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Monday, June 9, 2008

One Crazy Night in West Memphis



This is one of the starts. I'm sick of looking at it and know errors abound but if I keep fucking with the past I won't get shit done.

I spent this last Christmas dinner in a truck stop with my Dad, brother, and Allison. It was a special time for we were together with smiles.

This is not supposed to be pitiful journalizing of the present, it is supposed to start at the Metal Museum, in Memphis, Tennessee. Some time in the 1970s, a group of people decided that blacksmithing was a dying craft in America. They worked in steel all of their lives and could not stand to see such a wonderful craft, trade, and art get lost in the mechanized future. For all of their utilization of machines, those shop owners knew that nothing could replace a man with a hammer in his hand. They, as a part of NOMMA, started a museum devoted to the preservation and promotion of ornamental metalwork.

By circumstance, they found the prettiest place in the Delta to put their museum. The site was 3 acres on the high bluffs of Memphis, overlooking the Mississippi and the Arkansas flood plain. The view is probably what has saved the Museum from dying more than anything else. I will come back to it many a times for it is has been a source of stability and beauty when I felt like the world would disintegrate in its irrational stupidity.

For whatever reasons, probably fate, they asked James A. Wallace to be the founding director. He convinced my mother that she should move with my two young brothers from Murfeesboro, Illinois so he could take the job. The reasoning was that they would come to Memphis, make a bunch of money, and then run off to Montana to live in the land of happy hippies. I don’t know how anyone could have believed he could get rich starting a museum during the Fuel Emargo. If you asked me, I would guess that my dad thought he could make a social change, do good, and avoid evil by running a museum. Like I said, the details are inconsequential when the Fates are spinning the tale.
Regardless, Dad sold his Dodge Power Wagon and bought a little, red Datsun pickup. To this day, when he sees a Power Wagon sitting in a scrap yard, he gets the distant look of lost love. Mom was to remain in Illinois with Jedidiah and Peter. Before long, she went ahead and made the move down to Memphis. When she arrived, the house had no heat and no kitchen. Dad found a furnace insert for the fireplace and an old friend from Carbondale donated a stove to the kitchen area. The rest of the home details would have to wait because the Museum was to be opened by the spring.
To go any further without properly discussing the site would be an injustice to the story and the reader. In 1798, John Adams signed the Marine Hospital Service to provide care to seamen. A hospital was built in Napoleon, Arkansas. The river made a dramatic change of course in the 1870s and took the town with it. The disappearance of the Hospital left no where for Memphis rivermen to go for treatment of their ails. They carried the bricks across the stream and built the new Marine Hospital, opened in 1881. The Federal government divided the property in 1970, keeping the eastern half for itself and giving the western half to the City of Memphis which left it to age.

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