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With an abundance to choose from, it’s hard to pick Memphis’ best museums. The National Ornamental Metal Museum is the only institution of its kind in the United States, devoting itself to the advancement of the art and craft of fine metalwork. Exhibitions and collections plus the ability to see master metalsmiths in action make the museum different; it’s actually a fully working blacksmith shop. With classes and artist residencies, the museum even gives you the chance to participate.
At the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art in Midtown, permanent and traveling art exhibits come together in a community gathering place that holds film festivals and wine tastings and boasts its own in-house restaurant.
Celebrating the Mid-South region, the Pink Palace Museum boasts an eclectic range of exhibits, such as the replica of the first self-service grocery store in the country, the Piggly Wiggly. The museum also has a planetarium and IMAX theatre.
The Memphis Rock N’ Soul Museum combines Memphis’ blues, soul and rock n’ roll heritage into one experience. Located on historic Beale Street, the museum captures the comprehensive Memphis music experience. Created by the Smithsonian Institution, the museum is at the FedExForum, home to the NBA Memphis Grizzlies. And if you need more music history, visit Sun Studios, Stax Museum of American Soul and Graceland.
The Fire Museum of Memphis, located downtown in historic Fire Engine House No. 1, involves kids in original ways. The interactive museum provides a history of firefighting, educational exhibits and fire safety tips. Children can sit on the 1900s-era fire engine and slide down a brass fire pole.
For its size, Memphis has some excellent museums, all of them directly related to the city’s historic past and unique flavor. First and foremost is the National Civil Rights Museum, built from a cluster of buildings around the preserved façade of the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, including his actual room, the balcony where he was shot, and even the boarding house across the street where James Earl Ray took the fatal shot from. In addition to its unique and wonderful architecture, the museum itself is excellent, very moving and one of a kind, simultaneously tracing the assassination of King and the entire history of the Civil Rights movement in America. The other top museums are devoted to Memphis’ major cultural influence, music. These include the interactive Memphis Rock ‘n Soul Museum, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institute, right in downtown near Beale Street, with more emphasis on the city’s role as a home for exploding popularity of Rock ‘n Roll figures such as Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis, along with the excellent and also highly interactive Stax Museum of American Soul Music, a must-visit. The Stax Records label was born here in Memphis and emphasized soul, jazz and R&B, introducing many big stars such as Otis Redding. Stax went out of business, and the museum now occupies its former studio.