Tunes, Toothpicks, and Traditions: Why Students Love Memphis

Posted on September 30, 2014


By Ashley Dill

Every year, students flock to Memphis, whether it be for school or a job or internship opportunity. However, as new students arrive, they often don’t know what Memphis holds in store for them. Therefore, we asked new and returning Memphians what they thought the most talked about Memphis sights, sounds, and traditions are, and asked returning students what they most looked forward to returning to. Here are the results:

Huey’s Toothpicks:
One of Memphis’ most talked about and go-to tourist attractions is nothing more than a toothpick in a burger. The weird, and even unsanitary tradition at the famous Huey’s Restaurant entails grabbing the toothpick out of you burger or sandwich, situating it in your straw, and with a rush of air, trying to shoot it into the ceiling and make it stick. Even though there are thousands of toothpicks up there, it isn’t as easy as it looks. If you’re lucky enough to get one to stick in the ceiling without choking on the toothpick or having it fall into a fellow diner’s food, then you’ve either been there too often or are having a lucky day.

Beale Street: Named Beale Street in 1841 by developer Robertson Topp, Beale Street wasn’t fully developed until around 1900 with the addition of the Grand Opera House, now the Orpheum. Historically, Beale Street was a symbol of not only Memphis music, but a symbol of African-American culture in Memphis. With many of the clubs, restaurants, and shops owned by African-Americans it also housed an anti-segregationist paper owned by the co-founder of the NAACP and the Beale Street Baptist Church, which was important during the Civil Rights Movement. It’s historically rich reputation allows Beale Street to serve as Memphis’s big claim-to-fame in both tours and music must-sees. The Beale Street Music Festival is one of the largest events that keeps Beale Street name alive in today’s Memphis.

Keep the Cup: Every kitchen, dorm, party, and car cup holder in Memphis has seen one of many plastic cups that originate from staple Memphis restaurants. Plastic and recyclable cups are not only fun to collect, but also help make Memphis a green and eco-friendly city. Some of these include Central BBQ, Young Avenue Deli, Dino’s, Gus’s, and Soul Fish. These restaurants are especially popular among the college crowd where it is almost a sport to have an eclectic collection of the different style cups from these restaurants. A brilliant marketing strategy has turned into a Memphis souvenir center, bringing the names of Memphis companies not only into Memphis homes but to cities across the country.

Peabody Duck March: The story goes that after a hunting trip in Arkansas, the manager of the Peabody in the 1930s, Frank Schutt, thought it would be funny to leave three duck decoys in the lobby fountain. Since that day, the Peabody ducks have been a staple and a beloved part of Memphis’s image as well as one of the Peabody’s most shining traits. The ducks were taught to march around the lobby by the “Duckmaster” and have been doing so since the 1940s, arriving at 11a.m. and returning to their penthouse home at 5p.m. The Peabody, built in 1869, has since become a member of the Historic Hotels of America and the National Register of Historic Places.

The Levitt Shell: Elvis Presley fans call the Shell the place that held the first rock and roll show ever. Built in 1936 by the city of Memphis in Overton Park, the Levitt Shell has been home to thousands of concerts since its creation. Historically known as Elvis’s first stage, the Shell holds multiple series of free concerts throughout the year. In it’s location across the street from Rhodes College and just down East Parkway for Christian Brothers University and the University of Memphis, the Shell has become a hotspot for college students in need of free entertainment. Also a place for families, friends, parties, and picnics, the Levitt Shell is beloved by the Memphis community and functions as a way to keep the music of Memphis alive. In the heart of Overton Park, adjacent to the Brooks Museum, the Memphis Zoo, and the Memphis College of Art, the Levitt Shell is one part of what makes Midtown and Memphis a place for historians, artists, and students.

These are just a few examples of the many wonderful things that Memphis has to offer, for both families, students, and newcomers alike!

Posted in: Lifestyle