“We’re not the all American city,” commented history buff Jimmy Ogle at our Midtown Republican Club meeting.
“But Memphis tells the story of American history better than any other,” he told us.
In a presentation that lasted more than an hour, Ogle held his audience enthralled as he rattled off names, dates, events and stories about our city faster than the old Fed Ex commercial narrator.
Aiming to be “loud enough so that you can hear me; short enough so that you can like me,” Ogle said he grew up here. He graduated from then Southwestern at Memphis and now works with Parks and Recreation, tourism, riverfront development and, oh yes, gives various tours around town for anyone interested.
You get the impression that there’s not a scrap of history he’s missed, an unusual area of town he hasn’t visited (including sewers and underground), nor a story he hasn’t drawn from talking to historical figures. For us, he gave the “Cliffs Notes version” and even then it was chock full of information.
“Did you know we have 157 different kinds of manholes in Memphis, spanning 14 generations?” he asked. “Or that Lamar and Poplar were originally animal trails? Although we didn’t become an established city til 1819, Hernando de Soto first came here in 1541. That’s 79 years before the first pilgrim landed at Plymouth Rock and years before La Salle established Fort Prudhomme in the Memphis area in 1681. De Soto saw that what is now downtown is the highest point along the Mississippi. The high, dry ground would make us a cultural center.
“That’s why we’re No. 6 on for cities on the National Historic Register. We have more than 11,000 properties listed on it. We have the largest original cobblestone area here. But curiously our co-founders, John Overton, Andrew Jackson and James Winchester never lived here. They laid out Court, Market, Exchange and Auction. Did you know that Auction was never the site of a slave market? That’s a myth and there are lots of them.”
Ogle said that Overton, Winchester and Jackson viewed the area as a property investment. Even then, he noted, we were being controlled from Nashville and they were screwing it up.
Tomorrow: What the Civil War didn’t do to Memphis the mosquito did.