Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Pink Palace Museum

Once upon a time, a man named Clarence Saunders revolutionized grocery shopping by founding a self-service grocery store called "Piggly Wiggly". (Used to be, you would give a clerk your list, and he would get the items for you; in Saunders's Piggly Wiggly, you'd get the items yourself, just like in modern grocery stores.) Saunders got rich, and started building a fancy pink mansion in his hometown of Memphis. But, some financial missteps on his part + the Great Depression = Saunders going bankrupt. At that point, his unfinished mansion ended up in the hands of the city of Memphis, who turned it into the "Pink Palace Museum".


Because of the Piggly Wiggly connection, I felt we just had to go here during our stop in Memphis. So, we did!

Let's lead off with the museum's replica of the original Piggly Wiggly, the first self-service grocery store ever.



Two things stuck out to me about the replica: 1) You can't just go up and down aisles as you choose like in today's stores. Instead, it's a one-way path through each aisle. Forget something? Too bad, it's one-way! Don't need anything on aisle 2? Too bad, you're going down aisle 2 anyway! Well, it was a start. 2) A lot of the old-timey grocery items on the shelves had name brands that are still recognizable today, such as Campbell's Soup.

This was one part of the Museum that Marla really enjoyed, walking up and down the aisles (although she didn't always adhere to the "one way" rule) and playing peek-a-boo with whichever parent was waiting for her around the next corner. Marla also enjoyed looking at this model circus, which sadly was under repair: (It looked pretty old.)


The rest of the museum? History and science exhibits. So, standard museum fare, and not particularly Marla-friendly.

To keep up with technology, today's museums really need to trend more towards visual and/or interactive stuff and artifacts that you can see, and away from "information overload" where you're just reading everything. Anything I can read in a museum, I can more easily read on Wikipedia without paying the admission fee. Many science and history museums are keeping up and staying relevant in the "information age". The Pink Palace is doing an okay job of that, but the information-to-physical-stuff ratio was still a little high for today's times, and the "physical stuff" they did have seemed kind of generic. For example, here's what a one-bedroom house might have looked like in the 19th century! Kind of interesting, I guess, but, meh.

(This is where my picture of the 19th century bedroom would go, if I actually took one.)

That said, the most interesting things I saw in the rest of the museum were:

- Anything specific to the history of Memphis, because I didn't know much about that. Sure, I could read a lot of the same information on the internet, but I don't think I was ever going to seek out Wikipedia's "History of Memphis" article.

- The section on the New Madrid Fault. Earthquakes in Missouri and Arkansas? You betcha! I was already kind of familiar with the New Madrid earthquake of 1812, but it's still interesting. (By the way, unlike the name of the Spanish capital, this one is pronounced MAD-rid. Seriously, why do we do this?)


- The museum's statement on evolution. Why does the museum have a section on evolution, and not intelligent design? It's hard to read in the picture, so in short: "This is a science museum. Evolution is science. Intelligent design is not science." BOOM.


Going in, I thought the museum was actually in the Pink Palace, but it was actually in another building built adjacent to the palace. The palace has its own newer exhibits in it, which were less interesting, aside from the fact that they were actually in the original Pink Palace. I also thought more of the palace would be open to visitors, but, nope. They didn't have the second floor open at all.

Now, regarding Piggly Wiggly's presence in Memphis...surely you would think that since this is where the chain was founded, that Piggly Wiggly would still have a presence in Memphis, right? Well, it appears that changed a year or two ago, at which point all Memphis-area Piggly Wiggly stores were converted to "Cash Saver" stores. Neither my Garmin, Google Maps, nor Foursquare have reflected the name change yet, which led to a lot of "looking around town for the Piggly Wiggly that all of my map guidance says is right there at this address, but isn't".


On the other hand - and this is true - our grocery purchase at Cash Saver appeared on my bank statement as "PIGGLY WIGGLY". I guess that'll have to do, but as far as I'm concerned, we did not visit an actual Piggly Wiggly during our stay in Memphis. Only a replica of one.

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