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Walk Memphis with Jimmy Ogle

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.

Jimmy shares his encyclopedic knowledge of Memphis during a Tuesday Tour.

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 Bernard Lansky 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.

Why does Memphis have a street named November 6th, and why did General Washburn need an escape alley? Ask Jimmy Ogle.

“Lansky put the black on Johnny Cash; the pink and black on Elvis,” Jimmy tells us as he points to the original Lansky Bros. building on Beale. The “clothier to the King” now operates out of The Peabody. Photo by Vasha Hunt. © Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau 2011 All Rights Reserved.

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 here, including:

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 Civil War.

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.

Hi! I’m Samantha Crespo, and I am Floridian by birth, Tennessean by heart. Growing up, I vacationed in East Tennessee, so I...Read on

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  1. Pingback: Jimmy Ogle’s free guided tours of Memphis begin this month! | Tennessee Triptales

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