Few places rival the Fairgrounds as a place of Memphis stories and few rival Shelby County Historian Jimmy Ogle as a teller of those stories. Since January, Jimmy has been bringing these shared dreams and memories to life with his on site monthly Fairgrounds Tour.
Starting in the north parking of the Coliseum, Lot 13, Jimmy leads you on an hour and half walking, non-stop talking, hike of Memphis’ great and historic festival grounds. With the cheer of his voice and a sweep of his arm, he animates the silent monuments and vanished attractions with the stories of the men and women who dreamed them, built them, loved them sometimes tore them down, and often revived them. He conjures names like Crump, Maxwell, Pipkin, Dudley, Armour, Loeb, Finch, Lawler, Kaufman, Jarrett, Dockery, Hackett, Herenton, Lipscomb, Marshall, structures like the Liberty Bowl, the Coliseum, Tim McCarver Stadium, the National Guard Armory, the Pipkin Building, the Women’s Building, the Zippin Pippin, and places like Orange Mound, Belt Line, Glenview and Cooper Young.
Standing on the base of Tiger Lane’s fountains, pointing at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, Jimmy tells us about Paul “Bear” Bryant’s final game and victory in the 1983 Liberty Bowl and the struggle to rename a Fairgrounds road posthumously in his honor. At the site of Tim McCarver Stadium, Jimmy recreates the spectacle of Avron Fogelman bringing the rookie Bo Jackson to play for the Memphis Chicks.
Standing in the center of Tiger Lane, Jimmy tells the story of the Mid-South Fair, the beloved annual Memphis event that named the Fairgrounds. A place and time of a million stories, the Fair gave birth to the city’s amusement park which later became Libertyland. He also talks about the recent dream to redevelop the Fairgrounds, which resulted in the closing and demolition of Libertyland, the move of the Mid-South Fair to DeSoto County, the shuttering of the Mid-South Coliseum, but also the creation of the grand Tiger Lane, and Memphis’ first city ordained disc golf course, Libertyland Disc Golf.
Jimmy leads the tour to its final stop under the west portico and entrance of the Mid-South Coliseum. In the shade of the Coliseum, he spins the stories of the building of the Entertainment Capital of the Mid-South, and its operation for over 40 years before closing in 2006. He concludes by talking of the former plans to tear it down and the future plans to reopen it and revive the entire Fairgrounds.
So far, the tours have been a huge hit. Over 200 people came to his first tours in January and February, and the tours will continue through the summer. Jimmy has scheduled tours for:
Sunday, March 20
Sunday, April 17
Sunday, May 22
Sunday, June 12.
They all begin at 2 p.m. in the north parking lot of the Mid-South Coliseum and last for an hour and a half.
Jimmy also has plans for a as yet unscheduled twilight tour during the summer.
The tours are sponsored by the Coliseum Coalition, the Friends of the Fairgrounds, the Orange Mound Parade and Action Committee, Livable Memphis and the Midtown Memphis Development Corporation.
If you want to take a journey down memory lane and learn why so many people are fighting to preserve the legacy of this area, please join us!
Roy Barnes writes the blog Gates of Memphis and id one of the creators of The Roundhouse Revival, and is on a mission to save the coliseum.