – Jimmy introduced me to a few –
are determined to do just that. They know if you travel the road that once was a
river and stop and listen, you can hear bits and pieces of 2,300 stories washed
away by a forgotten current.
I’m a Memphian, and Jimmy and I see ghosts.
Dan Conaway is a lifelong Memphian, longtime
adman and aspiring local character in a city known for them.
Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Students see city history during tour
of Downtown Memphis:
Bolton High School
students from teacher Autumn Thron's art 3 class, including
MaryEllen Hendrick, 16, make rubbings of manhole covers on Madison
Avenue during a Downtown Memphis history tour led by Jimmy Ogle. By
noting the different markings, foundry names, dates, sizes and
shapes of manhole covers, Ogle is able to paint a picture of
regional history through the development of the city's
Thanks to Jimmy Ogle, we had a fun 90 minute trip on the Island
Queen on Sunday, Oct 16.
Jimmy knows just about everything about
Memphis and did commentary
through the tour down and then
back up the Arkansas side of the
The weather couldn’t have
been any better. It was beautiful!
Memphis Magazine - Who's Who A quick guide to our city's movers,
shakers and other news-makers.
Local historian, storyteller and tour guide known for such arcane
topics as historic manhole covers and stormwater drainage systems. Recently
hired by the Riverfront Development Corporation to promote better use of the
riverfront, serve as the city's liaison with the
Island. Formerly served as general manager of
Memphis Queenline and
director of the Rock 'N' Soul Museum, and deputy director of Memphis Park
Park Place: Establishing Recreation
System Was Linchpin of Improving Memphis
The founders had a plan, and it
began with the parks.
When Memphis was established in 1819, parks and open spaces were as much
a part of the vision as the Mississippi River, commerce and cotton. With a
total of 36 acres decreed by the founders (the earliest being Court Square,
Market Square, Exchange Square, Auction Square and the promenade along the
bluff), Memphis established itself as a city on the cutting edge of culture,
recreation and meeting the needs of the community.
Today, with activists and leaders suddenly intent on expanding and
utilizing existing green space as an amenity to attract a creative class of
people and industry, it's a resource the city has actually been cultivating
and sitting upon since its earliest days.
As early as 1889, Judge L.B. McFarland began looking into the creation of a
park system for the city. Nine years later, John C. Olmsted, son of
Frederick Law Olmsted Sr., the designer of New York's Central Park, visited
Memphis to investigate the possibility of such a system. The mood of the
nation following the Civil War, Reconstruction and the yellow fever
epidemics led to an avid progressive movement of city beautification. The
leaders of the day "rallied around the idea that the city could be rebuilt
to the highest standard of quality and innovation, and, as an example, the
city beautiful movement advanced those ideas in parks, open space and with
the parkway element, not just as a scenic drive but as a way to create and
improve the form of cities where they could be organized around beautiful,
linear parkways that would also enhance development and real estate values,"
said Ritchie Smith, a landscape architect who drew up the 1988 Overton Park
Today, in the Memphis Park Services building on Avery (on land acquired
by the Park Commission through a delinquent-tax seizure in 1936), the
minutes of meetings for an infant commission are recorded in large,
crumbling leather-bound books. With the flourish of a neatly written hand
that allows us into the paneled offices of men who dreamed of the outdoors,
the Memphis Park Commission was established in 1900. Ever since, it, and its
subsequent entity known as Memphis Park Services, has maintained a patchwork
quilt of turf, trees, pools, recreation centers and ponds.
Also recorded in the books is the commission's interest in land found "in
the northeastern portion of the city," the 347-acre Lea Woods. It was soon
purchased for $110,807 from Overton Lea, grandson of city founder John
Overton. The park was called East Park before eventually being renamed to
honor Overton. City planner and landscape architect George Kessler of Kansas
City, Mo., was hired in November 1901, and he drew up plans for a system of
scenic parkways to connect the new Overton Park with Riverside Park in
Downtown. During his career, Kessler planned hundreds of projects
internationally and across the country, including Dallas, Cleveland,
Indianapolis, El Paso and the grounds for the 1904 Louisiana Purchase
Exposition in St. Louis. Riverside's 379 acres had been used for emergency
burials during the yellow fever epidemic and, later, to grow hay and
vegetables that would be used to feed animals at the new zoo in Overton
Park. In 1913, a golf course was added to Riverside. A dam was constructed
in 1952 to divert the river to the other side of Presidents Island, forming
McKellar Lake with a marina built by the Park Commission. The park was
renamed to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. after his assassination.
Kessler, realizing that the open spaces were public and paid for by
citizens, designed with an eye toward easy and ample access, even though
there were only a handful of cars in Memphis at the time.
"In 1904, there were eight; in 1910, there were 1,000, and the speed
limit was 8 mph," said historian Jimmy Ogle, who worked for the Memphis Park
Commission in several capacities, including deputy director, and now offers
a walking tour of Overton Park.
When thinking of parks, images of children playing, ducks and geese on
ponds, picnics and sports fields spring to mind. The system of North, East
and South parkways, however, is a shady, flowering trail designed and still
maintained by Park Services. The system was added to the National Register
of Historic Places in 1989.
"They still are the best roadways that we have developed, and it has been
100 years," Ogle said. "Three lanes, park-like median, dedicated turn lanes,
very few traffic lights." Last month, the city began restriping North
Parkway for dedicated bike lanes to connect Overton Park with Downtown.
During the first half of the 20th Century alone, we had the additions of
Bellevue Park, Morris Park, Lincoln Park, Williamson Park, Treadwell Park
and the Pink Palace. In an effort to battle the Southern heat, public pools
were opened in Orange Mound, at the Fairgrounds and in North Memphis. Land
encompassing the Indian mounds known as the Jackson Mounds, south of what is
now Interstate 55, was purchased in 1912 and renamed DeSoto Park (again
renamed Chickasaw Heritage Park in 1995). In 1913, 53 acres north of Chelsea
were established as Douglass Park. Both were outside the city limits at the
time, and both were designated for black residents only, part of the
segregation of city parks that lasted until a Supreme Court decision in 1963
ended such laws.
The second half of the century saw the creation of parks Glenview,
Gaisman, Belz, Gooch, E.H. Crump, Martyrs and the Spanish American War
Memorial at East Parkway and Central. During the 1960s and '70s alone,
federal money made possible the acquisition of more than 2,500 acres and the
creation of 50 parks. Two parcels of land totaling 355 acres were purchased
just outside the city limits at the time for more than $400,000. Former
mayor Crump, a bird enthusiast, lobbied for the name Bluebird, but the
Commission fancied Audubon. There was already a small park on Central near
the Fairgrounds named Audubon, however, but the Commission took the name for
the new park and renamed the old one Tobey, now home to baseball fields, a
rugby field, volleyball pit, dog park and, soon, a new skate park.
The Ketchum Memorial Iris Garden was planted with 2,500 rhizomes from the
garden of Morgan Ketchum, the municipal rose garden was relocated from
Overton Park, the Memphis Area Wildflower Society created a sanctuary for
displaced native plants, and, in 1964, the family of retailer Jacob
Goldsmith dedicated the public gardens. It was renamed Memphis Botanic
Garden two years later. Audubon Park today contains the gardens, an 18-hole
golf course, tennis courts and a 6-acre fishing lake. Once outside the city,
it has become an oasis within, nestled among railroad tracks, a shopping
mall, the University of Memphis and heavily trafficked streets on all sides.
It is this sort of oasis that McFarland and Kessler envisioned more than
a century ago. It's a system that has been cared for and attended to by its
keepers and citizens alike, though it has come under assault at times by
eager developers. Overton Park was nearly bisected in the 1970s by I-40
until a landmark Supreme Court decision averted that near disaster. It is a
case looked upon by courts today and still the only point in the country
where I-40 is broken.
The Memphis Park Commission was dissolved in 2000 under the Herenton
administration and became a division of city government. Today, the Memphis
City Council is considering allowing a conservancy -- like the zoo, Botanic
Garden and Shelby Farms have done -- to overlook the management, fundraising
and any restructuring of Overton Park.
"The Park Commission are assured of the fact that they can accomplish but
little unless supported by a strong, favorable public sentiment," Chairman
McFarland wrote. "The people must encourage and help the Commission and the
administration in this work if they want a beautiful city."
You probably walk or drive over
manhole covers every day without paying them any notice, however there’s one
Memphian who has made a point to stop, study and photograph manhole covers,
specifically in the downtown area, since 1998. For
Jimmy Ogle, the manhole covers hold aesthetic and historic value, enough so that
locals and visitors alike have taken interest in the subject by coming along for
Ogle’s free tours. So far, he has found 12 generations of the openings used to
access utility vaults and has identified nine foundries, with one in India,
utilized for the construction of the roughly 4,000 downtown covers.
Ogle says, “Some of the covers are more than 100 years old—I found one
Having worked at Mud Island River Park, the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, on a
river boat and currently at the Riverfront Development Corporation, Ogle has
been immersed in downtown sites and businesses for quite some time, and along
the way, he developed into a bona fide storyteller. People began putting in
requests for tours, and in 2008, he took his manhole cover tour to the Downtown
Memphis Development Commission’s (formerly the Center City Commission) “Downtown
Alive” series, though he’d first proposed a river or a boat tour that were both
shot down. In three days, he put together a walking tour that spanned from Union
to Riverside to Third Street, a stretch that allowed people to not only see
manhole covers, but Cotton Row, the Mississippi, the seven flags on Mud Island,
Howard’s Row and places of music.
“Ninety people showed up for that first Union Avenue Manhole Cover and
History Tour, so Leslie [Gower] at the Downtown Memphis Development Commission
said I could do a tour on whatever I wanted after that,” he says.
Next up was a Mississippi River Tour and a Memphis Land Tour, which bring
to light bits of trivia that Ogle delights in telling, like when he points out
that Memphis is the highest piece of land on the Mississippi between Cairo,
Illinois and Natchez, Mississippi. His crash courses in everything Memphis,
which he mainly coordinates on his own now, have grown to include visits to
Gayoso Bayou and the River-front Trolley Loop, to name a few of the locations he
heavily researches before adding them to his schedule (found at jimmyogle.com).
He assures, “I always double source or triple source my facts, and I’ve
probably read over 300 books on Memphis history. I’m trying to get the stories
right because there are a lot of myths out there.”
While August brings Ogle to his usual spots, from Cotton Row to Adams,
Madison and Monroe Avenues, fans will be happy to know that he’s added a new
spot to the mix with the November Sixth Street Tour on November 6 at 2 p.m.
First-timers or repeat visitors, just remember not to refer to Ogle as a
Ogle insists, “I just want to be called a life-long Memphian.”
'Memphis' the musical marches straight from Broadway to foot of Beale Street
It was a big-budget musical
born in the minds of two guys from the East Coast, cultivated in theaters on
the West Coast, and has, since its Broadway opening in 2009, resided
exclusively in New York City. With the launch of its national tour this
week, however, the Tony Award-winning "Memphis" is finally getting face time
with the city whose challenging racial history and musical mystique inspired
"We love the idea of starting the tour here," said producer Randy Adams with
Junkyard Dogs Productions. "I can't wait to be in the audience when people
from Memphis and in Memphis get to hear this music. We really think it will
becomes the first national tour of a Broadway show to debut at the Orpheum
theater, which has been filled with cast and crew members from New York
since mid-September. The show officially opens Oct. 16, with preview
performances on Oct. 14 and 15.
The production team now occupies nearly every nook and cranny of the
83-year-old theater. Band rehearsals take place in the lobby. The darkened
auditorium resembles NASA's mission control as light, sound and scenic
designers make adjustments on dozens of computer monitors. The voices of the
director and choreographer boom throughout the theater via the aptly named
"God mic." Behind the scenes, wardrobe assistants shuttle racks of newly
fitted costumes between dressing rooms and the backstage area. Beaming
actors dance through the halls. As embedded as the company appears, this
colorful replica of the Broadway show is made to travel. It can be packed
and unpacked in a single night and shipped via six semi-trailer trucks to
the next destination.
Having its opening here was as much a marketing opportunity as it was a
symbolic overture. Orpheum president Pat Halloran, who is among the show's
investors, raised approximately $700,000 to back "Memphis." The Orpheum
itself kicked in $100,000. "This was a unique situation for us," he said.
"We have several reasons for investing. For one, it supports our industry.
For another, it helps with our contract negotiations. But for this one, we
really wanted to have a say when it came to the marketing aspects. We were
concerned about the name 'Memphis,' and wanted to make sure we were involved
in how our city was going to be portrayed."
Producers say the tour is already booked for a year, with a second year
nearly finalized. "Memphis" will soon join more than 20 current national
tours of Broadway shows. Launching elsewhere this month are tours of "La
Cage aux Folles" and another Memphis-inspired musical, "Million Dollar
Quartet," opening in Rochester. Both will come to the Orpheum later this
season. Still running at the Shubert Theater on Broadway, the $12 million
original production of "Memphis" has been playing to about 80 percent
capacity. It was not an overnight success, however. A theater critic from
The New York Times dismissively called the show "the Michael Bolton of
Broadway musicals." But after the show won raves from folks like Michelle
Obama and Justin Timberlake, the paper has conceded its popularity with
audiences. "They (now) call us the 'durable' hit," said producer Sue Frost.
"We knew all along we would be a word-of-mouth show. If we hung around long
enough, we would make it." After winning four 2010 Tony Awards for best
musical, book, original score and orchestrations, the production got a bump
in attendance that paid back investors.
The start of the $5 million "Memphis" tour at the foot of world-famous Beale
Street finally ties the musical to its namesake. Though playwright Joe
DiPietro and composer David Bryan are fans of Memphis music and culture,
their connection to the city was primarily through visits and their
perceptions of music history. Set in a segregated Memphis of the 1950s, the
show is about a young white man with a gift for gab and a deep love for
black music who shows up in a rhythm-and-blues club on Beale. He soon falls
in love with a black singer, the sister of the club's owner. As
African-American music begins to grip the soul of the nation, both of their
careers take off. Huey becomes a fast-talking radio deejay who puts black
music on white radio. Felicia becomes a successful recording artist thanks
to Huey's mainstream promotion of her music. But their relationship
struggles to survive the racial prohibitions of the era.
Frost said that "Memphis" was a hard musical to categorize in the beginning.
"It's not a musical comedy," she said. "And it's not deeply serious in tone.
What comes across is this positive feeling. Even though the characters face
hardships, people leave the show with a sense of hopefulness and unity.
Every night on Broadway people walk out singing the songs."
Producers admit that interracial relationships aren't as controversial as
they once were. In fact, the company hands out study guides for
schoolchildren explaining the concept of segregation, which Frost says
surprises many young people. "They're growing up in a generation that has
never understood that kind of hatred," Frost said. Even the actors say
they've taken pains to understand attitudes of the 1950s. "In rehearsals we
discuss how to realistically react to being called colored, or the n-word,
because that's not our generation," said Felicia Boswell, who plays Felicia.
"It's hard to know exactly how those words affected people in the 1950s. We
react differently to them today. Those people lived with it every day."
Certainly, the Beale Street of 2011 bears little resemblance to pre-rock
Memphis. Scenic designer Dave Gallo, who recently finished work on the
upcoming Broadway play "The Mountaintop," written by Memphian Katori Hall
and set in the Lorraine Motel the night before Martin Luther King Jr.'s
assassination, said he tried to capture the spirit of "Memphis" without
resorting to preconceived notions. "If you're from up north, everyone wants
to see the old shack," he said. "But we wanted to reflect the
brick-and-mortar side of Beale. Memphis is a town that knows about music.
I've traveled all over the country and I've never been more excited to spend
as much time in one place as I am here."
Ambience is one thing; authenticity another.
Last Thursday, producers brought in local history buff Jimmy Ogle to explain
the significance of a title like "Memphis" to the cast. As his 30-minute
lecture stretched to the hour mark, Ogle reeled off the basics: It's the
city that started the career of W. C. Handy. The city with the country's
first black radio station, WDIA. The city where deejay Dewey Phillips (the
model for Huey in "Memphis") was among the first to play black and white
music in the same hour. From the Lorraine Motel to Stax Records to the
Orpheum theater, where black patrons used to have a separate entrance,
Ogle's talk traversed the city. "I told them to think about all the things
within a mile of this theater that had an impact on the world," Ogle said.
"We are in what I call the center of the known universe for culture. They
were really amazed. I kept hearing: 'Wow. Wow. Wow.'"
RDC Deepens Cultural Resources with
the Addition of Jimmy Ogle
July 18, 2011 – One of Memphis’ most well known advocates for local history and
culture, Jimmy Ogle has joined the staff of the Riverfront Development
Corporation as a Community Engagement Manager. Ogle’s responsibilities will
include the development of new ways for people to connect with one of our city’s
greatest assets — the Mississippi River.
Ogle will be involved primarily in program development. The first phase of his
efforts will involve launching a new incarnation of his popular walking tour
program and establishing a riverfront speakers’ bureau.
Over the last 25 years, Ogle has served in leadership positions with the Memphis
Park Commission, Mud Island River Park, the Memphis Queen Line, Beale Street,
the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, and the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau. He has
also played instrumental roles in a long list of community organizations
(including the West Tennessee Historical Society, Memphis Heritage, the Center
City Commission, Memphis in May and The Cotton Museum), and has emerged as one
of the city’s foremost authorities on Memphis’ cultural assets and heritage.
“The story of our riverfront is amazingly fascinating and always evolving,” said
Benny Lendermon, RDC’s President. “I can’t think of anyone better to share that
story than Jimmy.”
Former Mud Island Park manager Ogle hired to
preach benefits of riverfront.
it's during informal walking tours, excursion cruises or lectures, Jimmy Ogle
talks up the Memphis riverfront with the fervor and panache of a street
Soon, he'll be drawing a regular salary to do it.
The self-described storyteller, adventurer, urban historian and "river-lorian"
has been hired by the Riverfront Development Corp. to head up the programming of
events along the Mississippi River. He starts the second week in July.
"His job is going to be bringing more activities to the riverfront, get more
groups doing things," said RDC president Benny Lendermon.
The exact title for the 58-year-old Ogle hasn't been determined yet. He'll be
paid "about $60,000" for the full-time job, Lendermon said.
The hiring, announced during a meeting of the RDC board of directors Wednesday,
comes during a tight financial period for the nonprofit group that manages the
Under a new contract taking effect July 1, the City Council reduced funding for
the RDC from $2.64 million during the current fiscal year to $2.37 million for
fiscal 2012. Other revenues have fallen off, as well, during the sluggish
Lendermon said the RDC has been cutting costs through measures that include
reducing staff at Mud Island River Park, slashing marketing expenditures and
mowing grass less frequently.
Those cuts, Lendermon said, more than compensate for the cost of hiring Ogle.
And his work will be important in cultivating "grass-roots" activity along the
river, he said, adding, "We think that's what's missing."
Ogle's work experience includes stints as Mud Island general manager, deputy
director of the old Memphis Park Commission and general manager of what was then
Memphis Queen Line riverboats.
More recently, he has conducted informal walking tours and lectures about
Downtown history and lore, which drew heightened interest during the Mississippi
River flood last month. Ogle said he made a point of rebutting what he called
the national media's exaggeration of the flood's impacts.
"It shows that we need to be proactive down there during disasters as well as
promotions," he said Wednesday. Ogle said he hopes his work increases interest
in the riverfront. "Everything I've done in my life has led up to this
culmination," he said.
A look inside the
construction of Beale Street Landing
The Riverfront Development Corp. is making a final push toward
construction of Beale Street Landing’s first phase and expects the project to
open to the public sometime in July.
community engagement manager with Riverfront
Development Corp., walks along the project's grass roof.
The first phase will include the riverfront restaurant, the project’s main
building and the dock and ramp.
Here we have included a photo gallery to give you a glimpse into
construction of the $38 million Beale Street Landing’s construction. All photos
were taken by MBJ photographer
Howell March 29.
Beale Street Landing will serve as the docking station for touring
riverboats and therefore needs its dock operational by April 26, the date Great
American Steamboat Co. will launch the maiden voyage of the American Queen
riverboat. The entire first phase won’t be finished by then, so RDC
communications director Dorchelle Spence said the organization is now working on
how to welcome the public to its construction site.
Great American Steamboat plans to hold a christening ceremony for the
boat April 27.7.
Beale Street Landing settled on an operator for the new restaurant, which
MBJ first reported March 14. It chose Beale and Second Inc., which is headed by
Beale Street veteran Bud Chittom. The parties are still negotiating and
restaurant construction has not started, Spence said, but she’s hopeful
Riverside Grille & Dockside Bar will open sometime in July.
If you drive down Riverside Drive, you will no doubt notice the
“beautiful red structure that nobody knows what it is,” Spence said. It is a
helical ramp which provides handicap accessibility to the dock as well as the
primary way passengers will get luggage on and off the boats.s.
The main building will have a reception space that can be rented for
private functions as well as a ticketing counter for the Delta Queen’s daily
The project’s final phase will include parks with islands and terraces.
It is set for completion in fall 2013.
Late last year, the RDC simplified plans for the final phase in order to
get it under budget. Plans for horizontal terraces were changed from concrete to
green lawn. Three guitar pick-shaped islands have been pared down to two with
one of them replaced by a winding walkway which meets ADA requirements.
Memphis street historian awash with flooding
Ex-Mud Island chief spreads details, trivia of moody
-- urban explorer, history buff and raconteur -- spends most of his
semi-retirement days streaming information. He's so immersed in Memphis trivia,
he can't bail out his brain fast enough.
nothing in his years of giving walking tours, riverboat tours and history
lectures has brought up such a deluge of data as the recent near-record crest of
the Mississippi River.
Listening to the gawkers on the riverwalk over the weekend and those television
reporters in rubber waders, he got frustrated.
"I started listening to conversations and told myself, 'Now, don't get
involved.' But then I got a little irritated, you know, because of all the wrong
information," he said. "These are historic times. Someone needs to be down here
helping people with perspective."
So Ogle grabbed his public-address system and set himself up
"street-preacher-style" behind AutoZone headquarters Downtown with the sunset as
He estimates that nearly 400 people stopped with questions on Tuesday night. On
Wednesday, he brought visual aids: aerial photos of the river and pictures of
previous floods. (He can rattle off each of the seven previous years that the
water rose above 40 feet.)
"You know, Memphis was founded here because it's the highest piece of ground
between Cairo, Illinois, and Natchez, Mississippi," he said. "On the other side
of the river, it used to flood 35 miles into Arkansas. That's one of the
flattest places on Earth."
His information is broad, and also deep.
"The flooding hasn't even reached the Gayoso bayou!" he said in reference to a
giant storm-water cistern under the city.
Yes, he has crawled down a sewer to get a visual confirmation on that.
From 1985 to 1993, Ogle was the general manager of Mud Island River Park, which
is just peeking out of the water behind him. He was also general manager of the
Memphis Queen Line between 1993 and 1998.
As the sun sank on the horizon, Ogle spoke of maritime disasters, of the volume
of water in the river, of river gauges and of what astronauts can see of the
river from space.
Susan Brown of Bartlett was among the passers-by who stopped to soak it up.
"When you live in an area like this, you sometimes forget the magnitude and awe
of the river," she said. "It's good to hear someone talking about it with so
Tommy McGee drove up from Independence, Miss., to see the flooding that he'd
been hearing about. After going through Ogle's photos, he said: "It's about what
Even Mark Twain might be impressed with how Ogle draws a crowd and gets out the
facts at the same time. He advises any aspiring drug dealers to get rid of a
briefcase full of contraband on the Memphis side because it'll get farther
downriver. (He has been with police when they picked one up.)
And if you're contemplating a desperate jump off the bridge, don't do it on the
"It's shallow over there," he said. "You'd want to go on the Tennessee side so
if you have regrets on the way down you have about 50 feet of water under you so
you can bob back up."
Ogle plans to keep the information flowing from 6 p.m. to sunset tonight and
Recipient of 2011
Volunteer Of The Year Award
Jimmy Ogle with Knox Phillips
Glowing, beaming and
luminous could all describe any Hollywood starlet’s beauty, but the night of the
Blues Ball, these adjectives applied to a different kind of star—the Hernando
DeSoto Bridge. Twenty-five years has passed since the bridge received a facelift
with 200 lights added to its arches, so the time had come for an anniversary
celebration. Fittingly, Pat Kerr Tigrett, who helped raise donations for the
bridge lights, hosted “An Elegant Evening Under the Bridge” in conjunction with
her annual Blues Ball this September.
Around 2,000 Memphians, and even some out-of-towners, ventured to River
Island (Mud Island) for the special affair and a spectacular view of the bridge
and the Memphis skyline. Asked to dress in black tie with an attitude, city chic
couture or river rat rags, partygoers exercised their freedom in fashion choices
to the fullest, arriving in outfits ranging from satin ball gowns to ripped
jeans and t-shirts. Sam Samudio, aka “Sam the Sham,” opted for an edgy ensemble
by sporting a bright red tuxedo jacket, a shiny black dress shirt and a black
skullcap with red roses—a look that suited the performer well when he took to
the stage to sing a fan favorite, “Wolly Bully.” And Samudio’s performance was
only one of many during a party that featured some of the area’s finest singers
and musicians, including Andy Childs, Susan “Honey Mouth” Marshall, Wendy Moten,
Di Anne Price, Preston Shannon, Jason D. Williams and Ruby Wilson. DJ Raiford
topped off the lineup and didn’t disappoint when he played dance heavy tunes
often heard at Paula and Raiford’s Disco.
Perhaps the biggest moment of the evening came when a grandiose fireworks
display joined the Hernando DeSoto Bridge in lighting up Ol’ Man River. As the
night sky changed from red to white to blue, Sandi Patty could be heard singing
the national anthem, with a second rendition of the song sung by The Sanctuary
Choir of the New Olivet Baptist Church. During the fireworks, a regatta of
Memphis Yacht Club members’ boats also took place, much the same as it did 25
years ago when the bridge was first lit.
In addition to celebrating the bridge, Blues Ball served as a fund-raiser
for Tigrett’s Memphis Charitable Foundation, which supports causes from the
Madonna Learning Center and the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum to NARAS/MusiCares
and the Memphis Fire Department. Tigrett made a new request this year though for
$1,000 donations to plant 200 Yoshino cherry trees along Riverside Drive and on
River Island in memory of or in honor of benefactors’ loved ones…and to continue
to make Memphians proud of their city.
Of the event, Tigrett said, “This was one of my all-time favorite Blues
Balls. The 25th anniversary of our iconic bridge combined with other Memphis
icons...our legendary Memphis musicians…was a true Memphis celebration.”
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - "Thomas Edison lived right
That’s right, “The” Thomas Edison once lived in Memphis, Tennessee. That’s just
one of the nuggets of knowledge you get from Historian Jimmy Ogle.
"The old cobble stone... brick pavers... granite mixed in here..."
A Memphis native and historian, he gives detailed tours of the city, pointing
out things that most would never pick up on.
"Poplar and Lamar were actually planned by the animals, moving from territory to
territory hundreds of years ago..."
But, Jimmy doesn’t only know the streets and buildings, he also knows what’s
under them. He took us underground, to parts of the city that few have seen in
"You can see the old bricks... 120 years old or so."
The old brick lining to Gayoso Bayou runs the length of the cavern and up the
walls becoming part of one of the first wagon bridges to ever link old Memphis
to East Tennessee.
"You can see the arches right behind us... on the Washington Ave. bridge. That's
some old stuff right there!"
Bayou Gayoso has quite a history. When Memphis was founded in 1819, it was
bordered on the west by the Mississippi River, and on the easy by Bayou Gayoso,
which was about 5 miles long and ran parallel to the river. Permanent brick
bridges were’nt built to cross the bayou until after the Civil War.
"This was one of the first bridges to cross the bayou? I'd say yeah... the first
was in 1824."
But, there was a dark side to the bayou. The yellow fever that almost wiped
Memphis off the map was said by many to have been born in the bayou, which was
then little more than a sewage dump for human waste, run off from the city, and
a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
"You think about buildings being on top of this, 200 years ago, you couldn't
even conceive of that," said Jimmy.
"These support structures are at least 100 years old, maybe older. There used to
be a train yard directly above us. Can you imagine the tonnage that at one time,
was parked just 20 feet up?"
One of the underground sections is about 2 miles long, and no paradise. Oxygen
levels can drop in areas like these without warning, unless you carry special
gear. When it rains, the chamber can fill with rushing water quickly.
"...And you said it's almost a mile that way before it lets out into
daylight?... and it gets a lot smaller."
So, next time you are driving downtown, remember that your city was built from
the ground up, and in some places the roots run even deeper than that.
The Monthly News Magazine for
Active Mature Mid-Southerners
Special To The Best Times By John Harkins, Ph.D.
Highland Branch, Jimmy Ogle, and
our city’s history
In April, Highland Branch
Library celebrated the 60th
anniversary of its grand
opening. I am reasonably confident
that I attended that 1951 opening.
The new branch was busy enough
that it required a building addition
within just a few years. I was a
regular “patron” at Highland
Branch and am sure that my love of
reading and my passion for history
grew out of the scores of library
books that I read between 1951
and 1956. I have fond memories
of Branch Librarian Elizabeth
Robertson and her staff helping
me select works of history and
Memphis/Shelby County Public
Library and Information Center
(M/SCPLIC) hired me in 1977 and
immediately assigned me to work
at Highland Branch. My supervisor,
long-time branch head Nancy Patty,
had worked at Highland Branch
since my childhood days there.
Although I continued to work for
M/SCPLIC at Raleigh Branch, the
Main Library, and the Memphis/
Shelby County Archives in the
downtown Cossitt Building, I have
always remained most emotionally
attached to Highland Branch.
Jimmy Ogle lectured to a standing room only group at
during the branch’s mid-April,
60th anniversary observances.
The occasion for my mid-April
visit to Highland Branch was to
attend Jimmy Ogle’s Power-Point
lecture (part one of three) on the
history of the six neighborhood
districts in the vicinity of the
University of Memphis. I had
grown up there and, in sentiment,
I frequently do “go home again.” I
have known Ogle casually since the
fall of 1968; I taught at Memphis
University School during Jimmy’s
junior and senior years there. We
have gotten to know each other
a lot better in the last several
years and I am a big fan of his
enormously popular, hands-on
approach to spreading the gospel
of local history. Jimmy has a strong
background for doing such work,
but I can only touch on a portion
of his history sharing activities here.
After working for most of the
1970s as a recreation specialist for
First Baptist Church, Ogle served in
a variety of recreation positions with
the Memphis Park Commission,
ultimately becoming its deputy
director. Following that he served
as general manager of Mud Island
Park (including the Mississippi
River Museum), and later of the
Memphis Queen Line. He followed
that series of positions with vice-president of operations at Beale
Street’s Performa Entertainment,
director of the Memphis Rock
‘n’ Soul Museum, and then vice-president of the Ericson Group,
In addition, Ogle serves as
program specialist for the Memphis
Convention & Visitors Bureau,
supervises Tournament Services for
the St. Jude Golf Classic, designs
and conducts all sorts of downtown
walking tours, will lecture nearly
anywhere to any serious group,
is an instructor in the Memphis
College of Art
operates scoreboards for high-powered local athletic contests. In
history alone, Jimmy is an active
member of the West Tennessee
Historical Society, Memphis
Heritage, the STAX Museum,
the Memphis Cotton Museum,
and the Shelby County Historical
Commission. The lists of his
activities and contributions just go
on and on. To learn more, check
Jimmy’s “Talks and Tours” website
Finally, Jimmy seems unfailingly
up beat, energetic and enthusiastic.
He is probably doing more to spark
and to satisfy interest in Memphis
and Mid-South history than any
other individual at the present
time. In Jimmy’s words, “every
time I give a talk or tour, I learn
something new. That’s the thrill
--it is much better to be a ‘learn-it-all’
than a ‘know-it-all’ at any time.
‘Discovery’ at any level is exciting .
. .” Look for Jimmy to give his “Part
Two” lecture on the University
area’s neighborhoods in the near
History on Foot Ogle’s walking tours provide unique
center, points out Lauderdale Courts, the former home of Elvis,
during a Pinch District public walking tour. The tour touched on
such areas as the Memphis Cook Convention Center and Market
Park.(Photos: Lance Murphey)
Jimmy Ogle is taking the city’s
history off the page and into the streets – and in some cases under the streets.
Ogle has been offering walking tours of the Downtown area since November 2008.
They’ve grown more elaborate but still with a firm grounding in shoe leather and
occasional access to some exclusive views mainly from rooftops.
“You’ve got to have the right reputation and ask the right question,” Ogle said.
And he is constantly finding new parts of the city’s history to explore.
Ogle began leading free tours of the Shelby County Courthouse last week offered
by the Memphis Bar Association at noon on the third Thursday of each month. The
tours begin on the southwest corner of Adams Avenue and Second Street. But for
the inaugural tour, Ogle began inside the courthouse at the bust of Andrew
Jackson in the southern corridor of the century-old structure. The bust, with
one of its pedestal panels replaced after a pro-secession mob in Court Square
vandalized the monument in 1861, offers the kind of detail Ogle excels at in all
of his tours.
Not all tours are open to the public.
Ogle has recently ventured into the city’s storm drain system to tell the story
of the Gayoso Bayou. He jokingly called his initial exploration the “Blair Ditch
Project” that included audio recordings of his reaction to what he saw
underground. The bayou is an interesting feature on old maps to most Memphians.
But the geography that created the snake-like bayou is still a force to be
reckoned with via a massive culvert about where AutoZone Park is Downtown and
five retention ponds in the Downtown area.
“Our city was founded right there on the point where Gayoso Bayou comes into
Wolf River and the Wolf River comes into the Mississippi,” Ogle said. “Memphis
was somewhat restricted in growth for a few years by the bayou until they
learned to build a bridge over it.”
Ogle does a PowerPoint presentation on the bayou. His ventures beneath city
streets with small groups of two or three have been very limited and not part of
the tour business.
Jimmy Ogle leads
a Pinch District public walking tour. The tour is just one of many
Ogle offers Downtown.
The city of Memphis has
referred people to him for the tours.
“I’d say it would be illegal for some friend of yours to just jump over the
fence and jump down in the ditch and walk up the ditch,” he said. “There aren’t
any ‘no trespassing’ signs there. There’s clearly a fence there … and clearly
there’s an eight-foot ditch wall that drops down. I think it’s advisable for
unknowing people to not go down there.”
It’s a view of Memphis few get to see. Aside from city officials, Ogle has led
tours for the media and researchers interested in the system of drains or in
seeing what’s left of the bayou.
The drains are free of graffiti even in the older sections and Ogle is quick to
correct those on the tour if they refer to it as the sewer.
New sections and their uniform smooth gray box-like shape are more plentiful and
offer a sharp contrast to the brick arches.
Two older sections on one leg of the drain system form larger brick chambers
with elaborate borders around side vents. They look like catacombs in the
The biggest chamber at about the two-mile mark shows the underside of a large
stone arch that may be the underside of what was once a rail bridge over the
A smaller brick-and-stone arch was probably the location of Anderson’s bridge,
one of the first crossings over the bayou allowing access to and from the areas
east of the city that was probably a wooden bridge in its original 1824
Even on a cloudless day with no chance of rain there were the sounds of water
running, which Ogle said are pumps, and the occasional echoing thump, which is
usually traffic overhead. There was water in some parts of the route but never
anything above mid-calf, and a guppy or two was even spotted swimming.
Ogle checks the river level and the sky for any clouds as well as weather
forecasts for any chance of rain over 50 percent. Even when all of the
conditions are right there are times when he vetoes a tour “if I don’t think
they are really geared for that or wired right.”
Published Nov 1, 2010 in
The Daily News By
Bill Dries Photos by Lance Murphey
Stacey Greenberg and Jimmy Ogle are trying to make as big of an impression
as possible while leaving the smallest of footprints behind.
Stacey and Jimmy in
old forest of Overton Park.
The two University of Memphis alumni are part of a. grassroots effort to save
a rare, virgin forest found in Memphis that is as old as the city itself.
Greenberg and Ogle are board members of the revived Citizens
to Preserve Overton Park (CPOP) group that made national
headlines in the early 1970s when it took on _ and ultimately
won _ a
battle with the federal government that reached the
Supreme Court over a planned interstate 40 route through the
Midtown park. The group includes many alumni of the U of M
and prominent Memphians.
With the old-growth area of Overton Park facing new encroachment, the two U of M alums joined CPOP president Naomi Van
Tol to make sure citizens of Memphis retain something rare and
“lt is an old-growth forest that has been here 10,000 years,”
says Greenberg (BMS ’99). “You can’t find that anywhere else
in the area. To be able to go to a 10,000-year-old forest in the
middle of the city is something really special.”
Botanist Dr. Thomas Heineke, who was hired by the city to study
the Overton Park forest, agrees in his assessment of the park:
“Overton Park is a unique resource which cannot be replaced.
It is invaluable to the city and to the region as an outstanding
example of old-growth forest. Because it is within an urban set-
ting, it is even more exceptional. Everything possible should be
done to assure that it is protected in perpetuity.”
Ogle (BSEd ’80), a mainstay of Tiger home basketball games as
sideline clock operator, adds, “The important thing is the undisturbed nature of the area over a long period, a lot longer than this
nation been here, right in the middle of the city.”
The CPOP group was revived two years ago after four acres
of the old-growth forest was clear-cut to make room for a new
Memphis Zoo exhibit. Perhaps the exhibit could have been
planned better, CPOP members say, to save more of the old
“We are not trying to stop the zoo from improving itself. we
are trying to stop any further development in the forest,” says
Greenberg, noting that the zoo has 17 acres of old-growth forest
fenced off for a new exhibit set to open in several years.
Early map of the
which included Overton Park.
Greenberg and Ogle both say the zoo clear-cut the four acres
two years ago with no recent input from citizens. Ogle, a former
Park Commission deputy director, says the zoo continues to
decline to meet with the group.
CPOP has worked with state legislators Beverly Marrero and
Jeanne Richardson to legally protect the park. The lawmakers
introduced the Old Forest Natural Area bill (Senate Bill
SB2415 and House Bill
HB2563) that Van Tol says would legally protect the
150-acre old-growth forest of Overton Park from inappropriate
development under the Natural Areas Preservation Act of 1971.
The bill would not limit nor restrict any public use of the park,
such as biking, running or bird watching. A low-impact boardwalk, which the zoo has proposed for the fenced-off 17 acres,
would be permitted. It would prohibit any further bulldozing of
the park, and protect it in its entirety _
something that is important for the whole
forest to survive, the Sierra Club says.
“It recognizes the forest for its value
and it develops a management plan. It is
not restrictive at all: it won’t keep people
out of there,” Ogle says. “It will prevent
anyone coming in and bulldozing trees.”
Heineke’s August 2009 report of the
Overton Park forest reported that there are
332 flowering plant species from 85 plant
families in the park, including goldenseal
and oceanblue phacelia, both listed on the Tennessee Natural Heritage Program Rare
Plant List. He estimates many of the larger
trees are 200 years or older.
Besides the abundance of plants and trees, hawks, owls and hundreds of other
species call the old forest home. Thousands of Memphians use the trails in the old forest
and open areas of the park each day.
Jimmy Ogle and
near the park's Lick Creek.
As for the fenced area, Ogle and
Greenberg both say a low impact boardwalk would be OK as long as the forest,
including its under-story. is left intact.
Ogle says that renderings of the planned
boardwalk don’t include the under-story
which is valuable to the overall health of
Even with the boardwalk, both want the
fence to come down.
"We don't think anyone should have to
pay admission to go to the forest," says
Greenberg. “This is all publicly owned
land. I don’t care if I am 80, I am going to
keep fighting to get that fence down.”
The history of Overton Park, which dates
to 1901, is noteworthy in itself, says Ogle.
“One of the most famous landscape architects in the history of this country, George
Kessler, designed this park and Overton’s
Greensward, which is the only ‘open play’
field in Memphis to have its own name. Its
pedigree is Central Park in New York. The
golf course is the second oldest municipal
golf course in the country. Brooks Museum
came in 1916, the golf house in 1926,
Overton Park Shell in 1936.”
Ogle also points out that Overton's old
forest is an ever-changing landscape, a
sort of rotating exhibit in itself.
“If you come for a hike, you should come
in all four seasons. The forest changes in some way every two or three weeks.”
He believes the zoo should concentrate
on exhibits that don’t encroach on the
old -growth forest.
“The zoo could go back in and redo
some older buildings that need to be
redone now instead of coming out into the
Ogle ended with what he says he hopes
all will understand: "We are very pro forest, we are very pro zoo.”
a buried treasure filled
with lore, dangers.
In the distance, water drips,
seeps and trickles into the
cavern. Echoing, it sounds like
a mountain stream as it pools
along the floor and flows in the
opposite direction of the
Mark Twain might have described
it as "dark as the inside of a
cow" down here. Life, traffic,
sunshine are proceeding as usual
above ground. Here, sunlight is
a rare presence that slips in as
eerie beams through dime-sized
holes in manhole covers
Jimmy Ogle carries a
ladder to get out of the
Gayoso Bayou, a mostly
with roots going back to
Memphis' earliest days.
Ogle said the tunnels
can quickly fill with
rushing water more than
8 feet deep when it
Around a bend, it is pitch black
again inside Gayoso Bayou. Also
known as Bayou Gayoso, it is the
grotto-like drainage system that
was an open natural drainage
canal when the city was founded
in 1819. Named for a Spanish
governor who landed in the area
in the 1790s, it snaked along a
course roughly aligned with what
is now Danny Thomas Boulevard.
Depending on rainfall, it could
be a lazy stream or a torrent.
It helped define the city,
forming the original eastern
perimeter of Downtown as it
arced from what is now Walker on
the south to Saffarans on the
After the Civil War, bridges
were built across the canal to
open the city to wagon and buggy
traffic and expand its
boundaries, says Shelby County
historian Ed Williams. Williams
and University of Memphis
historian Dr. Charles Crawford
say developers began to cover
parts of the canal and build on
top of it by the late 1860s.
Most of it now is buried,
usually forgotten, beneath the
city. Vintage brickwork still
forms occasional arched chambers
inside the cavern. Those
oversized chambers are connected
to more modern concrete box
culverts, each culvert roughly
the size of a single-car garage.
Many were installed as New Deal
projects during the 1930s.
original Gayoso Bayou was about
5 miles long, says deputy city
engineer John Cameron. It now is
divided into three segments with
two interceptor sewers diverting
runoff before the canal ends at
the Gayoso Pumping Station on
Saffarans. There it is pumped
into the Wolf River Harbor. City
engineers and inspectors
regularly visit Gayoso Bayou,
especially when major
development projects are built
alongside or atop the
Jimmy Ogle, historian and former
vice president of operations for
the Ericson Group, works in an
office on North Front, close
enough to an entry point in
Gayoso Bayou that he was drawn
to explore the cavern.
call it my Blair Ditch Project,"
Ogle has been a deputy director
of the Memphis Park Commission,
general manager of Mud Island,
general manager of the Memphis
Queen Line and director of
operations for the Memphis Rock
'n' Soul Museum.
teaches history in the
continuing education jjjjjoknoxrogram amt
the University of Memphis and
conducts walking tours of
"I'm always about an adventure
and something new," he says,
adding that his visits ruled the
cavern out as a potential public
attraction. "It's technically
off limits. It has slippery
surfaces. The lighting is poor,
and it's extremely challenging
to get into it."
Deputy city engineer John
Cameron says engineers enter the
cavern only in groups to watch
out for each other. They carry
oxygen monitors because of
possible oxygen depletion,
contamination by poison gases
and toxins that could be spilled
into the tunnel.
The worst hazards we see during
a foray into the bayou are pools
of running water more than a
foot deep in places and pieces
of metal rebar poking from
concrete walls or lurking on the
floor. Most debris is washed out
during heavy rains. A few pieces
linger: four Styrofoam cups, a
woman's yellow belt, a squashed
Diet Coke can, two manhole
covers, pieces of broken
concrete and a 2007 license
Mosquitoes seem strangely
absent, but former public works
director Benny Lendermon says
the flowing water is not
inviting to mosquitoes.
Corporate wastes dumped into the
drainage systems now are closely
monitored, and Lendermon says
one of the worst hazards is the
occasional spill of acidic
"It can eat through concrete
like a knife through butter."
Immediately after a heavy rain,
the tunnels are flushed with the
runoff of oil and grease from
parking lots and city streets.
Huckleberry Finn might have been
disappointed at how a piece of
the Mississippi River has been
tamed by engineers and hidden
But to Jimmy Ogle, the cavern,
requiring wading boots and
flashlights to negotiate, still
has its charm.
"This is the last great Downtown
adventure," he says.
Zippin Pippin roller
coaster gets new life as star of Green Bay park
to replicate the Zippin Pippin has been set on the fast track.
"That roller coaster is going to outlast all of us," said Mayor Jim Schmitt of
Green Bay, Wis.
That city recently held a celebration of the historic ride, which once anchored
Libertyland in Memphis and
soon will be the flagship attraction at Wisconsin's
Bay Beach Amusement Park.
On Tuesday, Jimmy Ogle, president of the Memphis organization Remember
Libertyland, helped contractors rummage through old parts before the last of the
ride was hauled north.
The nonprofit group, formerly known as Save Libertyland! Inc., sold Green Bay
the name, design and history of the roller coaster, including the cars, for
Memphis will unveil a historical marker at the roller coaster's old site near
the Mid-South Fairgrounds at noon Nov. 1. A two-sided plaque will commemorate
Libertyland on one side and the Pippin, known as Elvis Presley's favorite ride,
on the other, Ogle said.
"We've done a lot of fighting, and this has finally been resolved," Ogle said.
"In name and in spirit, the Pippin found a home."
During the community event Oct. 9 in Green Bay, a few thousand children were
invited to sign the coaster's top-most beam, the place where riders glance
heavenward before plummeting nearly 70 feet down the wooden frame. The children
were also invited to empty their piggybanks to ensure the future of the ride at
the fundraising event.
The project to rebuild the Zippin Pippin will cost Green Bay an estimated $3
million; the city borrowed $2.4 million and pledged $600,000 in private
Nearly all of the building materials will be newly purchased, as most of the old
structure in Memphis was deemed unsalvageable once it had been left to the
elements after Libertyland closed.
The foundation already has been laid at Bay Beach park. Miron Construction Co.
of Neenah, Wis., received $936,753 to build the wooden frame.
"This is our first coaster, so it's definitely a learning experience," said Kurt
Wolfgram, project manager.
Wolfgram said the structure would stay true to the design, drawn by John A.
Miller in 1923.
Wolfgram said the ride should be finished by March 24. The grand opening for the
Zippin Pippin in Green Bay is set for May 7, 2011, and Schmitt has renewed his
promise to let any visiting Memphians ride for free.
"The Pippin couldn't come to a better home," the mayor said.
"The great people of Memphis will be proud of what we're doing."
Memphis historian Jimmy Ogle
launched his four-phase "Know Your Neighborhood" presentation, a discussion on U
of M's history, geographical features and bordering neighborhoods, Wednesday in
the Ned R. McWherter Library.
Ogle, a program specialist at the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau, also
plans to speak about Memphis' hopes for the future as well as the city's
memories, like the World War II-era Kennedy Hospital that closed in 1967.
Parts two and three of his program will take place in April and September of
2011, respectively. The program will conclude Sept. 10, 2011, which coincides
with The U of M's centennial.
At the presentation, he said the layout of The University district dates back
several thousand years.
"Animals actually planned those roads," he said. "It was the high water, dry
trails coming into Memphis 2,000 years ago. The Native Americans followed them."
Ogle, a U of M alumnus from 1970, is part of local community organizations like
Park Friends Inc., Memphis Heritage and the West Tennessee Historical Society.
He also supervises free tours in downtown Memphis.
With support from The U of M's libraries, Ogle gathered information about The
University and its surrounding area, eventually collaborating with Highland Area
Renewal Corporation and the Memphis City Council for his program.
Ogle said that since The U of M opened in 1912, growth in the surrounding
community has been steady.
"Since 1957, you see streets and neighborhoods have grown around (The U of M)
because of the post-World War II boom," Ogle said. "A lot of subdivisions came
after the 1940s, following The University out here."
He also talked about the origins of the street names surrounding campus.
"Central Avenue was the midpoint between Poplar Avenue and Southern Avenue, and
Midland Avenue was between Highland Street and Goodlett Street," Ogle said. "And
that's where you get the names."
Ogle spoke about the railroad that borders The U of M.
"It began in 1835 - it was here a long time before this University was here," he
said. "In 1857, the Memphis and Charleston Railroads met and became the first
railroad to connect the Atlantic Ocean and the Mississippi River."
He also talked about Highland and how it developed into what it is today.
"The 'Highland Strip' as we knew it back in the '60s and '70s was a real active
area," he said. "Historically, McLauren's bakery was one of the first places on
(Walker) to serve food to the public in the Highland area."
Bob Hotaling, sport and leisure commerce graduate student, said, as someone
who's not from Memphis, he thought it was nice to hear about its past.
"Learning about this area and its historical significance was definitely
interesting," he said.
Look, but don't spit:
Cuspidor gets honored spot at courthouse
the Shelby County Courthouse was built some 100 years ago, included in the $1.6
million budget was $3,000 for cuspidors.
Better known as spittoons, the foot-tall brass receptacles were scattered
throughout the courthouse for the benefit of tobacco chewers and dippers -- not
to mention the public -- during the first half of the century.
Cuspidors gradually disappeared, however. Some were donated to the war effort as
scrap metal, and cigarettes became more popular, making the iconic cuspidor
But on Thursday, one of those long-lost relics was unveiled in a brief ceremony
and placed on display in a glass case in the south hall of the courthouse.
Sorry. No spitting, please.
"I'm thrilled that it has such a place of honor," said Laura Ozanne Robinson,
who donated the cuspidor to the courthouse keepers. "It's sort of been a family
treasure all these years. My mother used to keep flower arrangements in it."
Her father, Russell Ozanne, was the construction manager who oversaw renovations
to the courthouse more than 50 years ago. The remaining cuspidors were headed
for the scrap heap, so he brought one home, and the rest is history.
When a friend told her that cuspidors were mentioned in a newspaper article last
year on the courthouse's 100th anniversary, Robinson decided the piece belonged
back in the courthouse.
"When I heard about it, it probably took me 10 minutes to get out and get it,"
said Jimmy Ogle, a courthouse tour guide and walking encyclopedia of Downtown
history. "We'll take good care of it."
The cuspidor is on display outside the courtroom of Circuit Court Judge Robert
Childers, and near the 175-year-old bust of President Andrew Jackson, one of the
city's founding fathers.
"You used to be able to spit and smoke in the courtroom," said the judge, adding
that the county courthouse is second to none. "It's a great place to work. We've
got one of the greatest courthouses in the country."
Ever the historian, Ogle wonders if Thursday's event might put the courthouse on
the cusp of history, as the only dedication ceremony ever held for a cuspidor.
September 13th meeting—Jimmy
Ogle’s power-point lecture on “Memphis Memorials” was the tour de force that his audience anticipated. His presentation included a broad
array of historical and geographical aspects of Memphis and Shelby County, covering even more ground than its description suggests. Jimmy’s conversational style and numerous images were a real crowd
pleaser and there were 60-odd members and guests in attendance. Please go to his website, at
www.JimmyOgle.com, to learn more about Jimmy’s frequent lectures and his downtown walking tours. Jimmy is a major
asset to local history and is doing pioneering work in many areas where traditional historians have yet
to tread. Please keep on
keepin’ on, Jimmy.
Volume XXXIX No. 7 April 2010
For all around fun with Memphis-area history, it would be difficult (perhaps
impossible) to beat one of WTHS member Jimmy Ogle’s very animated lectures. On
March 23, he delivered a superb, highly personal and fast paced power point
“lecture” at Jason’s Deli (Poplar and Highland) on Memphis Music history. We owe
it to the local heritage to do everything that we can to make our fellow history
lovers aware of Jimmy’s work and his availability.
To learn more, go to his website,
WTHS welcomes questions,
comments, and suggestions.
For more information visit www.wths.tn.org.
Contact President Ed Frank at
Newsletter Editor John Harkins at email@example.com
Excerpts reproduced from the WTHS newsletter.
Walk With Nature
Up-Close Look At Overton Park's
On the second Saturday and final Sunday of
each month, folks get the opportunity for an up-close view of more than 330
plant species, including 60 native tree species, within Overton Park. On Sunday,
Jimmy Ogle climbs into a Tulip Poplar tree known as the “Gnome Home” while
helping with the free guided hike of the Old Forest. Debbie LaChapelle (below,
left) snaps photos while exploring the diversity of plant life, including some
trees that are older than the City of Memphis. Seen Sunday were a red-shouldered
hawk and a large mushroom growing at the edge of a fallen tree. For more
information on the tours and Overton Park, go to
Many visitors and residents of
downtown Memphis wonder the same
thing: what is the origin of
November 6 Alley's name? If
you missed historian Jimmy
Ogle's walking tour yesterday,
you're in luck. He will reprise
his well-loved presentation on
Union Avenue's manhole covers in
Downtowners interested in
learning more about their little
slice of Memphis are invited to
wander the streets with Jimmy
Ogle every Tuesday at lunchtime
(11:45; tours last about an
hour) through November 17. Each
tour will concentrate on a
specific portion of downtown.
For downtowners who can't break
away at lunchtime on Tuesdays,
he also will lead Saturday
afternoon "Super Tours" which
last about three hours. Three
"Super Tours" are offered, and
all are free.
A downtown resident for twenty
years, Ogle's professional
background has provided him with
plenty of opportunities to learn
more about Memphis history. He
was the Director of Operations
for the Memphis Rock 'n' Soul
Museum and also was the Vice
President of Operations at
Performa Entertainment Real
Estate, the managing company for
the Beale Street Historic
District. He has also been the
General Manager for the Memphis
Queen Lines and Mud Island.
Given the weather forecast for
next Tuesday, and the fact that
autumn tends to be the best part
of the Memphis weather year,
this is a great opportunity for
downtowners to enjoy a bit of
sunshine, fresh air, exercise,
and learn something in the
Christine Todd teaches a
class of nine
Snowden Elementary who
are called the
The class is small in
size and Ms Todd is
focused on helping each
Reading Rocket to
improve his or her
skills in reading,
arithmetic and the
between Ms Todd and the
members of her class. It
would appear this
teacher intends to love
her students into
I volunteer on Tuesdays
and assist Ms Todd with
the class. I enjoy the
work and the pleasure of
getting to know these
After hearing Richard
Louv (author of "Last
Child in the Woods:
Saving Our Children from
Disorder") speak at GPAC
last month, I made up my
mind to arrange a hike
through Overton Park’s
Old Forest so the
Reading Rockets could
have a valuable
experience with nature
and learn about one of
our priceless resources
here in Midtown.
Jimmy Ogle met us at the
bridge by the playground
and began our outdoor
adventure by sharing
some of the park’s
history. We learned that
Overton Park was
developed in 1901 and
named for John Overton,
one of the original
founders of Memphis. The
children were distracted
by a man with his dog
and they ran to pet the
miniature pinscher. The
allowed them to pet his
dog and then we turned
toward the forest.
Our guide described the
ways a dead and fallen
tree feeds life in the
forest while the
children ran in nine
With amazing patience,
Mr. Ogle encouraged the
group to walk only on
the beaten path. Their
assignment was to
collect leaves: oak,
pecan, tulip poplar,
sweet gum. One child
discovered a spider and
every child swarmed to
have a look. Huge oak
trees looked down on a
wild and happy group of
children as they
discovered fungus, a
gnome home, and grape
vines large enough for
Tarzan to use for
swinging across a
We heard about the
forest canopy and how
smaller trees grow
toward patches of
sunlight. Arms were
stretched around one
huge tree trunk. It took
one adult and three
children to stretch
around that tree!
saw a few birds take
flight. At one point we
all stood still and
listened to the forest.
Mr. Ogle taught us how
to recognize poison ivy.
By the end of the hike
our guide could call
each of the children by
name. And he generously
offered to meet us again
in the spring when the
forest will have new
sights and sounds to
It was a perfect day,
sunny with mild
Reading Rockets walked
into the Old Forest and
found so many wonders.
They found in Mr. Ogle a
new friend and teacher.
They walked back to the
school talking about the
forest as if it is now a
part of their classroom,
a very old place with
new things to teach the
Thanks to Elaine
Todd, and our own Jimmy
Ogle for giving their
time to share the Old
Forest with the Reading
Rockets. But most of
all, thanks to the
Rockets for being
in March of 2000, when the
Gibson Factory began full
operation, entertainment life in
Memphis extended one block south
of Beale. Memphis proved a prime
In the words of Jimmy Ogle, the
Director of Operations, "They
were looking for a place, and
the right deal was here. They
were able to put together a good
piece of property in a prime
location in downtown Memphis,
which is a music city with a
great musical reputation." This
expansion proved an upward
movement for Gibson, and for
Memphis. Nothing has been built
on that land for thirty years,
and now the Beale Street
Merchant Association has pushed
their safety zone further south
to accommodate the Gibson as
well as the future arena for the
NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies. The
Gibson gives back to the
community, nationally and
locally, raising $100,000 for
St. Patrick’s Church in the last
few years with the Gibson 5K
race. Downtown Memphis is
looking better each day.
I recently visited the Gibson to
find out what really goes on
behind that great facade, which
claims to hold a working guitar
factory, a Smithsonian museum,
and the increasingly popular
Lounge. It seemed to me that one
day that strip of land was a
vacant, littered lot, and the
next, a Mecca to Blues music.
I can’t claim to have extensive
knowledge about guitars or about
the history of the blues, I
actually have never played a
guitar, let alone held one. But
even with the lack of soul
running through my veins I was
able to appreciate what I saw
during my visit to the Gibson—it
was more a learning experience
for me than anything. I knew I
was actually going into a real
factory when I was handed
oversized plastic goggles and
the noise volume rapidly
Of the 200 people that Gibson
employs here, 140 are factory
workers. I only saw about a
dozen on my tour, because they
were all on their lunch break.
But with no fancy machinery, it
was immediately obvious that
real hands build these guitars.
I expressed my surprise to Jimmy
Ogle who replied, "Yes, it’s all
people, that’s what’s different
about Gibson Guitar."
This factory mainly produces ES
guitars (‘Electric Spanish’ for
the uneducated). Orville Gibson
got the patent in 1898 for this
guitar, unique in the sense that
if you look at it from the side
it has an arched, rather than
The idea originated from the
mandolins and violins of the
1800’s. Chuck Porter, the
Director of Tours, taught me
Guitarmaking 101. It takes about
two weeks to build a guitar from
scratch. They are all made out
of quality wood: the body is
maple, the neck mahogany and the
fingerboard rosewood. Porter
claims that they don’t turn out
a guitar that’s not perfect,
which eliminated my immediate
thought of walking one street
south to a half-price Gibson
warehouse—it’s not going to
happen. The factory aims at
producing 100-150 guitars each
day, although now they are only
at 45. There are about sixteen
plus stations that the guitars
each pass through with an
inspection between each stop.
The ES 335 model, "Beale Street
Blue", recently popular, started
here in Memphis. This factory
also produces "Lucilles", named
and styled without ‘F’ holes by
B.B. King in 1949 (have Chuck
tell you the story of how this
model got its name).
After factory the tour I headed
upstairs to the Rock ‘n’ Soul
Museum. There are 39 audio
stations, beginning with a look
at the sharecroppers in the
1930’s and spanning the musical
history of the Memphis area,
focusing on how music helped
tear down some of the boundaries
of racial segregation.
The museum contains antique
jukeboxes and memorabilia. Even
though seeing an original
Seeburg Selectophone Jukebox
didn’t excite me, I had the
option of listening to a variety
of blues songs on the personal
headset instead of the tour. I
did get a kick out of the
costumes on display, like Jerry
Lee Lewis’s brown pinstriped
suit with embroidered sparkling
magenta roses, and of course,
I thought it was important that
the museum also touched on the
Civil Rights movement. On
display is the saxophone that
Martin Luther King asked Ben
Branch to play at a sanitation
strike rally on the night of
April 4 while standing on the
balcony at the Lorraine Hotel
moments before Dr. King was shot
After my two tours, impressed
with the plethora of knowledge
flowing through the Gibson, I
asked Ogle what his ideal
itinerary would be if he were
planning a visit to Memphis.
As though he was prepped for my
question, he said, "There are
actually three things in
Memphis, that no one in the
"Number One is the home of the
King of Rock ‘n’ Roll —
Graceland. Number Two is the
home of the birthplace of Rock
‘n’ Roll—Sun Studio. Number
Three is the site of the most
watershed moment of the Civil
Rights Movement — the Lorraine
Hotel National Civil Rights
"Saying all that, I’d come to
the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum first
because that is the primer of
everything you’ll see—the major
cultural things. I would also go
through the unique factory tour
where they make guitars, then
get on the free Sun Studio
Ogle also gave a quick promo for
The Lounge saying that it is
apart from Beale in that it is a
newer, classier mix of music
with both regional and national
The Gibson is a multi-use
facility full of "attractions
that complement the area" Ogle
said in closing, and I agree,
the Gibson is a string that
helps tie this diverse city
Jimmy Ogle, most knowledgeable living devotee of Memphis history & fact will be
at the riverside out from the AutoZone Hdqtrs. Building between Union Av. &
Beale tonight and again thurs - fri. at 6:00 pm giving insights and answering
questions about the river at Memphis and its history. This would be great
topical background knowledge for visitors and locals to tap into to help you
understand the current situation here. Free for those who are interested.
Trip Advisor Over 45 million
reviews & opinions.
Thanks, Jimmy! My guys loved
swinging on those vines, and looking at pictures of themselves doing so even
more. You were such a good sport. (I just mentioned you, and [my son] said,
“Who? Jimmy?”, so clearly I should’ve asked him for your name!)
I’ll definitely check out your walks, with the kids and definitely with family
when they visit from out of town
Jimmy, thanks for the day we
really enjoyed it. It was nice to be involved on something local and away from
the normal touristy things to do. We are now in the smoky mountains, very
beautiful. You are lucky to live in such a beautiful country, as now doubt we
We didn’t get to say goodbye to the couple we were sitting with at IHOP. Nice
people, sorry about that.
Bryan & Linda
AIM Pumps P/L
Po Box 290 Morningside Qld 4170
U3/225 Queensport Rd Murarrie
TO ALL FORREST CAMP MEMBERS....
If you missed our Camp meeting last night, you really missed a great program!
Local Historian and Adventurer Jimmy Ogle presented a wonderful and enlightening
Power Point program on Memphis history that was a "must see event."
I'm a 3rd generation Memphian and have studied our local history for 40+ years
and I learned a lot. Jimmy did a great job and gave a very enthusiastic
presentation. If you ever get a chance to see him in action at another event,
you need to make an effort to do so.