Memphis Mythbusters

Memphis Mythbusters

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Memphis, Tenn. is an old town with a long and vibrant history. Nestled on the banks of the Mississippi River, the city has seen more than its fair share of odd stories, untold Memphis urban myths and quite a few scary urban legends. Here are some of the best Memphis mythbusters.

1. Memphis' oldest ghost story is about little Pink Lizzie, a ghost who told of buried treasures. TRUE!

In 1871 Clara Robertson was visited by the ghost of Lizzie Davidson while she was at school. Lizzie, who was wearing a tattered pink dress, told Clara about treasures buried beneath the grounds of Brinkley Female College. How would Lizzie have known? Her dad, Colonel Robertson, built the college Clara was attending before Lizzie was born. Sure enough, when Clara told her father where to dig, he came up with a large glass jar of miscellaneous coins and paper.

What is so mysterious about this Memphis urban legend is that Lizzie told Clara not to open the jar for 60 days. During this time, there were reports of numerous seances and meetings that Lizzie "attended" with people from the town. Before the two months were up, Clara's father was suspiciously hit on the head and robbed. What did they take? The jar, of course. No suspects were ever caught and the jar was never returned. Clara claimed that Lizzie told her there was more than $2000 in papers and gold in the jar - quite a lot for 1871.

There is nothing left of the Memphis urban legend now except the story, which from all documented sources seems to be true. We'll never know the real truth. Brinkley Female College has been torn down to make room for commercial property.

2. Ancient tribes live at Voodoo Village. FALSE!

The street where Voodoo Village exists is on the edge of run-down and economically depressed Mary Angela Road in South Memphis. While this road gets its fair share of tourists, a journalist discovered there are no herbal medicine men practicing voodoo at the large house at the end of the road. Although there is abundant religious material in the front yard, some say it is just a house whose owners like lawn ornaments. Either way, Memphis mythbusters say there is no voodoo here.

3. There is a bayou in Memphis. TRUE.

The Gayoso Bayou is located below Memphis' streets in the darkness of the underground. Once forged as an open-air city drainage system by governor Gayoso in the 1790s, the system was steadily built over in the 1860s as the city expanded and needed bridges and trolleys to transport people outside the city limits.

The system, which was originally three miles long, is still intact today, though kept hidden due to its dangerous conditions. The bayou is notoriously difficult to find and get into. Once you do, it is dank, dark and slimy. Water in here can rise rapidly up to more than eight feet high and can contain toxic chemicals. This is one Memphis urban myth that should probably stay that way.

4. Elvis Presley is still in the building. FALSE.

The biggest and most beloved of all Memphis urban myths is the idea that Elvis Presley is still alive. Every year thousands of fans swarm through the gates of Graceland swearing he is alive and swinging his hips. Well, the Memphis mythbuster on this one is the official death certificate and the autopsy that was performed at Baptist Memorial Hospital. Elvis officially died on August 16th at 3:30pm.

There is a bit of folklore surrounding Elvis's death certificate, however. Several years after his death it was revealed that the Presley family entered into an agreement with Dr. Jerry T. Francisco, Dr. Eric Muirhead and Dr. Noel Florredo, who performed the autopsy on Elvis, to state that the official cause of death was heart failure. That's not the whole story. As with many famous folks in the spotlight, Elvis turned to drugs and alcohol to deal with the pressures of fame and that is what ultimately forced him to leave the building.

5. The Mississippi River flowed backwards for three days. FALSE.

Unknown even to most people who live there, Memphis is located on the largest fault line in North America. The New Madrid fault had a series of massive earthquakes in the months between December 1811 and February 1812. During those quakes, which are some of the largest ever recorded, the Mississippi River was greatly affected and even appeared to flow backwards

Memphis mythbusters in the field of science and geology have hypothesized that the river may have appeared to flow backwards for several hours (not days) due to the way the underground plates are fashioned perpendicular to the river. When the plates moved, they created great waves that sent the flow of the river upstream instead of down, much like a tsunami. Some of the most notable witnesses were on board the New Orleans, the first Mississippi riverboat, on her maiden voyage when the earthquakes occurred. One written report claims that the waves were 12 feet tall. While documentation for these quakes is old and unreliable, certainly the Memphis urban legend of the Mississippi River changing course is a tale of fiction.

6. The Orpheum Theatre's box 5 is taken forever by Little Mary. TRUE.

The grand Orpheum Theatre in Memphis was built in 1890 and is situated right at the end of famous Beale Street. In 1923, a fire broke out and the place was burned to the ground. Shortly after it was re-built, an urban legend arose that a young girl called Mary haunts the seats and hallways of the audience. No one knows for sure if she was a victim of the fire, or as more recent stories reveal, a child hit by a train car and taken into the Orpheum for medical assistance. Either way, Mary died at the steps of the building and will forever roam its halls. The Orpheum makes it a point to always have a seat available for her. You cannot purchase Box 5 seat C-5.
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