Catching Up with an Old Friend: A Pictorial Love Letter to The Pink Palace

words and pictures by Ken Billett

Riding the escalator up to the mezzanine area on the second level, the Grind City Picks display filled a giant window, backlit by the morning sun, much like a stained-glass window in a church. On a Sunday morning in mid-October, we visited the Memphis Museum of Science and History (or MoSH), formerly known as The Pink Palace Museum, to seeAmerica at The Crossroads: The Guitar and A Changing Nation, which was in its final two weeks on display inside the Bodine Exhibit Hall. Grind City Picks: The Music That Made Memphis, was a parallel exhibition that highlighted the importance of Memphis and its musicians on popular music.

This was the first time Vicki and I had been back to The Pink Palace, or MoSH, in several years. Emily, who was with us that morning, had been to the MoSH a few times recently both as a visitor and as a volunteer.

The Pink Palace became the MoSH in 2021, and I, like many Memphians, still have a hard time with the new name. The new name and museum rebranding caused a bit of an uproar, like the current outcry over the impending move and name change of the (Memphis) Brooks Museum of Art.

The Pink Palace will always be The Pink Palace and the Brooks Museum of Art will always simply be The Brooks.

While most of the exhibits in the museum’s main building remained the same, several favorites had been moved over to the house, or the Mansion, as the online brochure refers to the almost-finished home of Clarence Saunders, creator of the modern grocery store concept and founder of Piggly Wiggly.

The Country Store has always been one of my favorites, so I was glad to see the exhibit moved to a locale that highlighted its uniqueness. Just down the hallway was the Piggly Wiggly exhibit, also a family favorite. Emily spent quite a while walking the narrow aisles, taking in the early 20th Century packaging—and prices—of grocery staples still sold today.

We wandered through the rest of the Mansion, which buzzed with activity—staff getting the Mansion Theater ready for a performance or an event, technicians working on cameras and lighting in the Mansion’s Grand Lobby, where chairs were arranged in a TED talk-style setup, and other general hubbub of official-looking folks running around looking, well “official.”

The Polar Bear presides over Clyde Parke’s Miniature Circus

We escaped the hustle and bustle downstairs and made our way to the new home of Clyde Parke’s Miniature Circus, my personal favorite. I was glad to see this one-of-a-kind masterpiece in a space with plenty of room and light, lots of natural light, and now guarded over by the polar bear.

The polar bear should be nicknamed Clarence.

The intricate details, the painstaking realism of each piece, the mechanics of the moving parts and parade vehicles, even the creepy clowns . . . all of it looked exactly as I remembered Parke’s circus from years ago.

The circus still runs, at least once a day, and looks to be in great condition. But it’s the memories of past visits that flooded my head and overwhelmed my emotions. Our children grew up at The Pink Palace, and, like Lichterman, the Brooks, the Memphis Zoo, and the Children’s Museum, this vast complex of art, history, science, and nature will forever be a part of their lives.

And, like Clyde Parke’s labor of love, a uniquely Memphis institution that children (and adults) should continue to enjoy for years to come.

And that I’ll continue to call The Pink Palace.

Ken Billett has called Memphis home for more than thirty years. A freelance writer, fiction author, and nationally known advocate for skin cancer prevention and research, Ken volunteers his time at the Blues Hall of Fame on South Main in downtown Memphis. When not tending to his flowers, Ken and his wife Vicki travel extensively. StoryBoard Memphis is proud to present Ken’s columns Time Capsules and Get out of Town as ongoing features here on StoryBoard.

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