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Jimmy Ogle Tours


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Private or custom tours vary in cost and are subject to availability.

Thank you for helping to keep Memphis history alive.

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Stories, articles and comments from various media outlets.


OK, maybe not these outlets (courtesy of Architect James Cochran of FORMUS Inc),
but I am honored to be included in...


  My Fox Memphis  










Jimmy Ogle on YouTube?  YouBet!

Click to visit the JimmyOgleTours channel on YouTube.


Now available on the internet for FREE, forever, for everyone. Enjoy twelve lectures of various historic Memphis topics from Jimmy Ogle, entitled
Making Memphis - Storytelling By Jimmy Ogle.

The Memphis Pink Palace Museum received sponsorship to promote the filming ("in front of a live studio audience") in the Mansion Theatre on Mondays and Thursdays during February and March earlier this year. Almost 2,000 folks enjoyed the free lecture series that was filmed and produced by the great Willy Bearden. The twelve topics are Powerpoint style lectures, about 45 minutes in length each:

Historic Memphis To Modern Memphis
Before It Was "Memphis"
Memphis In The Roarin' 20s
Memphis Music History
Historic Memphis Riverfront
A Century Of Black History In Memphis (1865-1968)
Historic Tall Buildings
The Origins & Oddities Of The Streets & Bridges Of Memphis
Memphis And The Civil War
Memorials And Historical Markers In Shelby County
Women In Memphis History
Memphis: 1970s To Now

Many thanks to Steve Pike, Jestein Gibson, Luke Ramsey and dozens of volunteers of Memphis Museums.Inc. that made this possible, as well as these sponsors: Vincent Astor, Phyllis Petersen, Greg Ericson - Ericson Group Inc., University Of Memphis Libraries, Communities In Conversation Series at Rhodes College


Host, Rachel Christopherson, sits down with historian Jimmy Ogle and City Councilman Worth Morgan to talk about Memphis’ past and future. Then hear how the Bluff City is attracting young entrepreneurs like Isaac Rodriguez.

Published on Apr 12, 2019 by Germantown High School Television  GHS-TV
GHS-TV is a community television station operated by the students of Germantown High School. GHS-TV is seen online at ghstv.org and its programming airs in the Memphis area on Comcast C19. GHS-TV serves as a model facility that continues to produce original programming, inform citizens and educate young people interested in telecommunications careers. We have been named the nation’s best access station an unprecedented 14 times by the Alliancefor Community Media. Our students have won over 172 Hometown Video Awards, 50 regional and 2 national Student Emmys.


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Radio personality Doug Stephan refers to Jimmy Ogle during his Good Day broadcast.

  Doug Stephan is an American radio talk show personality and hosts the nationally syndicated Doug Stephan's Good Day program. Good Day is a "call-in" and interview show airing live Monday through Saturday featuring a fast paced format covering variety of topics. According to Talkers Magazine estimates, Good Day has over 3 million listeners per week on over 300 stations. The Doug Stephan's good day show is listed as number 13 in the "Heavy Hundred" list published by Talker's Magazine in 2010.

Listen to the comments on mp3.

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16 Obviously Insane Things We’ll Never Do Again
(and the Valuable Life Lessons We Learned Along the Way)


Illustration by Wesley Allsbrook

LESSON 2: Don’t let knowledge stop adventure.

  During a trip to all 50 states in search of little-known historic sites, I took an invitation from a tour guide named Jimmy Ogle in Memphis to explore the storm drains beneath the city. In 1880, Memphis became the first major municipality to create “a separated sewer system,” which entailed two pipe systems—one for storm water runoff and the other for the nasty stuff. The designer was George Waring Jr., the same engineer who transformed an 800-acre section of Manhattan wetlands into what became Central Park.

  Jimmy had trekked through the massive drains only a few times before, using a map from 1919 to guide his way. Before embarking on his first foray, which he did alone, he left a copy of his intended route on his desk with a note saying “Open This Monday”—meaning “If I’m not back by now, here’s where you might find my body.”

  By the time Jimmy took me, he had a little more experience. He led me to an opening into one of the main tunnels and then flicked on his small flashlight. We began sloshing through the ankle-deep water, passing architecturally stunning “chambers” with stone arches and gushing waterfalls flowing over exquisite brickwork. The trickling of water and the occasional boom of a truck’s wheels overhead were the only noises that broke the silence. The experience was exhilarating, and we covered several miles in one afternoon.

  The next day, during a meeting with one of the city’s sewage maintenance employees, I told him proudly of my excursion. He was aghast. “You did what?” He went on to list the things that could have killed me: pockets of odorless methane, poisonous snakes, flash floods, infestations of lethal brown recluse spiders. I had no idea how close to certain death I’d come. When I mentioned all of this to Jimmy, he laughed it off. I admired his courage and am happy that there are people willing to venture into these dark and obscure places. I’m happier still that I’m not one of them.


By Andrew Carroll, author of
Here Is Where: Discovering America’s Great Forgotten History

This article originally appeared in mental_floss magazine. You can get a free issue here.

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Tour offers 'Behind-the-scenes,
real blue collar' stories of Downtown streets

  Far from the opulence of Graceland and soul of the Stax Museum, seldom-told tales of Memphis' history live between the walls of an alley that snakes through Downtown.

  "It's like the backline musicians in the band: The front line singers get all the attention, but there's people playing the drums and playing other instruments," said Jimmy Ogle, community engagement manager with the Riverfront Development Corporation. "These alleys in Memphis are just as important as the front streets... The sidewalks, the streets, the plazas; everything has a role to play in Downtown Memphis."

  Ogle led the free inaugural tour of November 6th Street -- which he is quick to note is more an alley than a street -- on Sunday, guiding about 100 people from its Beale Street aperture to the Pinch District.

  Named for the date Memphis voted to join the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1934, the alley crosses 17 Downtown streets through 27 turns, each of which holds "behind-the-scenes, real blue collar" stories of Downtown Memphis, Ogle said. Among the destinations that the tour intersected is General Washburn's Escape Alley, where in 1864 the Union officer was believed to have escaped Confederate troops searching for him at the Gayoso Hotel. The route winds between some of Downtown's oldest buildings, including the DT Porter Building at 10 N. Main, once the tallest building in Memphis at 10 stories.

  Ogle called the alley "the spine" of Downtown, a brick-lane passage where the past overlaps the future. "Memphis is reflected in the personality of November 6th Street, and really Downtown, with all the construction that's been going on the last 30 years," he said.

  JoEllen Todd of Memphis found the alley, though beset with cigarette butts, gravel and broken glass at some turns, to be photogenic, maneuvering between other attendees during Sunday's tour in search of her shots. "Because we were going down the alleys -- and I like to get pictures of old stairways, and doors and things like that -- I got to take quite a few pictures of that," she said. Todd, a native of Indiana, marveled that November 6th Street still exists.

"It's still here," she said. "That's another thing, is that a lot of other cities that you go to, (the history is) gone. Memphis has managed to retain some of the historical points. ... There's just a lot of historical things left in Memphis to explore."

  For Eddie Settles, a native Memphian, the tour was a chance to get reacquainted with his hometown. "If you're a real Memphis history nut, this is the tour," he said.

Published November 7, 2011 in The Commercial Appeal   Photos By Ken and Bubba

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Walk Memphis with Jimmy Ogle


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

  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.

  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.

“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:

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

  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.


Published Nov 12, 2012 in Tennessee TripTales By Samantha Crespo

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Tidbits of Memphis history from the man who knows

  I am not an expert on Memphis history. But I know someone who is.

  His name is Jimmy Ogle. He is a historian, a walking-tour guide, a consummate volunteer, a historic preservationist and the official Shelby County historian. Ogle is also the community engagement manager for the Memphis Riverfront Development Corporation. As such, he coordinates the landings of the overnight passenger vessels at Beale Street Landing.

  The last time I heard Ogle talk, I noted some of the amazing things he said about Memphis history: According to Billboard magazine, more than 1,000 songs have the word “Memphis” in the title or in the lyrics — more than any other city in America. Some of the better known are “Graceland” by Paul Simon, “Memphis” by Jerry Lee Lewis and “Walking in Memphis” by Marc Cohn. “My favorite is ‘Memphis, Tennessee’ by Chuck Berry,” says Ogle.

  Since Hernando de Soto discovered the Mississippi River in or near present-day Memphis in 1541, Memphis is one of the earliest points of discovery in the United States. “I’m not sure if this is appreciated fully,” Ogle says. “To put that in some context, this was 79 years before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock.

  “As I remember grade school, in history class, Plymouth Rock was treated as Genesis 1, Chapter 1!”

  The first railroad connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River came through Memphis. It was completed in 1857 and was known as the Memphis & Charleston Railroad. “At this time, most railroad lines were only about 100 miles long,” Ogle says. “So the idea of a single railroad that went all the way from Memphis to Charleston (S.C.) was huge — it was like going to the moon!”

  As part of the opening festivities, water was brought from the Atlantic Ocean and poured into the Mississippi River, and water from the Mississippi River was transported and poured into the Atlantic Ocean. “They called it the ‘Wedding of the Waters,’” says Ogle.

  Like the Nashville & Chattanooga Railway, the Memphis & Charleston Railroad was completed just in time for the Civil War. In fact, the Memphis & Charleston had a lot to do with why the Battle of Shiloh was fought in April 1862.

  The largest inland naval battle in history occurred on the Mississippi River right in front of downtown Memphis on June 6, 1862. In the 90-minute Battle of Memphis, nine Union gunboats defeated eight Confederate vessels, resulting in the surrender of the city to Union forces. “The battle was so greatly anticipated by the citizens that more than 5,000 lined the banks of the Mississippi River to watch the battle out in the river,” Ogle says. “It was as if they were spectators at a modern football game.”

  Only three years later, the largest maritime disaster in American history occurred when the steamboat Sultana exploded about six miles upstream from Memphis, killing 1,700 people. The vast majority of the casualties were Union soldiers on their way home from Confederate prisoner of war camps. In spite of its significance, the Sultana explosion of April 1865 is overlooked in the history books because it took place when newspapers were dominated by the news of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, his funeral procession and the capture of John Wilkes Booth.

  Memphis is the site of the nation’s largest remaining original cobblestone landing. Today an estimated 800,000 of the original stones remain along the Mississippi River bank between Beale and Jefferson streets. Many of the people who see the cobblestones appreciate the appearance but may not understand their original purpose. Before the stones were put in (between 1852 and 1891), the mud was so thick along the riverbank that it was hard for people to walk to and from riverboats.

  “The mud was so deep that when passengers stepped off a boat and into the mud, they would sink almost knee-deep,” Ogle says. “When they pulled their legs out of the mud, sometimes the mud would suck off a shoe or boot. “Not a very friendly way to be welcomed to Memphis!” In the 1990s, an archaeological survey of the landing showed that the most common items found underneath the cobblestones were not arrowheads, bullets or belt buckles. They were shoes and boots!

  Between 1880 and 1920, 70 percent of the cotton grown in the United States was harvested within 200 miles of Memphis. Because of that, Memphis was known as the Cotton Capital of the World. At that time, 40 percent of the cotton being used in English cotton mill towns of Manchester and Liverpool came through Memphis. All of this cotton was bought and sold at the Memphis Cotton Exchange. Today, the exchange has been renovated and turned into a wonderful museum about Memphis and the cotton industry.

  In the 1880s, Memphis was the mule-trading capital of the world. About 75,000 mules a year were bought and sold in Memphis in that period.

  The mule industry reminds us that, when West Tennessee first became agricultural, there were no tractors. “All the trees that were harvested and all the cotton that was planted was done by mule power,” Ogle says. This is why you hear so much about mules in some of those early blues songs. “To many farmers and sharecroppers, mules were the best friends that they had!”

  Memphis contained the largest building in the South starting in 1930 and continuing for several decades. This was the 29-story Sterick building. It remained the largest building in Tennessee until the L&C Tower was built in Nashville in the 1950s. Sadly, the Sterick building has been empty for several decades and is near the top of Tennessee’s historic preservation list of endangered structures.

  Memphis contains the first radio station that was programmed entirely for African Americans. The station (WDIA) switched to an entirely black format shortly after it went on the air in 1948. Many music legends got their start by working at the station, including B.B. King and Rufus Thomas. In its early years, not all of its listeners were black; young Elvis Presley used to love listening to WDIA. Ogle points out that not only did Memphis break the color barrier in radio, but it also broke the gender barrier when the first all-female station (WHER) went on air with eight female deejays!

  Memphis is associated with the birth of three different types of music.

  The city is considered “Home of the Blues” because W.C. Handy published the first blues song there in 1912.

  “Although the blues came out of the Delta, W.C. Handy’s biggest contribution was putting the music to paper for others to be able to read, learn and play at a time when publishing was not readily available,” Ogle says.

  Memphis has a claim to be the birthplace of rock and roll because of Sun Records, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and such. It is considered the birthplace of soul music because of Stax Records, which produced music by such acts as Isaac Hayes and Otis Redding.
Finally, Ogle points out that Memphis has the largest freestanding letter in the alphabet — on the Hernando de Soto Bridge.

“The bridge arches create a letter ‘M,’ which is 1,740 feet long!” Ogle points out.

To learn more about Jimmy Ogle and his Memphis walking tours, check out his website, www.jimmyogle.com.

Published April, 2015 in The Tennessee Magazine   Story and photos By Bill Carey

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Memphis Magazine - Explorer Extraordinaire
Tour guide Jimmy Ogle enlightens, entertains, and enjoys every minute.

  This guy gets around. You’ll spot him in alleyways and parks, on riverboat decks and tour buses. One day he may be telling tales to the student body at Memphis University School (his alma mater), the next he’s regaling retirees at Wesley Highland Terrace, where he says the residents tell him, he’s “more popular than Bingo.”

  His schedule — neatly hand-lettered on a creased piece of paper — reveals few gaps of unclaimed hours. In 2011 alone, he gave 281 talks and tours. He shrugs off the idea of keeping his appointments on an iPad, saying, “I didn’t get cable or the Internet till three years ago and I’ve had the same cell phone 11 years.”

  Meet Jimmy Ogle, whose official title is community engagement manager with the Riverfront Development Corporation, where he serves as the city’s liaison with The American Queen Steamboat Company, owners of the American Queen. But on his lunch hour, weekends, or during a spare niche of time, Ogle can be found speaking to anyone who’ll listen about the history and lore of his native city. And a whole lot of folks listen. Whether he’s holding forth on “the origins and oddities of local streets and bridges,” or pointing out the designs and purpose of manhole covers at his feet, he holds attention with flair and a rich knowledge acquired over decades. “I get out a lot and wander,” says Ogle. “I’m a learn-it-all, not a know-it-all, and everything I ever did before brought me to this.”

photograph by Amie Vanderford

  “Everything” includes learning sports stats he’d devour as a boy growing up in East Memphis. “I’d memorize averages and percentages and lineups,” he says. “And my older sister, Linda, said if it hadn’t been for the sports page of The Commercial Appeal I’d never have learned how to read.” He gradually earned his B.S from the University of Memphis — “I did it on the 10-year plan,” he says with a smile — while working in recreation programs at First Baptist Church and later at the Memphis Parks Commission. He started there as special events supervisor and ultimately became the system’s deputy director.

  “Everything I get into is kinda like the Forrest Gump philosophy,” says Ogle. “Something good’s gonna come from it.” Certainly that’s true of Ogle’s management jobs from 1985 forward — at Mud Island, the Memphis Queen Line, Beale Street, and the Rock ‘N’ Soul Museum. “You had to really know your story,” he recalls, “and all those years of memorizing stats, [audiovisual] programs, and a million facts — they’re just part of who I am today.”

        “It’s a world that dates back more than 100 years . . .”

  In 2008, while employed in operations for the Ericson Group marketing company, Ogle wasn’t giving daily talks or tours and discovered how much he missed them. Knowing he could still work them into his schedule, he approached the Center City Commission — now called the Downtown Memphis Commission — “and I pitched all sorts of things. I’d throw anything at the dartboard to make it stick. They weren’t interested.”

  Then he came up with a novel idea sparked from years of riding his bike and walking the streets and seeing the ornamental manhole covers around downtown. “They’re round, square, rectangular, with rosettes, florettes, and hexagonal patterns,” says Ogle, “and they have seven different uses — telephone, water, gas, storm drains, traffic signals, electrical, plumbing.” Between Danny Thomas and the river, and between A.W. Willis and G.E. Patterson (formerly Auction and Calhoun), the roving raconteur discovered 2,000 slabs of metal that were beautifully crafted by foundries around town.

  Knowing he couldn’t include all 2,000, he developed a 40-minute tour that stretched down Union Avenue between Riverside and The Peabody. The Commission agreed to the Great Union Avenue Manhole Cover & History Tour, which, Ogle explains, opens a huge network of utilities below the surface of Memphis streets, alleys, and sidewalks. “It’s a world that dates back more than 100 years,” he adds, “and it has kept our city running.”

  The Commercial Appeal got wind of the event and Ogle met the photographer near some manhole covers. “The next day they ran four big pictures,” says Ogle, “and 90 people showed up for the tour. After that, the Commission told me, ‘Do whatever you want.’”

photograph by Andrea Zucker

  Ogle soon created several free public walking tours on Tuesdays and Saturdays. “I’ll do Court Square, Beale Street, Cotton Row, the Shelby County Courthouse. I’ll take folks down Adams, Jefferson, Monroe. People really enjoy walking along, seeing old buildings and learning what was there then and what’s there now.”

          “Nobody does the variety I do.”

  Last fall, a new event was launched: the November 6th  Street Tour — a street whose name commemorates the day in 1934 when Memphians voted in favor of the Tennessee Valley Authority power system, This tour, with 27 turns over 17 streets and a few alleys to boot, drew 116 people. “We were within eyesight of all tall buildings and major thoroughfares and could see parks and plazas, the river, statues, urban art pieces,” says Ogle, “so it’s a wonderful way to learn about downtown.”

  Another urban feature that appeals to Ogle, though it’s not included in his tour lineup, is the Gayoso Bayou. Made up of slippery tunnels beneath the city, the “bayou” was a natural drainage canal when Memphis was founded in 1813. Though it’s generally off limits except to city engineers, Ogle holds lectures about the historic waterway and describes it as “the last great downtown adventure.” And that 11-year-old cell phone he owns? “It survived being dropped in the Gayoso Bayou.”

  Often Ogle is invited to be a step-on guide downtown for motorcoach tour companies visiting from out of town. And while he gives credit to other guides or groups, he takes unabashed pride in what he offers: “Nobody does the variety I do.”

  Asked if a question had ever stumped him, Ogle shrugs and says, “Yeah, but that doesn’t bother me.” What bothers him is people who are too lazy to look up answers to questions themselves. “And some will actually say, ‘Will you give me a copy of your notes?’ No. They can take notes from my tours or lectures, but I’m not handing mine over.” He explains tha e about Memphis.”

  Ogle’s favorite tour is on the American Queen Line. Readers may recall the vessel’s arrival at the revitalized Beale Street Landing in April, when the Great American Steamboat Company established its home port here. The American Queen, billed as the largest paddlewheel steamboat ever built, makes several voyages each year from such cities as New Orleans and St. Louis, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. “It’s a real honor to talk to people about Memphis,” says Ogle. “They come from the West Coast, the East Coast, and whether it’s about our history or music, I can really get into it. And I wear a double hat with them, “he adds, “because when they land, in my role with the [Riverfront Development Corporation], I’m in charge of their docking and operations on the ground.”

  Ogle credits the RDC for allowing him to continue his speaking engagements and tours while developing new ones for riverfront parks. “I can make my own bookings,” he says, “but still be available for the RDC business” — like the 43 Hard Hat tours of the Beale Street Landing construction site he gave earlier this year.

  Another big plus about the American Queen, he adds, is how Ogle rewards himself after a tour. “The boat has a 24-hour snack shop and my room is just seven doors down from the self-serve chocolate ice cream machine!”

        “He lost a leg, not an arm!”

  Ogle also ushers history fans on field trips to nearby counties, and nature lovers to the Old Forest Trail in Overton Park. And if he’s not on far-flung excursions or wandering down streets, he’s standing at podiums or sitting at head tables. Now and then, he admits, he’s a little uncomfortable. While giving a talk to the General Nathan Bedford Forrest chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, he told the audience, “I really don’t like being here. Y’all know more about this than I do. You’ll kill me!” The presentation went well, says Ogle, except for one detail. “J. Harvey Mathes was an editor of the newspaper then,” Ogle explains. “He’d gotten engaged before the Civil War, and in telling about him, I said he lost an arm in the war and was worried about coming home to his bride.” A member of the audience quickly set him straight, saying, “He lost a leg, not an arm!” The person who spoke up happened to be Mathes’ great-grandson, explains Ogle, “and I said, ‘Why don’t you finish the story?’” Laughing about the incident now, Ogle says he’d seen Mathes’ armless bust at Confederate Park prior to the luncheon and that image caused “my mouth to disconnect from my brain. But it also helped me find an interesting  source,” he adds, “Mathes’ relative.”

photograph courtesy Jimmy Ogle

  Sometimes Ogle receives calls from out-of-towners asking for customized tours, and one came from a couple who lived in Greenwich Village. “I could tell from the start it would have an Elvis bent to it,” says Ogle, “and that they were sincere in their interest.” In addition to showing them such sights as Lauderdale Courts and Humes High School (where the King lived and attended school), “I took them to see certain photos I had collected over the years, and to visit George Klein in his Graceland Sirius studio.” Of particular interest to the wife was Plastic Products Record Plant, at 1746 Chelsea, which mastered many of the early Sun, Stax, and other record labels. She was so impressed by this gem, says Ogle, that she donated $2,000 for a commemorative plaque, which will be dedicated on August 17th at 9 a.m.

        “You’re ham enough. You’re in.”

  With a website that claims his motto is “have mouth will travel,” Ogle says that mouth got him in trouble as a boy. As a kid in church he’d sit and chatter on the back row, and it never failed that when the family got home from church the phone would ring with “some busybody in the choir loft” reporting his behavior. He’d hear his mother say, “Jimmy talking again?” Then: “Jimmy, go to your room!”

  But his gift of gab, not to mention his love of history and dedication to research, has not only shaped his reputation as a solid tour guide; it also landed him an acting job with historic Elmwood Cemetery Costume Players. “They were there at Court Square one year with their Costume Twilight Tour. I went to the director and said, ‘I’d like to be in that tour,’ and he said, ‘You’re ham enough. You’re in,’” recalls Ogle, who got the role of a railroad engineer.

  During rare moments away from his “hobby” or his real job with the RDC, Ogle works in time to see his family — his mother, two brothers, and one sister,  who all live in the area and who show up for some events in T-shirts bearing the slogan “Team Ogle.” He recently made a trip to Knoxville to see his grandchildren, Macie Lynn, age 4, who calls him Pops O, and James Ogle III, born June 29th. And he finds time to serve as scoreboard operator for the U of M’s men’s basketball, and on the stat crew for the school’s football team, while also serving as an instructor at Rhodes College’s Meeman Center for Lifelong Learning.

  He’s garnered a few awards along the way, including serving as Honorary Duckmaster for a day at The Peabody, receiving the Harcangel Award from the Highland Area Renewal Corporation for the many tours and lectures he’s given in that area, and being named 2011 Volunteer of the Year by the Memphis Charitable Foundation and The Blues Ball.

  Not bad for a guy who makes a living and pursues a pastime doing exactly what he wants to do. “I’ve always been good on my feet,” says Ogle. “And I love learning new things.” Sharing what he’s learned with others has become more than just a hobby. Says Ogle: “It keeps me going.”


Published August 2012 in Memphis Magazine Story by Marilyn Sadler

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Controversy over Memphis monuments spans centuries


The Illinois Monument at Memphis National Cemetery at 3568 Townes Avenue is a granite-and-bronze sarcophagus commissioned by the state of Illinois. Dedicated in 1929, it depicts a soldier in repose.

Photo by Mike Maple

The Illinois Monument at Memphis National Cemetery at 3568 Townes Avenue
is a granite-and-bronze sarcophagus commissioned by the state of Illinois.
Dedicated in 1929, it depicts a soldier in repose.


  It happened during a period of great tumult in Memphis, in an era when the dynamic of race was transforming, power was shifting and a once-revered figure became reviled for convictions rooted in a different historical context.

  It involved a monument to a Tennessean famous for his military and political leadership, a man not from Memphis but integral to its history. History books and newspaper articles over the years have chronicled how a bust of Andrew Jackson, the former U.S. president and a founder of Memphis, was dedicated at Court Square in 1859 with great fanfare but then defaced just a few years later when political sentiment had changed radically.

  As Jimmy Ogle, one of Memphis’s most public history buffs points out, the bust had included an inscription of famous words from Jackson: “Our Federal Union: It must be preserved.”

  That, according to a later newspaper account, “enraged some Confederates, who tried to erase them.” It would be 1908 before the words were restored.

  The bust now holds a place of prominence in the elaborately restored lobby of the Shelby County Courthouse. It originally was moved there in 1921, and even was moved from place to place in Court Square, with an 1886 newspaper clip declaring it “has been moved nearer the Main Street entrance to the park where it will be more conspicuous.”

  As controversy stirs anew over the public park and monument honoring another man integral to Memphis’s history, Nathan Bedford Forrest, Ogle helped The Commercial Appeal inventory many of the people honored around the Memphis area by monuments in public places.

  Some of them are very prominent — think the Elvis Presley statue on the west end of Beale Street or the W.C. Handy statue a few blocks east. Some are more obscure — the statue of Christopher Columbus at Adams and Third in what Ogle says is the smallest park in the city.

  There is a larger-than-life depiction of Memphis’s most significant political figure of the first half of the 20th Century — E.H. Crump welcoming visitors into an Overton Park entrance. And there is a grand salute to the most significant political figure of the second half of the 20th Century — W.W. Herenton greeting visitors to the mixed-income College Park development across the street from his alma mater, LeMoyne-Owen College.

  Some, like those of Jackson and Forrest, are quite old. Others are very new, like the one of Margaret Polk, famous for being the actual “Memphis Belle,” that was installed in 2011 at Veterans Plaza in Overton Park.

  One statue that might actually fall among the “newer” installations is one at Confederate Park, of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States of America who spent meaningful years after the Civil War working in Memphis. He wrote a large portion of his memoir here, and two of his sons died here — at ages 17 and 11.

  “Statue Of Davis Proudly Placed In Proper Park,” ran the front-page headline, on Oct. 5, 1964.

  A neighboring front page story captured tumultuous current events, with Congressmen pressuring the first southern president since Reconstruction, Lyndon Johnson, “to order massive Federal action aimed at halting racial violence in Mississippi.”

  Just 17 years later, in 1981, The Commercial Appeal would run a feature pointing out just how much had times had changed. Most people no longer marked nor were even aware of Davis’s birthday, which had for many years had been a holiday throughout the South.

  “Not only did they all ignore the bronze figure that stands on a pedestal in the center of the park,” wrote William Thomas, “but most people didn’t realize it was his birthday.”

  In 1999, when the Memphis Parks Commission considered replacing Confederate Park with a park dedicated to cancer survivors, it stirred debate.

  In a quote that could be transported to 2013 and the current parks renaming controversy, the then director of Memphis Heritage, Judith Johnson, said: “I know a lot of people at the end of the 20th Century feel the Confederacy is not something that we can hold up as a value we can embrace, but we can’t erase our history.”

  The Cancer Survivors Park, with an array of sculptures, was eventually put in Audubon Park in East Memphis.

  Several people over the years have called for creating a detailed, comprehensive inventory of everyone honored in any corner of Memphis and Shelby County, but it does not appear that one has been completed, Ogle said.

  Whitney Ransom of the UrbanArt Commission said she was also unaware of such a database. UrbanArt does keep track of the many works it has helped bring into Memphis’s public spaces over the years, but those tend toward the abstract and away from the personal — like the “Aspire” sculpture at Brewster Elementary School or the “Whirl” at Vance Park conveying the current of the Mississippi River.

  The newer the work, the more fresh and clean its appearance, for the most part.

  An article from 1978, headlined “Statues Here Reap Varied Indignities,” described the deterioration of many statutes around town — a leg missing from one of the children on Court Square’s “Hebe Fountain,” a “fingerless” St. Patrick, a replacement sword on the Forrest statue because the original was stolen.

  And, of course, that bust of Andrew Jackson, with the words chiseled off and face beaten “with hammers and hatchets.”

Ogle, when he was director of Memphis’s parks, often received calls about how guitar strings on a different statue of Elvis had been stripped away. A replacement statue now sits on Beale in the plaza in front of the MLG&W building.

 “So the statue at Beale now, it’s basically vandal proof,” Ogle said. “The strings are part of the body of the guitar, and there are no tassels on his coat.”

  That old Elvis statue is now housed at the Tennessee Welcome Center downtown, near another statue of one of blues legend B.B. King.

  Ogle, who conducts many public tours and gives presentations to groups throughout the area, likes to include in his slideshow the famous shot of Presley and King posing together as young men in the 1950s at the old Ellis Auditorium.

  “Who’d have thought 60 years later both of those kids would have statues two blocks away at the Tennessee Welcome Center,” Ogle said. “That’s what’s cool about Memphis. Two kings, too.”

  But as music historians know, those two kings are not actually Memphis natives, but, rather, immigrants from North Mississippi.

  Another 1981 article actually bemoaned the fact that Memphis’s public monuments lacked the presence of actual Memphis natives.

  The source for the discovery was Ernie Lubiani, then working on a master’s degree in Southern history at the University of Memphis: “My observations show that, hell, there’s been no Memphians honored with full-fledged statues in public places.”

  Some correction to that has been seen with recent additions, like the statue of Polk, the Memphis Belle, and the one of Herenton. And recent calls to honor others like crusading anti-lynching journalist Ida B. Wells suggest there could be more coming.

  Miraim DeCosta-Willis, professional historian and author of many books on Memphis’s African-American history, said a meeting was held last week for an effort toward a significant monument honoring Wells. But she would like to see more, and likes the idea, for instance, of a monument at the renovated Fairgrounds honoring the late Larry Finch, who played and coached basketball for the University of Memphis at the Mid-South Coliseum.

  “When you come right down to it, there are so many people, black and white and Chinese and whatever, notable Memphis, who deserve to be remembered,” DeCosta-Willis said. “People’s memories are so short.”

  Memphis Mayor A C Wharton showed agreement with that sentiment during a recent talk with the Memphis Rotary Club.

  “My personal philosophy is that we always need more history,” Wharton said. “So as opposed to spending a lot of time getting rid of something, let’s give more prominence to everybody’s contributions.”

Who we honor:

The following list is an inventory of some of the monuments, in public places around the Memphis area, honoring people. This does not include monuments in less public places, like that of Danny Thomas at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital or the Chickasaw Indian Chief Piomingo for First Tennessee Bank.

Al Chymia Shrine Temple: depiction of a shriner comforting a child, on Shelby Oaks Drive.

Cancer Survivors Park: several installations honoring cancer survivors, at Audubon Park.

Robert R. Church Sr.: bust on east end of Beale Street of the city’s first black millionaire.

Christopher Columbus: statue at Third and Adams in city’s smallest park.

E.H. Crump: powerful political figure welcomes visitors to one Overton Park entrance.

Jefferson Davis: statue dedicated in 1964 at Confederate Park.

Doughboy Statue: largest statue at Overton Park’s Veterans Plaza stands for “everyman” fighting in World War I.

Nathan Bedford Forrest: majestic depiction of Civil War general and later Memphis politician on horseback.

Willie Herenton: private funds built statue of Memphis’s first black schools superintendent and first black mayor.

W.C. Handy: statue for “Father of the Blues” is on Beale Street.

Hiker statue: An “everyman” depiction honoring veterans of Spanish War, at Central and East Parkway.

William J. Leftwich Memorial: bust and marker at Leftwich Tennis Center at Audubon Park is for a Lt. Colonel who died in Vietnam in 1970.

Andrew Jackson: bust from 1859 in Shelby County Courthouse.

B.B. King: statue of the blues legend at Tennessee Welcome Center.

Tom Lee: an obelisk and a more recent sculpture at Tom Lee Park depict Lee saving a man from drowning.

Martys Park sculpture: honors victims of Memphis’s Yellow Fever tragedy, overlooking Mississippi River.

Capt. J. Harvey Mathes: former editor said to have lost a leg in the Civil War.

Cary Middlecoff: sculpture at Tournament Players Club at Southwind honors Memphis golf champion.

Mountaintop: sculpture honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., on Main Street near City Hall.

Movement To Overcome: sculpture inside National Civil Rights Museum with depictions of those involved in Civil Rights struggle.

“Memphis Belle” Margaret Polk: famous model for B-17 bomber shown looking skyward in Veterans Plaza at Overton Park. One of just a few native Memphians honored with a statue. Elvis Presley — two statues Downtown, one on west end of Beale Street and another at Tennessee Welcome Center.

Carol and Jim Prentiss: Memphis Zoo benefactors honored with statues near the entrance.

Rameses: towering statue of Egyptian king now at the University of Memphis.

Truth Seekers: Sculpture inside Benjamin L. Hooks Library formerly was in front of Cossitt Library Downtown.

Published February 23, 2013 in The Commercial Appeal By Zack McMillin       Photos by Mike Maple

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Across the Bridge
Historian Jimmy Ogle launches Mississippi River bridge tours.


  You don't have to wait for the Harahan Bridge greenline to be constructed to walk across the Mississippi River.

  Historian Jimmy Ogle will begin offering bridge tours across the Memphis & Arkansas Bridge on Sunday, April 22nd, on the pedestrian path attached to the I-55 vehicular traffic bridge.

  "It's a legal sidewalk, and you don't have to walk all the way to the other side to enjoy the high view of the river and look back at the bluffs and the [Valero] refinery," said Ogle, who hosts tours all over downtown in his role as community engagement manager for the Riverfront Development Corporation.

  Ogle said he hopes the bridge tours can acclimate pedestrians to the idea of crossing a massive river bridge on foot since the proposed Harahan Bridge greenline would create a walking and biking path across the adjacent Harahan rail bridge.

  "It's a little scary because the expansion joints make the bridge vibrate, and you have all those trucks whizzing by at 70 miles an hour," Ogle said.

  But he assures that his bridge walks will be safe and monitored. There's no limit on how many people can attend the free tour, but if the group is particularly large, Ogle said he'll take people over the bridge in small groups.

  "We'll watch the cars go by and make it fun for people," Ogle said.

  While on the walk, Ogle plans to talk about the history of the Memphis & Arkansas Bridge, the Harahan Bridge, and the Frisco Bridge.

  The tour will meet at 2 p.m. at Crump Park. The same bridge tour will be repeated on April 28th and May 12th and 19th. There are stairs and a grassy slope leading to the bridge sidewalk, but Ogle said he will assist anyone who may need help getting to the sidewalk in a wheelchair.

  "It's not [Americans with Disabilities Act]-compliant, but maybe this attention will bring that to light," Ogle said.

  Also in preparation for the Harahan greenline project, Ogle has scheduled a series of riverfront park tours that will take walkers along the river bluffs and into little-known and hard-to-find city parks.

  "Just about everybody knows about Mud Island and Tom Lee Park and Greenbelt Park, but when you get down to the South Bluffs area, you've got some neat areas on the high bluffs that are really hard to find," Ogle said.

  The first Riverfront Park Series tour will begin at Chickasaw Heritage Park, south of the National Ornamental Metal Museum on Saturday, April 21st, at 10 a.m.

  "We'll tour the grounds of the Metal Museum and the grounds of the old Marine hospital, and then we'll end up at Crump Park," Ogle said.

  Other riverfront tours will meet at Martyrs Park on April 28th, Confederate Park on May 12th, and Greenbelt Park on May 19th. Each will lead walkers into smaller downtown neighborhood parks and landmarks, such as the Gayoso Bayou and Ashburn-Coppock Park.

  For more information on the bridge tours or riverfront tours, visit JimmyOgle.com

Reprinted from The Memphis Flyer | The Fly-By April 12, 2012.      Story by Bianca Phillips.

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Downtown Manhole Tour
Blows The Cover Off Memphis Underground


  Jimmy Ogle points out unique characteristics of a manhole cover in a Downtown alley off Union. Ogle's tour of manhole covers reveals the "underground" history of Memphis.

Jimmy Ogle points out unique characteristics of a manhole cover inOnce his historic Memphis mode gets going, Jimmy Ogle's commentary takes off in a seemingly inexhaustible monologue of local facts, tidbits and trivia.

He can talk about the street widening ordinance of 1922 that shaved seven feet off Downtown buildings like the Front Street Deli. Or that the building that houses the Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau is the oldest commercial building in the city.

And he can tell you that there will be exactly 151 manhole covers on The Great Manhole Cover Walking Tour, Ogle's contribution to the Downtown Alive program sponsored by the Center City Commission. He knows because he counted them.

Finding and photographing Downtown Memphis manhole covers has been something of a hobby of Ogle's for at least a decade.

On Wednesday he'll lead a free 30-minute walking tour on Union, starting at Riverside and ending at November 6th Street. (Why the alley got that name is included in the tour.)

"I've lived Downtown for about 20 years and during my course of rambling around ... I've noticed lots of different manhole covers," said Ogle, vice president of operations for the Ericson Group.

With a study area from The Pinch to the South Main Historic District, he's archived the various shapes, sizes, patterns and foundries where they were made. Recorded are the long-gone electric or phone companies they were made for and the many ways Memphis Light, Gas and Water has for decades been immortalized in iron.

One of his favorite manhole covers is one he's named "No-name Spider Web" at Union and Center Alley.

"Is it art in the gutter? I think it is," Ogle said.

Tossed in with the tour is a mini-history lesson on Memphis.

"Everything I say is true to the best of my knowledge and research," he said.

Downtown Alive is a lunchtime program to bring art, cultural and creative events to the 70,000 workers in the city's "office campus," said Leslie Gower, director of marketing and communications at the CCC.

"We've contacted dozens of arts and creative cultural organizations throughout the whole city to bring free performances and demonstrations to Main Street," she said.

They've had Ballet Memphis, Middle Eastern dancers, Walnut Groove, the Christian Brothers High School jazz band and a demonstration from the National Ornamental Metal Museum.

Those who take Ogle's walking tour are advised to wear comfortable shoes and pay close attention.

There's no test, but the best participant will get a free chocolate milkshake from the Front Street Deli.

And they'll need to follow a few rules, Ogle said. Among them: Stay close so he doesn't have to shout, autographs will be signed only at the end, and don't get hit by a bus.

Published May 5, 2008 in The Commercial Appeal By Linda A. Moore       Photos by Brandon Dill

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        We choose Memphis, and think you should too.

Get to know Memphis with Jimmy Ogle

Wanna know a great way to learn about Memphis history and get active? How about a walking tour with Jimmy Ogle!

Jimmy is a lifetime Memphian and a Memphis historical buff. He does tours and classes on different facets of Memphis history. What makes his tours unique is how he arranges them around a block, but tells the expansive knowledge of that part of Memphis. Some of his tours include:

The Tuesday Tours: Free and open to the public (wheelchair accessible) featuring a specific area downtown (around 4 blocks) and is about 45 minutes in length.

The Step-on Guide: A tour on the Riverfront downtown for motorcoach and tour companies visiting from out-of-town that request the service

Private Group Walking Tours: Several school groups and affinity groups have requested walking tours of certain areas of Downtown or the riverfront.

One-On-One” Tours: Private tours can be arranged by contacting Ogle by phone or email.

Custom Tours: Jimmy has even been given as a “Christmas present” to parents or grandparents. This tour normally involves a ride around Downtown and the riverfront culminating in a meal or dessert at a Downtown establishment.

  As you can see this is an active, unique, and fun way for lifelong and new Memphians to learn about the city.
Visit Jimmy’s website, and take a tour.

Reprinted from Choose901
July 1, 2013.
Story by
Dominique Williams
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Dec. 29, 2012

Written by

Bryce Miller: Memphis expert fascinated by piece of Iowa lore

  MEMPHIS, TENN. — Just days before Christmas in 1969, 17-year-old Jimmy Ogle was watching television icon Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show” when his mother rushed in to tell him his father needed to go to the hospital. Then, the moment slows to a crawl as Ogle replays it in his mind. “He came up and knocked his pipe out on the mantle, looked at me and said, ‘Catch me, I’m falling,’ ” said Ogle, the memory vivid and fresh despite the passing of more than four decades. “He died in five minutes of a massive heart attack. He was 51 years old.” In an instant, the teenager had lost the man who shoved his hand into a baseball glove at a moment’s notice to play catch, the person who rebounded basketballs for hours under the driveway hoop — the whistle-toting coach of so many of his teams.

With the American Queen Riverboat on the Mississippi River
behind him Memphis historian Jimmy Ogle shows off an ear
of corn he picked at the Field of Dreams site in Dyersville,
Iowa. Ogle later had actor James Earle Jones who appeared
in the movie Field of Dreams autograph for him. Ogle has
been to the Field of Dreams site in Dyersville four times.
(David Purdy/The Des Moines Register)

  All of these years later, Ogle explained Friday on the American Queen riverboat as the Mississippi River meandered slowly past, the loss of his father is the reason he connected so personally with something so, so Iowa.

  Ogle is the man many from this music- and barbeque-soaked corner of Tennessee call the unofficial historian of Memphis. As Iowa State fans begin to descend on the home of Graceland and Beale Street to play Tulsa in Monday’s Liberty Bowl, waiting will be Ogle — the city’s most impassioned fan of the “Field of Dreams” movie site in Dyersville.

  Ogle has trekked four times to the field that anchored the 1989 baseball film starring Kevin Costner, Burt Lancaster and James Earl Jones. When he’s there, he sees and smells something as American as Elvis — the game of baseball. He also thinks of dad. “You have those dreams of just one more game of catch … one more time together,” he said.

     A Memphis Original

  Ogle, who works for the Riverfront Development Corporation, is chairman of the Shelby County Historical Society. Rest assured that Ogle will run out of breath long before he runs out of facts about Memphis. And he rarely runs out of breath.

  As he sits on the American Queen, he’ll rattle off its dimensions — 89-feet wide, 418-feet long, six stories high with room for 436 passengers and 175 members of its crew — without tapping his mental breaks to steer the conversation to Memphis music. Ogle blurts that the first all-black radio format came in 1948 (WDIA), and Elvis released “That’s Alright Mama” in 1954, leaning forward in his chair to proudly proclaim that moment the birth of rock ’n’ roll. “In 1955, Sam Phillips (who opened Sun Studios) put a microphone in front of a woman (at an all-woman station),” said Ogle, pausing for effect as his history-laced zinger moved to the on-deck circle. “So we broke the color barrier in radio and the gender barrier in radio, in little ol’ Memphis, Tennessee.”

  He’s not done. He’s only building up steam.

  “The city has two Tony Award-winning musicals, Memphis and Million Dollar Quartet,” he said. A person begins to utter a question. Not yet, Ogle seems to say with body language and voice inflection — the facts train is just reaching top speed. “... There are more than 1,000 songs that mention Memphis,” he said. “That’s more than Paris or London, or any city in the world.” Pause. But only for effect. There’s more, of course. Memphis is where U.S. business icons Holiday Inn, FedEx and Auto Zone originated, he’ll tell you. Not impressed? Ogle knows there are roughly 2,000 manhole covers in the downtown area, with three different shapes and seven different uses. He pitched a free “manhole cover” tour of a four-block section of downtown to city leaders.

  It took multiple laps to convince them. Then, the day after a story appeared in the Memphis Commercial-Appeal newspaper published, 91 people and two TV stations showed up. “They said, ‘Do as many tours as you want,’ ” he said. “I had to make up the tour. I didn’t have it in my pocket. But I learned about all the ornamental iron, what shapes mean storm drains, which meant sewer, gas, traffic lights, telephone.” Ogle had created a unique way to walk the streets of Memphis long before songwriter Marc Cohn released “Walking in Memphis” in 1991.

  In the last year, Ogle conducted 280 talks and tours in the last year, from anywhere and to anyone who would listen. “Rooftops, alleys — I even do a tour in the storm drain that runs from St. Jude’s (hospital) to FedExForum (home of the NBA’s Grizzlies),” he said.

     Father-Son Moment

  Ogle also has run the scoreboard for the Grizzlies, still works at University of Memphis sports events — and will keep tackle stats in the press box Monday when Iowa State lines up for its Liberty Bowl kickoff. Does … this … man … sleep? “I try to stay busy,” he said, avoiding tip-of-hand on whether the answer is straight or punchline.

  If there’s anything that challenges for a spot in his bloodstream as much as Memphis, it’s the Iowa-based Field of Dreams.

  When James Earl Jones boarded a Memphis riverboat for a wrap party after filming the 1996 movie “A Family Thing,” Ogle was working with the group running the boat. Ogle asked Jones to sign the husk surrounding one of four ears of corn he’d gotten for each trip to Dyversille. “He said that was the first ear of corn he’s ever signed,” said Ogle, grinning at the memory.

  Then, last month, two of Ogle’s unabashed loves again unexpectedly overlapped.

  On the day of Ogle’s 60th birthday, he was aboard the American Queen to give a talk about the area’s history when he found out the movie they showed passengers that day. Yep. “Field of Dreams.” “Not planned at all,” he said. “Right before my lecture, so I thought that was kind of special.”

  The movie which inspired classic lines such as “If you build it, he will come” and “Is this heaven? … It’s Iowa” began to strike a chord with Ogle’s son, Jimmie Mac, as well. The younger Ogle asked his dad to visit the field in Iowa for his 21st birthday. A divorce when Jimmie Mac was 5 had created gaps in the father-son experience as the miles between them grew. When they stepped on the field, the magic felt as tangible as it did at the movie theater. “It was a Monday, real foggy,” Ogle said. “It was Sept. 20, 1999. … That’s the greatest father-son moment you can ever have, to see an expression like that on a kid’s face. “It’s something you can’t touch. It’s very sensory. It’s very emotional.”

  Mr. Memphis and Mr. Iowa Movie leaves the riverboat a few minutes later, opening the door to his Lincoln Town Car. Inside sits a Field of Dreams coffee cup with dirt from the field. History is about appreciating and never, ever forgetting the past.

  Ogle appreciates. Ogle doesn’t forget.

  When fans from Iowa State stroll the river he knows so well and walks over the manhole covers with stories all their own, he hopes they enjoy all that surrounds them as much as he does. “We have crime, we have problems — like everywhere else,” he said.

  “But if you love history, you have to love this place.”

Reprinted from The DesMoines Register December 29, 2012.      Story by BRYCE MILLER.

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University of Memphis alumnus Jimmy Ogle knows how to walk the walk and talk the talk when it comes to Memphis’ colorful history.


Reprinted from The University of Memphis Magazine
Spring 2012 issue.
Story by By Gabrielle Maxey


Walkin' in Memphis

  Jimmy Ogle likes to set the record straight: he is not a history teacher. "I’m a history presenter," he declares. "Definitely an adventurer."

  By day, Ogle is community engagement manager for the Riverfront Development Corp. He works on projects such as Beale Street Landing and American Queen steamboat cruises. His goal is to cultivate grassroots activities along the riverfront.

  Ogle, though, is better known for his manhole cover and history tours of downtown Memphis.

  (For the record, there are about 2,000 manhole covers. They come in three shapes and have seven different usages.) Scouring the streets for manhole covers sounds a little quirky, but there’s an infinite amount of history that can be gleaned from them. (Did you know 100 years ago there were two competing telephone companies in Memphis: Western Union and Continental?)

  "Everything fascinates me," Ogle explains. "I notice things — manhole covers, sidewalk stamps, street signs."

  His 15 unique lunchtime tours average four blocks, and might take in anything from Confederate Park, Cotton Row, Beale Street or Court Square. For the more adventurous — or athletic — Ogle’s Saturday Super Tours of downtown run about three hours, with routes from Civic Center to the Pinch District or along the Trolley Loop.

  Other tours may cover only a particular street, such as Adams, Madison or Monroe. Last year Ogle (BSEd ’80) led his inaugural tour of November 6th Street — which he notes is "more of an alley." It was named for the date Memphis voted to join the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1934. Sporting his signature blue sweater vest and bow tie, Ogle climbed on top of a large flower planter on Main Street to point out sights during the tour, which covered 17 blocks through 27 turns. "It was supposed to be a 90-minute tour," he recalls. "I started with 114 people. Three hours later 85 people were still there."

  During the U of M’s centennial celebration, Ogle is presenting a series of "Know Your Neighborhood" programs on the history of the University area. The lectures and walks cover everything from the history of the six University-area neighborhood districts to its 13 churches.

  With unbridled enthusiasm, Ogle will stop traffic on Walker Avenue to snap a picture of a square manhole cover. He can rattle off the exact number of crape myrtle trees along the railroad tracks and points out his favorite fire hydrant — one painted bright red with a Dalmatian at Patterson and Watauga.

  He is exhaustive in his research. When Tom Mendina, formerly with the University Libraries, approached him about the University neighborhood series, Ogle spent four weekends driving around the area and taking 1,500 photos. He has read more than 300 books on the Memphis area and its history.

  Ogle’s connections with the U of M don’t stop with talks and walks. He’s the sideline clock operator for Tiger home basketball games (an "adrenaline rush") and keeps radio statistics for Tiger football.

  At one point he decided the only angle he hadn’t viewed Memphis from was from underneath. He climbed into the Gayoso Bayou and walked from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital to FedExForum, an expedition that ended up taking five-and-a-half hours. "I took some wrong turns," he explains. "I came out of a manhole — luckily in a sidewalk, not in the street."

  A self-described urban historian, Ogle never misses an opportunity to learn. "It’s better not to be a know-it-all and open up your ears and listen," he says. He often picks up new facts or clues from comments made during a presentation. People often give him items, which inspire him to delve further into the lore of the Bluff City. After a recent lecture, a woman handed Ogle several books, including

  Settlers of Shelby County and Adjoining Counties and Metropolis of the American Nile: A History of Memphis. He also received a church pamphlet, which described how President Abraham Lincoln was convinced to order occupying federal troops out of Second Presbyterian Church during the Civil War.

  Of all the areas of Memphis, downtown is Ogle’s favorite. "Downtown is the real identity of any city," he says. "It’s usually the oldest part, it’s usually on a river. There are plazas, waterfront views, historical street markers, tall buildings."

  He said the city has done a good job resurrecting its downtown since the late 1970s, including the revitalization of The Orpheum and The Peabody Hotel. "In 1979 there were more people living in jail than residentially downtown," he says.

  Interest in Ogle’s downtown walking tours and lectures spiked during last year’s Mississippi River flood. He took it upon himself to refute what he calls the national media’s exaggeration of the flood’s impact. "For five nights I stood on Riverside Drive between Beale and Union and barked like a street preacher," he recalls. "I talked about the flags, settlers, bridges, river traffic, industry, the flood, high and low water marks. In truth, only 500 people were affected. Diane Sawyer was standing on Beale Street in water up to her ankles."

  Ogle’s professional background has provided him with plenty of opportunities to absorb Memphis history. He started as a recreational specialist at the Memphis Park Commission and ended his tenure there as deputy director, overseeing such city-owned facilities as the Memphis Zoo, Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, Memphis Pink Palace Museum and Memphis Botanic Garden. Ogle spent eight years as general manager of Mud Island then held the same position for the Memphis Queen Line. He also served as director of operations for the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, where he created the first Gibson Guitar Factory tours.

  "Jimmy has woven himself into the fabric of Memphis, first as a life-long student of its history and now as a keeper and teller of that history," says Benny Lendermon, president of the Riverfront Development Corp (RDC). "The good news is that tomorrow’s history is being created today and Jimmy loves being in the middle of all this activity. What Jimmy brings to the RDC is his unique ability to tell the story of the development of the Memphis riverfront from a historical perspective with all the enthusiasm of an eyewitness. He genuinely connects with a wide variety of people and loves sharing his knowledge about Memphis with them."

  The 59-year-old’s energy is boundless. Last year Ogle, who is chair of the Shelby County Historical Commission, gave 280 talks and tours. One day might have him giving a presentation to 35 senior citizens at a retirement community or to the Sons of Confederate Veterans; the next day he might be talking to a room full of elementary school students. Once Ogle was expecting to speak to a third-grade class, but instead came face-to-face with a group of 3-year-olds. "You go slowly," he says of the experience. "I talked about bridges, the river, pyramids and how you can spell Mississippi with four letters."

  Luckily, Ogle has a remarkable talent for accurately recalling names, dates, faces and places. That ability serves him well in another of his roles — portraying a "resident" of Elmwood Cemetery during its Costume Twilight Tour held each October. Performers must memorize a seven-minute script and repeat it 25 to 30 times a night. Ogle’s characters have included Avery Warner, engineer of the Cannonball Express (the train that took Casey Jones to his death), and Lloyd Binford, head of the infamous Memphis Censor Board. "I like the discipline of memorizing a script," Ogle says.

  Ogle also is passionate about preserving the history that so fascinates him. As a member of Citizens to Preserve Overton Park, he was a key force in the fight to save 127 acres of old-growth forest in the park from future intrusive development. In fact, he made a presentation to a mayor’s study committee in which he portrayed the park. "Overton Park’s pedigree is Central Park in New York," he points out. "The golf course is the second oldest municipal course in the country."

  Ogle may be one of the few residents of Memphis who actually likes the railroad, which many find a nuisance for causing traffic delays. "In 1857 the Memphis and Charleston Railroad was the first to connect the Atlantic Ocean with the Mississippi River, 784 miles away," he points out. "We’re in its way, not the other way around."

  Memphis is not an all-American city, Ogle claims. "But we are the American story. If you slice us open, you find explorers, the Civil War, civil rights, music, medicine, agriculture, and entrepreneurs for the first self-service grocery store, franchise roadside lodging, package delivery by air and miracles like St. Jude Children's Research Hospital."

  It’s a city founded on the river, built on cotton, and who better to spin its stories than this urban adventurer? "I’m like Forrest Gump," says Ogle. "Good things happen to me. People give me things about history. My eyes are wide open."

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From Buzzard Hall to the Banks of Beale Street
Ogle Guides Your Steps

  UNDER THE CITY - On the first stop of our tour, we meet an explorer preparing for a mission. He is wearing rubber boots and is equipped with a headlamp, a tape recorder, a camera, a spotlight, and an 1819 map of Memphis. His name is Jimmy Ogle ’70.

  Though it is November 2, 2008, he has not packed any modern survival gear such as a GPS, firearm, or leather whip. He locks his car and hides the keys behind the tire. Better there than lost on his journey into the unknown. Where he’s going, there are no cars. In fact, he has no idea what he’ll find in the murky intestines of the city. Albino alligators? Fugitives from the law? Subterranean cave creatures that feed on human flesh?

  Mindful of the dangers, but with the resolve of the daredevil travel writer Richard Halliburton ’15, he takes his first steps into the labyrinth of storm water drainage tunnels that run beneath Memphis, a vast network of culverts and cisterns built in the wake of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878.

  He thinks up an epic and somewhat ominous name for this chapter of his life. He calls it: “The Last Great Adventure of Jimmy Ogle.” His adventure does not end unhappily. He does not discover a lost civilization or even a cool location for a criminal mastermind’s hideout.

  In the end, after six hours of trudging – and, at times, duck walking – through miles of plumbing, the explorer pushes open a manhole cover and flops onto a sidewalk outside of a tattoo parlor near Beale Street. He’s traveled several miles, at least, from his entry point near St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. His documentation will one day lure movie producers, civic leaders, and media types into the tunnels with him. It may not be a brave new world down there, but it’s a fascinating old one.

  Three years later, a group of people are standing around the same manhole where he crawled out. The man issues a warning.

  “Now before you get any ideas, I wanna tell everybody that I feel kind of certified in going down there,” he said. “I didn’t just get drunk at a bar and say, ‘Hey, let’s go down a manhole.’ I’ve done a lot of research on this.” He waves his arm in a “follow me” gesture.


  INTO THE HALLS OF MUS - On our next stop, we are standing behind the desk of MUS Varsity Head Coach Jerry Peters in order to bring three artifacts to your attention: a team picture, a patch, and a button, all from the extraordinary 1970 varsity basketball season. That was the year the Owls were unofficially christened the Buzzards by the football team, who deemed them scrappy enough to earn a more fearsome totem.

  The man from the storm drain, Jimmy Ogle, is in that photo. He was the team captain and a point guard. His senior year started with ambivalence for the game, feeling burnt-out on high school sports. Besides, the team had lost four starters from the previous year.

  Even so, they won their first game. Then the next, and the next. The winning streak seemed miraculous. One evening, during fall exams, the player was at home with his father, an obstetrician, who was a fixture at all the games. Dr. Ogle was known for the smell of his cherry pipe tobacco, wishing the players a “good game” as they hit the locker rooms, and telling his patients not to give birth on Tuesday and Friday nights.

  The father was reaching for his pipe on the mantel when he collapsed. Moments later, he was dead in his son’s arms of a massive heart attack.

  The funeral was on a Thursday. On Saturday, the team captain led the Buzzards in a 54-53 victory over their arch-rival, White Station, beating them in a haze of tears. They’d go on to be the last unbeaten basketball team in the state of Tennessee going into the district tournament.

  In the spring, the team captain received the school’s first Most Valuable Player award for varsity basketball. Of course, when people ask about the “Ogle Award,” the kid in the picture is quick to point out that it’s named not in his honor – but in the memory of his father, Dr. L.C. Ogle, Jr.


  BY A FLOODED RIVER - We’ve come quite a ways to this point, but here we are, back Downtown, on the river walk. It’s May 11, 2011, and the swollen Mississippi River is a stunning backdrop for the urban explorer and former high school basketball hero. He’s wearing a white polo shirt and seersucker pants, but he resembles a street preacher with his public address system and is inviting over anyone who will stop to listen.

  He’s here because he saw Al Roker on the national news standing in chest-deep water at the foot of Beale and thought it was sending the wrong message.

   “I got a little irritated, you know, because of all the wrong information,” Ogle said. “These are historic times. Someone needs to be down here helping people with perspective.”

  He knows more about historic floods than just about anyone in this city. As he rattles off facts and figures from previous flood years, he literally has his credentials at his back.

  Peeking out from the river, just over his shoulder, is the high ground of Mud Island River Park, where he was the general manager from 1985 to 1993. Just behind him, atop the submerged cobblestone landing, are the riverboats that take tourists out on sightseeing cruises. He was the general manager of the Memphis Queen Line between 1993 and 1998.

  “You see these riverboats over my shoulder?” he asked a crowd of joggers, executives, and tourists. “People are worried about the boats during the flood. Hey, that’s just more water to float on!” Over the course of five days, he re-educates around 2,000 people about the great flood of 2011.


  IN JIMMY'S HEAD - There’s more to this tour,
much more. But to get a bigger perspective on this civic-minded MUS alumnus, it’s far more entertaining to join him on one of his own tours.

  When he’s not working for the FedEx St. Jude Classic or a myriad of other part-time jobs, he’s busy talking about Memphis history, though he dislikes the title of historian.

  “I like to say I’m an adventurer and a storyteller,” he said. “I’m a combination of Richard Halliburton and Prince Mongo.” His friends add that there’s some Forrest Gump in him, too.

  He started giving presentations strictly as a hobby in 2008 after listening to a lecture that he found wholly uninspiring. “I thought: I probably know more about history than this guy,” he said. “I’ve worked for the Memphis Parks Commission and the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum. I’ve met the historians, and I’ve met the people who made history. So I asked the Center City Commission if they’d mind if I gave a free walking tour. They said, ‘Yeah, sure Jimmy.’”

  In Jimmy Ogle fashion, he drummed up publicity for his first walking tour in The Commercial Appeal. The “hook” was that he’d use manhole covers as a way to explain how the city’s infrastructure was built. More than 90 people and two TV news crews showed up that day.

  He now conducts a series of free walking tours that cover almost every aspect of Memphis history. In Overton Park, for example, he can tell you about the changes in elevation, the ages of trees, and the history of the Memphis Zoo, and he doesn’t hesitate to swing on a vine or climb into the hollow of a tree. 

On many weekends, he does all the talking on the Island Queen riverboat during a 90-minute sightseeing cruise. He also teaches an adult education class in local history out of the Memphis College of Art’s Nesin Graduate School Downtown.

  Recently, he’s written the text to several bronze historical markers.


The best way to get the Jimmy Ogle experience is to invite him to give a talk. He gives presentations to civic groups, senior centers, and businesses on various topics. He can be contacted via email on his website, jimmyogle.com. Ogle currently offers weekly walking tours of Downtown Memphis, 11:45 a.m. every Tuesday. For meeting locations, visit his website. Keep an eye out for his Saturday “Super Tours,” which combine walking tours of several different locations Downtown. Special event: Ever wonder why November 6th Street is called that? At 2:00 p.m. on November 6, Ogle will have a special tour of the entire street. He’ll have t-shirts and special “Jimmy Ogle Bottled Water” to give away.

He’s curating a museum exhibit called “Art in the Gutter,” which he hopes to debut in the spring of 2012. Ogle is also the current chairman of the Shelby County Historical Commission.

  His website, jimmyogle. com, is an expanding guide to his tours, exploits, and achievements (he’s been an Honorary Peabody Duckmaster, a costumed re-enactor at Elmwood Cemetery, the scoreboard operator for the Memphis Tigers, and a professional calligrapher, among other things).

  Carol Perel, director of operations for the Cotton Museum, says his tours have made people more excited about history.

  “He has more in his mind than anyone I’ve ever met,” she said. “He’s a real student of history, but more importantly, he shares that knowledge with others. He’s a promoter of Memphis, a real treasure.”

  Benny Lendermon, president of the Riverfront Development Corporation, agrees. He recently hired Ogle to head up riverfront programming and events by continuing to preach the importance of the Mississippi River.

  “His job is going to be bringing more activities to the riverfront, getting more groups doing things,” said Lendermon.

  It’s just one more step forward for Ogle and his gospel of Memphis history. “Everything I’ve done in my life has led up to this culmination,” he said.

  But how does he keep all those facts and figures in his head? How can a man possibly know so much, from how many horses Nathan Bedford Forrest had shot out from under him (29), to how much Jack Belz paid for the Peabody Hotel on July 31, 1975 ($550,000), to the starting line-up of the 1964 Cardinals (too long to list)?

  “When I was a kid, I was really into sports, numbers, and statistics. I used to memorize baseball cards,” he said. “My sister told me that if it wasn’t for the sports page in the paper, I wouldn’t have learned how to read.”

Published September 2011 in MUS Today   Story By Christopher Blank



Jimmy Ogle: Pride of the

by classmate Dr. Steve “Bubba” Bledsoe ’70

  In an interview with me, Jimmy Ogle ’70 discussed his legacy.

  “More people remember me for 12th-grade basketball than for these other things I’ve done,” Ogle said, “which is fine with me.”

  But it’s not fine. Ogle earned his place in MUS athletic history in his senior year, but this is the story of what he has done since his graduation in May of 1970. MUS Today has chronicled the lives of alumni that have gone on to great success as doctors, lawyers, teachers, authors, developers, CEOs, philanthropists, and military men, but it has never traced a 41-year journey that turned an all-state basketball player into the man The Commercial Appeal declared a “raconteur.” After reading this, I know you will agree that James McAlister Ogle has led the most interesting life of any alumnus in the history of modern MUS.

  Ogle thinks his drive came from the confidence he gained by winning the Presbyterian Day School spelling bee in 1964. He spelled “judgment” and “extraordinary” to take home the prize. But perhaps it was his point guard training that prepared him to take every opportunity that presented itself.

  Ogle started his post-1970 work history as a clerk on the graveyard shift at the 7-11 on Central Avenue. After less than a month on the job, a 4:00 a.m. holdup convinced him to seek another career.

During Ogles’ many adventures, he has encountered many characters, such as Tiny Tim, Ringo Starr and Shaquille O’Neal.

  After attending Southwestern at Memphis (Rhodes College) for two years, Ogle left to begin work in the recreation department at First Baptist Church. In 1974, he enrolled at Memphis State University, where he roomed with Phil Cannon, the future director of the FedEx St. Jude Classic. Ogle started with the Memphis Park Commission’s Recreation Department in 1979; by 1983, he was an administrative manager for the MPC’s executive director, and he was made deputy director the following year.

  Ogle solidified his connection to Downtown Memphis when, in 1983, he began a four-year role as general manager of Mud Island River Park. From there, he was general manager of the Mud Island Management Authority from 1989-93 and general manager of the Memphis Queen Line from 1993-98. He spent 1998-2000 as vice president of operations for Performa Entertainment (Beale Street), 2000-03 as director of operations for the Smithsonian Institution’s Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, and 2003-09 as vice president of operations for Ericson Group, Inc.

  Since 2009, he has been a consultant for the Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau and a tournament coordinator for the St. Jude Classic. But it’s when you get into Ogle’s part-time jobs that you start getting jealous. How would you like to sit at center court for Memphis Tigers and Grizzlies basketball games and get paid for it? Ogle has been the clock operator for the Tigers since 1998 (and on the statistics crew since 1973) and was the clock operator for the Grizzlies from 2001-03. In addition to countless NCAA basketball and football games and tournaments, Ogle has also run the clock and scoreboard for the Harlem Globetrotters. He’s also done some quirky things. In 1997, James Earl Jones was in town, filming A Family Thing with Robert Duvall. The movie had a wrap party on the Memphis Queen, and Jones wanted to drive the boat. Ogle agreed, but in return, Jones had to autograph an ear of corn (Field of Dreams) and talk in his Darth Vader voice as he steered the paddle boat.


  Watching the trains go by the river from the Memphis Queen was too tempting for Ogle, so in 1998 he bought an Amtrak pass and traveled 7,000

 miles in 21 days, riding on the City of New Orleans, the Empire Builder, the Coastal Starlight, and the Southwest Chief. On the way out, he stopped in Chicago and saw Sammy Sosa hit home runs Nos. 50 and 51, and, at his last stop in St. Louis, he saw Mark McGwire tie Roger Maris’ record with home run No. 61 on Labor Day. Before the game, he sold his two extra tickets and paid for the whole trip. It’s just not fair.

Pinned and deputized from the Class of 1970: Steve Bledsoe,
Bev Ray, Frank Crumbaugh, Jimmy Ogle, and Tom Berdeja

  But what has Ogle done for MUS since 1970? He has addressed MUS students on several occasions, but his greatest gift was his arrangement for a new Buzzard portrait by the original artist, Dr. David Morris ’70, and his organization of the reunion of the 1969-70 basketball team (see article in MUS Today, March 2010, page 33). This successful reunion formed the nucleus for the Class of 1970’s “40 Years of Domination” reunion in September of 2010, attended by 51 of 67 graduates. Ogle’s tireless work on our 40th Reunion Committee, the M.B.I. (MUS Bureau of Investigation), was remarkable. He took Morris’ Photoshop design of the M.B.I. badge and had 100 copies made at a personal expense of $700. He then came up with the protocol for being “deputized” into the M.B.I. and performed most of the ceremonies himself. To top it off, he had a plaque made to place on the wall in the Ross Lynn Arena to finally honor Morris as the artist of the Buzzard portrait.

  Along the way, Ogle has been blessed with a son, Jimmie Mac; a daughter-in-law, Tiffany; and a granddaughter, Marcie Lynn.

Describe Jimmy Ogle as you will: all-state MUS basketball player, public servant, 7-11 clerk, Memphis historian, museum director, clock operator, sports statistician. The truth is, along the way, his last 40 years have been a lot more interesting than mine, and I’ll bet more interesting than yours. Go, Buzzards!

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Ogle This: Tour Gives Detailed History of Area's Past

  Sidewalks, buildings, street signs and railroad tracks can’t tell their story – but Jimmy Ogle can.

  During four walking tours and one lecture in September, Ogle (BS ’80) described these and other lesser-known history of the southwest and southeast neighborhoods surrounding the University, plus historical nuggets about the U of M campus.

  “The stuff you don’t think about, like the sidewalk stamps or the fire hydrants, he brings that to light,” said tour participant Chris Greganti. “It’s something you wouldn’t think to learn about.”

  The programs are part of the University Libraries’ “Know Your Neighborhood” event to highlight the history of the U of M during the University’s centennial celebration.

  Ogle’s enthusiasm for history is infectious. Even the history of manhole covers is interesting when Ogle describes it. His fervor doesn’t stop when the tours end. He’s always learning, talking to locals at neighborhood meetings and snapping pictures of things to research.

  On one of the tours, Ogle stopped traffic on Walker Avenue as he was about to take a picture of a square manhole cover. The drivers watched with perplexed expressions, but that didn’t stop Ogle, who is also known for his manhole-cover tours of downtown Memphis. As he continued describing Walker Avenue, he pointed to the crape myrtle trees lining the railroad tracks, stating that 219 of those trees are along the tracks. Also, along the southwest corner of Patterson and Walker near the tracks is where the President’s Mansion was once located, Ogle said.

  In this area behind Patterson Hall, the sidewalks have a story. Before pouring any sidewalks for the interior of this area of campus, administrators allowed students to walk along the grass to cut to class. Once there were worn footpaths in the grass, the sidewalks were designed in those directions. This is why the sidewalks are not in straight lines. Several names of streets are also in honor of past U of M presidents, such as Mynders Street for Seymour A. Mynders and Brister Street for John W. Brister.

  Ogle leads dozens of Memphis area walking tours and lectures each year. This is the second year he has visited the U of M for neighborhood tours. He will continue researching the history of the U of M neighborhoods because he believes the University is an important factor for the development of the area. “Whether it was West Tennessee State Normal College, West Tennessee State Teachers College, Memphis State College or the University of Memphis, a lot has happened,” Ogle said. “The city has grown up around this University.” The Memphis city limits were not extended to the U of M until 1929, 17 years after the school’s opening.

  Ogle is also researching the history of the 12 churches around the U of M. These will be the theme of a presentation in January.

  “Boy, he sure knows a lot of stuff,” said Bob Boone, retired U of M director of financial aid. “Jimmy’s got a pretty good handle on most everything that’s going on around here. It fills in some gaps that have been in your mind for a long time.”

  To listen to Ogle or join him on a tour, visit www.jimmyogle.com for upcoming dates for walking tours and presentations. All events explore the history of Memphis, Shelby County and the Mississippi River.


Reprinted from The University of Memphis Newsletter October 11, 2011.      Story by Laura Fenton.

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National Treasure

  Jimmy Ogle, performance historian and keeper of esoteric Memphis lore, is like an informational slot machine that pays off every single time you play. Simple questions like, "Why did your Shelby County courthouse tours go away?" get rapid-fire answers: "I was working out east, 26 miles away. That's a 52-mile round trip if you're counting." Ogle's new position as community engagement manager for the Riverfront Development Corporation brings him back downtown so his free walking tours of one of Memphis' most detailed buildings is returning.

  Ogle explains: "We meet at the southwest steps by the statue of Justice. There are six statues, all of which were carved from a single block of marble, the largest in the state of Tennessee, which is interesting. We'll look at the pediments and the markers. And there's a 26-year-old tulip poplar tree planted for the building's 75th anniversary, so you can see exactly what a 26-year-old tulip poplar is supposed to look like."

  The courthouse's seven kinds of marble will be identified, as will its Cuban mahogany. Ogle will spin yarns about a bust of Andrew Jackson and drop some details about films that have been shot on location there. He will also introduce visitors to the famous cuspidor.

  "There was a time when spitting — or should I say expectorating? — was in fashion, and there were cuspidors everywhere," Ogle explains. "Well, it went out of style in the 1960s, and they were all given away. After the centennial celebration, someone loaned one back, and we have it on display."

  Shelby County Courthouse tours begin at noon on Thursday, September 15th, October 27th, November 17th, and December 22nd. tours are free, and cameras, which are usually prohibited in the courthouse, are welcome. The courthouse is located at Second and Adams.

Reprinted from The Memphis Flyer | We Recommend September 15, 2011.      Story by .

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VOL. 127 | NO. 68 | Friday, April 06, 2012


Dead Reckoning With Ghosts Of Our Past
By Dan Conaway


  GHOST OF A RIVER. Jimmy Ogle is a Memphis history savant. He knows things about people and places around here that even those people didn’t know in the first place.

Last & Only Known Extant Photograph of the Sultana & Doomed Passengers
Helena, Arkansas, April 26, 1865
Library of Congress

  Going somewhere with Jimmy is a trip.

  The other day, Jimmy navigated and I handled my car’s tiller across a 30-mile-wide lake – on dry land. I plowed upstream in the main channel of the Mississippi – in a plowed field. In the surreal light of fire on water, I wove my way through hundreds already dead and heard the desperate screams of hundreds still alive – as I passed the water features and faux Georgian facades of a brand-new subdivision. In the dusty reality of today’s all-but-forgotten Mound City, I remembered that day’s Mound City and its citizens throwing together rafts to save all the souls they could. I saw her go down, a spectacular tragedy at the end of a spectacularly tragic war, her fiery gunwales disappearing – 40 feet below a farmer’s field. I steered to the landing at Marion, a bustling Mississippi port – and parked my car in front of a still Southern swamp.

  It was a late afternoon in March, but Jimmy and I were spending quality time with the ghosts of an early morning in April of 1865.

  Before the levees, the river was 30 miles wide this time of year, perhaps but ankle deep in places but all wet. Then, the channel north of the Desoto Bridge was the Tennessee Chute, choked with sandbars. Then, the chute we now see against the river’s west bank was the main channel, sweeping six-plus miles west and then north, placing Mound City and Marion on the Mississippi.

  Before there was the Titanic, there was the Sultana.

  The Titanic carried 2,229 when she hit that iceberg. The Sultana had a capacity of only 376, but carried 2,300 when her boiler exploded, igniting the dawn off Marion, visible from Memphis eight miles south.

  The Titanic lost 1,517, capturing the attention of the world then and even now. The Sultana lost at least 1,700, the greatest maritime disaster in American history, and she couldn’t even capture a regional headline. Her news was lost in the wave of mourning for Abraham Lincoln, awash in the gunshots that killed his assassin the day before.

  She carried the weak and wasted human detritus of war, Union prisoners heading home after somehow surviving the infamy of Andersonville only to die in hot, bright flames or beneath cold, dark water. Where their hope sank, where there was once a great river, a great tragedy and a singular marker in the nation’s history and ours, that place should be properly marked and always remembered.

  Folks in Marion and around the country – Jimmy introduced me to a few – are determined to do just that. They know if you travel the road that once was a river and stop and listen, you can hear bits and pieces of 2,300 stories washed away by a forgotten current.

  I’m a Memphian, and Jimmy and I see ghosts.

Dan Conaway is a lifelong Memphian, longtime adman and aspiring local character in a city known for them.
Reach him at dan@wakesomebodyup.com.

Published Apr. 6, 2012 in The Daily News By Dan Conaway

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Reprinted from SPOON Magazine Spring 2012.      Story by Holly Whitfield.   Photos By Brandon Dill.

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Students see city history during tour of Downtown Memphis:


 Bolton High School students from teacher Autumn Thron's art 3 class, including MaryEllen Hendrick, 16, make rubbings of manhole covers on Madison Avenue during a Downtown Memphis history tour led by Jimmy Ogle. By noting the different markings, foundry names, dates, sizes and shapes of manhole covers, Ogle is able to paint a picture of regional history through the development of the city's infrastructure.


Published October 13, 2011 in The Commercial Appeal   Photo By Brandon Dill

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  Thanks to Jimmy Ogle, we had a fun 90 minute trip on the Island Queen on Sunday, Oct 16.
Jimmy knows just about everything about Memphis and did commentary
all through the tour down and then back up the Arkansas side of the river.
The weather couldn’t have been any better. It was beautiful!



Reprinted from CPSA Huesletter November 2011.

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  Memphis Magazine - Who's Who
A quick guide to our city's movers, shakers and other news-makers.


 Local historian, storyteller and tour guide known for such arcane topics as historic manhole covers and stormwater drainage systems. Recently hired by the Riverfront Development Corporation to promote better use of the riverfront, serve as the city's liaison with the Mud Island. Formerly served as general manager of Memphis Queenline and Mud Island; director of the Rock 'N' Soul Museum, and deputy director of Memphis Park Commission.

 Earn bachelor's degree from Memphis State University. Involved with Memphis Heritage, Cotton Museum, Citizens to Preserve Overton Park, and other civic groups.

 Recipient of 2008 Spirit of Memphis Award from Memphis Visitors and Convention Bureau. Recently named chairman of the Shelby County Historical Commission.

Published August 2011 in Memphis Magazine

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Park Place: Establishing Recreation System Was Linchpin of Improving Memphis


  The founders had a plan, and it began with the parks.

  When Memphis was established in 1819, parks and open spaces were as much a part of the vision as the Mississippi River, commerce and cotton. With a total of 36 acres decreed by the founders (the earliest being Court Square, Market Square, Exchange Square, Auction Square and the promenade along the bluff), Memphis established itself as a city on the cutting edge of culture, recreation and meeting the needs of the community.

  Today, with activists and leaders suddenly intent on expanding and utilizing existing green space as an amenity to attract a creative class of people and industry, it's a resource the city has actually been cultivating and sitting upon since its earliest days.

  As early as 1889, Judge L.B. McFarland began looking into the creation of a park system for the city. Nine years later, John C. Olmsted, son of Frederick Law Olmsted Sr., the designer of New York's Central Park, visited Memphis to investigate the possibility of such a system. The mood of the nation following the Civil War, Reconstruction and the yellow fever epidemics led to an avid progressive movement of city beautification. The leaders of the day "rallied around the idea that the city could be rebuilt to the highest standard of quality and innovation, and, as an example, the city beautiful movement advanced those ideas in parks, open space and with the parkway element, not just as a scenic drive but as a way to create and improve the form of cities where they could be organized around beautiful, linear parkways that would also enhance development and real estate values," said Ritchie Smith, a landscape architect who drew up the 1988 Overton Park Master Plan.

  Today, in the Memphis Park Services building on Avery (on land acquired by the Park Commission through a delinquent-tax seizure in 1936), the minutes of meetings for an infant commission are recorded in large, crumbling leather-bound books. With the flourish of a neatly written hand that allows us into the paneled offices of men who dreamed of the outdoors, the Memphis Park Commission was established in 1900. Ever since, it, and its subsequent entity known as Memphis Park Services, has maintained a patchwork quilt of turf, trees, pools, recreation centers and ponds.

  Also recorded in the books is the commission's interest in land found "in the northeastern portion of the city," the 347-acre Lea Woods. It was soon purchased for $110,807 from Overton Lea, grandson of city founder John Overton. The park was called East Park before eventually being renamed to honor Overton. City planner and landscape architect George Kessler of Kansas City, Mo., was hired in November 1901, and he drew up plans for a system of scenic parkways to connect the new Overton Park with Riverside Park in Downtown. During his career, Kessler planned hundreds of projects internationally and across the country, including Dallas, Cleveland, Indianapolis, El Paso and the grounds for the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis. Riverside's 379 acres had been used for emergency burials during the yellow fever epidemic and, later, to grow hay and vegetables that would be used to feed animals at the new zoo in Overton Park. In 1913, a golf course was added to Riverside. A dam was constructed in 1952 to divert the river to the other side of Presidents Island, forming McKellar Lake with a marina built by the Park Commission. The park was renamed to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. after his assassination.

  Kessler, realizing that the open spaces were public and paid for by citizens, designed with an eye toward easy and ample access, even though there were only a handful of cars in Memphis at the time.

  "In 1904, there were eight; in 1910, there were 1,000, and the speed limit was 8 mph," said historian Jimmy Ogle, who worked for the Memphis Park Commission in several capacities, including deputy director, and now offers a walking tour of Overton Park.

  When thinking of parks, images of children playing, ducks and geese on ponds, picnics and sports fields spring to mind. The system of North, East and South parkways, however, is a shady, flowering trail designed and still maintained by Park Services. The system was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.

  "They still are the best roadways that we have developed, and it has been 100 years," Ogle said. "Three lanes, park-like median, dedicated turn lanes, very few traffic lights." Last month, the city began restriping North Parkway for dedicated bike lanes to connect Overton Park with Downtown.

  During the first half of the 20th Century alone, we had the additions of Bellevue Park, Morris Park, Lincoln Park, Williamson Park, Treadwell Park and the Pink Palace. In an effort to battle the Southern heat, public pools were opened in Orange Mound, at the Fairgrounds and in North Memphis. Land encompassing the Indian mounds known as the Jackson Mounds, south of what is now Interstate 55, was purchased in 1912 and renamed DeSoto Park (again renamed Chickasaw Heritage Park in 1995). In 1913, 53 acres north of Chelsea were established as Douglass Park. Both were outside the city limits at the time, and both were designated for black residents only, part of the segregation of city parks that lasted until a Supreme Court decision in 1963 ended such laws.

  The second half of the century saw the creation of parks Glenview, Gaisman, Belz, Gooch, E.H. Crump, Martyrs and the Spanish American War Memorial at East Parkway and Central. During the 1960s and '70s alone, federal money made possible the acquisition of more than 2,500 acres and the creation of 50 parks. Two parcels of land totaling 355 acres were purchased just outside the city limits at the time for more than $400,000. Former mayor Crump, a bird enthusiast, lobbied for the name Bluebird, but the Commission fancied Audubon. There was already a small park on Central near the Fairgrounds named Audubon, however, but the Commission took the name for the new park and renamed the old one Tobey, now home to baseball fields, a rugby field, volleyball pit, dog park and, soon, a new skate park.

  The Ketchum Memorial Iris Garden was planted with 2,500 rhizomes from the garden of Morgan Ketchum, the municipal rose garden was relocated from Overton Park, the Memphis Area Wildflower Society created a sanctuary for displaced native plants, and, in 1964, the family of retailer Jacob Goldsmith dedicated the public gardens. It was renamed Memphis Botanic Garden two years later. Audubon Park today contains the gardens, an 18-hole golf course, tennis courts and a 6-acre fishing lake. Once outside the city, it has become an oasis within, nestled among railroad tracks, a shopping mall, the University of Memphis and heavily trafficked streets on all sides.

  It is this sort of oasis that McFarland and Kessler envisioned more than a century ago. It's a system that has been cared for and attended to by its keepers and citizens alike, though it has come under assault at times by eager developers. Overton Park was nearly bisected in the 1970s by I-40 until a landmark Supreme Court decision averted that near disaster. It is a case looked upon by courts today and still the only point in the country where I-40 is broken.

  The Memphis Park Commission was dissolved in 2000 under the Herenton administration and became a division of city government. Today, the Memphis City Council is considering allowing a conservancy -- like the zoo, Botanic Garden and Shelby Farms have done -- to overlook the management, fundraising and any restructuring of Overton Park.

  "The Park Commission are assured of the fact that they can accomplish but little unless supported by a strong, favorable public sentiment," Chairman McFarland wrote. "The people must encourage and help the Commission and the administration in this work if they want a beautiful city."


Published October 9, 2011 in The Commercial Appeal   Story By Richard J. Alley

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  StreetSeens | Jimmy Ogle
Jimmy Ogle: Taking It to the Streets


You probably walk or drive over manhole covers every day without paying them any notice, however there’s one Memphian who has made a point to stop, study and photograph manhole covers, specifically in the downtown area, since 1998. For Jimmy Ogle, the manhole covers hold aesthetic and historic value, enough so that locals and visitors alike have taken interest in the subject by coming along for Ogle’s free tours. So far, he has found 12 generations of the openings used to access utility vaults and has identified nine foundries, with one in India, utilized for the construction of the roughly 4,000 downtown covers.

  Ogle says, “Some of the covers are more than 100 years old—I found one from 1897.”

  Having worked at Mud Island River Park, the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, on a river boat and currently at the Riverfront Development Corporation, Ogle has been immersed in downtown sites and businesses for quite some time, and along the way, he developed into a bona fide storyteller. People began putting in requests for tours, and in 2008, he took his manhole cover tour to the Downtown Memphis Development Commission’s (formerly the Center City Commission) “Downtown Alive” series, though he’d first proposed a river or a boat tour that were both shot down. In three days, he put together a walking tour that spanned from Union to Riverside to Third Street, a stretch that allowed people to not only see manhole covers, but Cotton Row, the Mississippi, the seven flags on Mud Island, Howard’s Row and places of music.

  “Ninety people showed up for that first Union Avenue Manhole Cover and History Tour, so Leslie [Gower] at the Downtown Memphis Development Commission said I could do a tour on whatever I wanted after that,” he says.

  Next up was a Mississippi River Tour and a Memphis Land Tour, which bring to light bits of trivia that Ogle delights in telling, like when he points out that Memphis is the highest piece of land on the Mississippi between Cairo, Illinois and Natchez, Mississippi. His crash courses in everything Memphis, which he mainly coordinates on his own now, have grown to include visits to Gayoso Bayou and the River-front Trolley Loop, to name a few of the locations he heavily researches before adding them to his schedule (found at jimmyogle.com).

  He assures, “I always double source or triple source my facts, and I’ve probably read over 300 books on Memphis history. I’m trying to get the stories right because there are a lot of myths out there.”

  While August brings Ogle to his usual spots, from Cotton Row to Adams, Madison and Monroe Avenues, fans will be happy to know that he’s added a new spot to the mix with the November Sixth Street Tour on November 6 at 2 p.m. First-timers or repeat visitors, just remember not to refer to Ogle as a historian.

  Ogle insists, “I just want to be called a life-long Memphian.”

Published August 2011 in RSVP Magazine By Leah Fitzpatrick Photo by Steve Roberts

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'Memphis' the musical marches straight from Broadway to foot of Beale Street


  It was a big-budget musical born in the minds of two guys from the East Coast, cultivated in theaters on the West Coast, and has, since its Broadway opening in 2009, resided exclusively in New York City. With the launch of its national tour this week, however, the Tony Award-winning "Memphis" is finally getting face time with the city whose challenging racial history and musical mystique inspired it.

  "We love the idea of starting the tour here," said producer Randy Adams with Junkyard Dogs Productions. "I can't wait to be in the audience when people from Memphis and in Memphis get to hear this music. We really think it will resonate."

  "Memphis" becomes the first national tour of a Broadway show to debut at the Orpheum theater, which has been filled with cast and crew members from New York since mid-September. The show officially opens Oct. 16, with preview performances on Oct. 14 and 15.

  The production team now occupies nearly every nook and cranny of the 83-year-old theater. Band rehearsals take place in the lobby. The darkened auditorium resembles NASA's mission control as light, sound and scenic designers make adjustments on dozens of computer monitors. The voices of the director and choreographer boom throughout the theater via the aptly named "God mic." Behind the scenes, wardrobe assistants shuttle racks of newly fitted costumes between dressing rooms and the backstage area. Beaming actors dance through the halls. As embedded as the company appears, this colorful replica of the Broadway show is made to travel. It can be packed and unpacked in a single night and shipped via six semi-trailer trucks to the next destination.

  Having its opening here was as much a marketing opportunity as it was a symbolic overture. Orpheum president Pat Halloran, who is among the show's investors, raised approximately $700,000 to back "Memphis." The Orpheum itself kicked in $100,000. "This was a unique situation for us," he said. "We have several reasons for investing. For one, it supports our industry. For another, it helps with our contract negotiations. But for this one, we really wanted to have a say when it came to the marketing aspects. We were concerned about the name 'Memphis,' and wanted to make sure we were involved in how our city was going to be portrayed."

  Producers say the tour is already booked for a year, with a second year nearly finalized. "Memphis" will soon join more than 20 current national tours of Broadway shows. Launching elsewhere this month are tours of "La Cage aux Folles" and another Memphis-inspired musical, "Million Dollar Quartet," opening in Rochester. Both will come to the Orpheum later this season. Still running at the Shubert Theater on Broadway, the $12 million original production of "Memphis" has been playing to about 80 percent capacity. It was not an overnight success, however. A theater critic from The New York Times dismissively called the show "the Michael Bolton of Broadway musicals." But after the show won raves from folks like Michelle Obama and Justin Timberlake, the paper has conceded its popularity with audiences. "They (now) call us the 'durable' hit," said producer Sue Frost. "We knew all along we would be a word-of-mouth show. If we hung around long enough, we would make it." After winning four 2010 Tony Awards for best musical, book, original score and orchestrations, the production got a bump in attendance that paid back investors.

  The start of the $5 million "Memphis" tour at the foot of world-famous Beale Street finally ties the musical to its namesake. Though playwright Joe DiPietro and composer David Bryan are fans of Memphis music and culture, their connection to the city was primarily through visits and their perceptions of music history. Set in a segregated Memphis of the 1950s, the show is about a young white man with a gift for gab and a deep love for black music who shows up in a rhythm-and-blues club on Beale. He soon falls in love with a black singer, the sister of the club's owner. As African-American music begins to grip the soul of the nation, both of their careers take off. Huey becomes a fast-talking radio deejay who puts black music on white radio. Felicia becomes a successful recording artist thanks to Huey's mainstream promotion of her music. But their relationship struggles to survive the racial prohibitions of the era.

  Frost said that "Memphis" was a hard musical to categorize in the beginning. "It's not a musical comedy," she said. "And it's not deeply serious in tone. What comes across is this positive feeling. Even though the characters face hardships, people leave the show with a sense of hopefulness and unity. Every night on Broadway people walk out singing the songs."

  Producers admit that interracial relationships aren't as controversial as they once were. In fact, the company hands out study guides for schoolchildren explaining the concept of segregation, which Frost says surprises many young people. "They're growing up in a generation that has never understood that kind of hatred," Frost said. Even the actors say they've taken pains to understand attitudes of the 1950s. "In rehearsals we discuss how to realistically react to being called colored, or the n-word, because that's not our generation," said Felicia Boswell, who plays Felicia. "It's hard to know exactly how those words affected people in the 1950s. We react differently to them today. Those people lived with it every day."

  Certainly, the Beale Street of 2011 bears little resemblance to pre-rock Memphis. Scenic designer Dave Gallo, who recently finished work on the upcoming Broadway play "The Mountaintop," written by Memphian Katori Hall and set in the Lorraine Motel the night before Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, said he tried to capture the spirit of "Memphis" without resorting to preconceived notions. "If you're from up north, everyone wants to see the old shack," he said. "But we wanted to reflect the brick-and-mortar side of Beale. Memphis is a town that knows about music. I've traveled all over the country and I've never been more excited to spend as much time in one place as I am here."

  Ambience is one thing; authenticity another.

  Last Thursday, producers brought in local history buff Jimmy Ogle to explain the significance of a title like "Memphis" to the cast. As his 30-minute lecture stretched to the hour mark, Ogle reeled off the basics: It's the city that started the career of W. C. Handy. The city with the country's first black radio station, WDIA. The city where deejay Dewey Phillips (the model for Huey in "Memphis") was among the first to play black and white music in the same hour. From the Lorraine Motel to Stax Records to the Orpheum theater, where black patrons used to have a separate entrance, Ogle's talk traversed the city. "I told them to think about all the things within a mile of this theater that had an impact on the world," Ogle said. "We are in what I call the center of the known universe for culture. They were really amazed. I kept hearing: 'Wow. Wow. Wow.'"


Published October 9, 2011 in The Commercial Appeal   Story By Christopher Blank

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  RDC Deepens Cultural Resources with the Addition of Jimmy Ogle

  July 18, 2011 – One of Memphis’ most well known advocates for local history and culture, Jimmy Ogle has joined the staff of the Riverfront Development Corporation as a Community Engagement Manager. Ogle’s responsibilities will include the development of new ways for people to connect with one of our city’s greatest assets — the Mississippi River.

  Ogle will be involved primarily in program development. The first phase of his efforts will involve launching a new incarnation of his popular walking tour program and establishing a riverfront speakers’ bureau.

  Over the last 25 years, Ogle has served in leadership positions with the Memphis Park Commission, Mud Island River Park, the Memphis Queen Line, Beale Street, the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, and the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau. He has also played instrumental roles in a long list of community organizations (including the West Tennessee Historical Society, Memphis Heritage, the Center City Commission, Memphis in May and The Cotton Museum), and has emerged as one of the city’s foremost authorities on Memphis’ cultural assets and heritage.

  “The story of our riverfront is amazingly fascinating and always evolving,” said Benny Lendermon, RDC’s President. “I can’t think of anyone better to share that story than Jimmy.”


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Former Mud Island Park manager Ogle hired to preach benefits of riverfront.


Whether it's during informal walking tours, excursion cruises or lectures, Jimmy Ogle talks up the Memphis riverfront with the fervor and panache of a street preacher.

Soon, he'll be drawing a regular salary to do it.

The self-described storyteller, adventurer, urban historian and "river-lorian" has been hired by the Riverfront Development Corp. to head up the programming of events along the Mississippi River. He starts the second week in July.

"His job is going to be bringing more activities to the riverfront, get more groups doing things," said RDC president Benny Lendermon.

The exact title for the 58-year-old Ogle hasn't been determined yet. He'll be paid "about $60,000" for the full-time job, Lendermon said.

The hiring, announced during a meeting of the RDC board of directors Wednesday, comes during a tight financial period for the nonprofit group that manages the city's riverfront.

Under a new contract taking effect July 1, the City Council reduced funding for the RDC from $2.64 million during the current fiscal year to $2.37 million for fiscal 2012. Other revenues have fallen off, as well, during the sluggish economy.

Lendermon said the RDC has been cutting costs through measures that include reducing staff at Mud Island River Park, slashing marketing expenditures and mowing grass less frequently.

Those cuts, Lendermon said, more than compensate for the cost of hiring Ogle. And his work will be important in cultivating "grass-roots" activity along the river, he said, adding, "We think that's what's missing."

Ogle's work experience includes stints as Mud Island general manager, deputy director of the old Memphis Park Commission and general manager of what was then Memphis Queen Line riverboats.

More recently, he has conducted informal walking tours and lectures about Downtown history and lore, which drew heightened interest during the Mississippi River flood last month. Ogle said he made a point of rebutting what he called the national media's exaggeration of the flood's impacts.

"It shows that we need to be proactive down there during disasters as well as promotions," he said Wednesday. Ogle said he hopes his work increases interest in the riverfront. "Everything I've done in my life has led up to this culmination," he said.

Published June 16, 2011 in The Commercial Appeal By Tom Charlier

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A look inside the construction of Beale Street Landing

 The Riverfront Development Corp. is making a final push toward construction of Beale Street Landing’s first phase and expects the project to open to the public sometime in July.

Jimmy Ogle, community engagement manager with Riverfront
Development Corp., walks along the project's grass roof.

 The first phase will include the riverfront restaurant, the project’s main building and the dock and ramp.

  Here we have included a photo gallery to give you a glimpse into construction of the $38 million Beale Street Landing’s construction. All photos were taken by MBJ photographer Alan Howell March 29.

  Beale Street Landing will serve as the docking station for touring riverboats and therefore needs its dock operational by April 26, the date Great American Steamboat Co. will launch the maiden voyage of the American Queen riverboat. The entire first phase won’t be finished by then, so RDC communications director Dorchelle Spence said the organization is now working on how to welcome the public to its construction site.

  Great American Steamboat plans to hold a christening ceremony for the boat April 27.7.

  Beale Street Landing settled on an operator for the new restaurant, which MBJ first reported March 14. It chose Beale and Second Inc., which is headed by Beale Street veteran Bud Chittom. The parties are still negotiating and restaurant construction has not started, Spence said, but she’s hopeful Riverside Grille & Dockside Bar will open sometime in July.

  If you drive down Riverside Drive, you will no doubt notice the “beautiful red structure that nobody knows what it is,” Spence said. It is a helical ramp which provides handicap accessibility to the dock as well as the primary way passengers will get luggage on and off the boats.s.

  The main building will have a reception space that can be rented for private functions as well as a ticketing counter for the Delta Queen’s daily excursions.

  The project’s final phase will include parks with islands and terraces. It is set for completion in fall 2013.

  Late last year, the RDC simplified plans for the final phase in order to get it under budget. Plans for horizontal terraces were changed from concrete to green lawn. Three guitar pick-shaped islands have been pared down to two with one of them replaced by a winding walkway which meets ADA requirements.

Reprinted from The Memphis Business Journal March 30, 2012.      Story by Jane Donahoe.

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Memphis street historian awash with flooding info
Ex-Mud Island chief spreads details, trivia of moody river


  Jimmy Ogle -- urban explorer, history buff and raconteur -- spends most of his semi-retirement days streaming information. He's so immersed in Memphis trivia, he can't bail out his brain fast enough.

But nothing in his years of giving walking tours, riverboat tours and history lectures has brought up such a deluge of data as the recent near-record crest of the Mississippi River.

Listening to the gawkers on the riverwalk over the weekend and those television reporters in rubber waders, he got frustrated.

"I started listening to conversations and told myself, 'Now, don't get involved.' But then I got a little irritated, you know, because of all the wrong information," he said. "These are historic times. Someone needs to be down here helping people with perspective."

So Ogle grabbed his public-address system and set himself up "street-preacher-style" behind AutoZone headquarters Downtown with the sunset as a backdrop.

He estimates that nearly 400 people stopped with questions on Tuesday night. On Wednesday, he brought visual aids: aerial photos of the river and pictures of previous floods. (He can rattle off each of the seven previous years that the water rose above 40 feet.)

"You know, Memphis was founded here because it's the highest piece of ground between Cairo, Illinois, and Natchez, Mississippi," he said. "On the other side of the river, it used to flood 35 miles into Arkansas. That's one of the flattest places on Earth."

His information is broad, and also deep.

"The flooding hasn't even reached the Gayoso bayou!" he said in reference to a giant storm-water cistern under the city.

Yes, he has crawled down a sewer to get a visual confirmation on that.

From 1985 to 1993, Ogle was the general manager of Mud Island River Park, which is just peeking out of the water behind him. He was also general manager of the Memphis Queen Line between 1993 and 1998.

As the sun sank on the horizon, Ogle spoke of maritime disasters, of the volume of water in the river, of river gauges and of what astronauts can see of the river from space.

Susan Brown of Bartlett was among the passers-by who stopped to soak it up.

"When you live in an area like this, you sometimes forget the magnitude and awe of the river," she said. "It's good to hear someone talking about it with so much passion."

Tommy McGee drove up from Independence, Miss., to see the flooding that he'd been hearing about. After going through Ogle's photos, he said: "It's about what I expected."

Even Mark Twain might be impressed with how Ogle draws a crowd and gets out the facts at the same time. He advises any aspiring drug dealers to get rid of a briefcase full of contraband on the Memphis side because it'll get farther downriver. (He has been with police when they picked one up.)

And if you're contemplating a desperate jump off the bridge, don't do it on the Arkansas side.

"It's shallow over there," he said. "You'd want to go on the Tennessee side so if you have regrets on the way down you have about 50 feet of water under you so you can bob back up."

Ogle plans to keep the information flowing from 6 p.m. to sunset tonight and Friday.


Published May 11, 2011 in The Commercial Appeal by Christopher Blank           Photos by norococo

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“An Elegant Evening Under the Bridge”


Recipient of 2011 Volunteer Of The Year Award
Jimmy Ogle with Knox Phillips

  Glowing, beaming and luminous could all describe any Hollywood starlet’s beauty, but the night of the Blues Ball, these adjectives applied to a different kind of star—the Hernando DeSoto Bridge. Twenty-five years has passed since the bridge received a facelift with 200 lights added to its arches, so the time had come for an anniversary celebration. Fittingly, Pat Kerr Tigrett, who helped raise donations for the bridge lights, hosted “An Elegant Evening Under the Bridge” in conjunction with her annual Blues Ball this September.

  Around 2,000 Memphians, and even some out-of-towners, ventured to River Island (Mud Island) for the special affair and a spectacular view of the bridge and the Memphis skyline. Asked to dress in black tie with an attitude, city chic couture or river rat rags, partygoers exercised their freedom in fashion choices to the fullest, arriving in outfits ranging from satin ball gowns to ripped jeans and t-shirts. Sam Samudio, aka “Sam the Sham,” opted for an edgy ensemble by sporting a bright red tuxedo jacket, a shiny black dress shirt and a black skullcap with red roses—a look that suited the performer well when he took to the stage to sing a fan favorite, “Wolly Bully.” And Samudio’s performance was only one of many during a party that featured some of the area’s finest singers and musicians, including Andy Childs, Susan “Honey Mouth” Marshall, Wendy Moten, Di Anne Price, Preston Shannon, Jason D. Williams and Ruby Wilson. DJ Raiford topped off the lineup and didn’t disappoint when he played dance heavy tunes often heard at Paula and Raiford’s Disco.

  Perhaps the biggest moment of the evening came when a grandiose fireworks display joined the Hernando DeSoto Bridge in lighting up Ol’ Man River. As the night sky changed from red to white to blue, Sandi Patty could be heard singing the national anthem, with a second rendition of the song sung by The Sanctuary Choir of the New Olivet Baptist Church. During the fireworks, a regatta of Memphis Yacht Club members’ boats also took place, much the same as it did 25 years ago when the bridge was first lit.

  In addition to celebrating the bridge, Blues Ball served as a fund-raiser for Tigrett’s Memphis Charitable Foundation, which supports causes from the Madonna Learning Center and the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum to NARAS/MusiCares and the Memphis Fire Department. Tigrett made a new request this year though for $1,000 donations to plant 200 Yoshino cherry trees along Riverside Drive and on River Island in memory of or in honor of benefactors’ loved ones…and to continue to make Memphians proud of their city.

  Of the event, Tigrett said, “This was one of my all-time favorite Blues Balls. The 25th anniversary of our iconic bridge combined with other Memphis icons...our legendary Memphis musicians…was a true Memphis celebration.”


Published October 2011 in RSVP Magazine By Leah Fitzpatrick Photo by Roy Haithcock and Don Perry

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The Underground City
The History Beneath Memphis


   MEMPHIS, Tenn. - "Thomas Edison lived right over there..."

That’s right, “The” Thomas Edison once lived in Memphis, Tennessee. That’s just one of the nuggets of knowledge you get from Historian Jimmy Ogle.

"The old cobble stone... brick pavers... granite mixed in here..."

A Memphis native and historian, he gives detailed tours of the city, pointing out things that most would never pick up on.

"Poplar and Lamar were actually planned by the animals, moving from territory to territory hundreds of years ago..."

But, Jimmy doesn’t only know the streets and buildings, he also knows what’s under them. He took us underground, to parts of the city that few have seen in decades.

"You can see the old bricks... 120 years old or so."

The old brick lining to Gayoso Bayou runs the length of the cavern and up the walls becoming part of one of the first wagon bridges to ever link old Memphis to East Tennessee.

"You can see the arches right behind us... on the Washington Ave. bridge. That's some old stuff right there!"

Bayou Gayoso has quite a history. When Memphis was founded in 1819, it was bordered on the west by the Mississippi River, and on the easy by Bayou Gayoso, which was about 5 miles long and ran parallel to the river. Permanent brick bridges were’nt built to cross the bayou until after the Civil War.

"This was one of the first bridges to cross the bayou? I'd say yeah... the first was in 1824."

But, there was a dark side to the bayou. The yellow fever that almost wiped Memphis off the map was said by many to have been born in the bayou, which was then little more than a sewage dump for human waste, run off from the city, and a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

"You think about buildings being on top of this, 200 years ago, you couldn't even conceive of that," said Jimmy.

"These support structures are at least 100 years old, maybe older. There used to be a train yard directly above us. Can you imagine the tonnage that at one time, was parked just 20 feet up?"

One of the underground sections is about 2 miles long, and no paradise. Oxygen levels can drop in areas like these without warning, unless you carry special gear. When it rains, the chamber can fill with rushing water quickly.

"...And you said it's almost a mile that way before it lets out into daylight?... and it gets a lot smaller."

So, next time you are driving downtown, remember that your city was built from the ground up, and in some places the roots run even deeper than that.

Published February 23, 2011 on My Fox Memphis By Darrell Greene

My Fox Memphis

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The Monthly News Magazine for Active Mature Mid-Southerners


Special To The Best Times
By John Harkins, Ph.D.

Highland Branch, Jimmy Ogle, and our city’s history

  In April, Highland Branch Library celebrated the 60th anniversary of its grand opening. I am reasonably confident that I attended that 1951 opening. The new branch was busy enough that it required a building addition within just a few years. I was a regular “patron” at Highland Branch and am sure that my love of reading and my passion for history grew out of the scores of library books that I read between 1951 and 1956. I have fond memories of Branch Librarian Elizabeth Robertson and her staff helping me select works of history and historical fiction.

  Memphis/Shelby County Public Library and Information Center (M/SCPLIC) hired me in 1977 and immediately assigned me to work at Highland Branch. My supervisor, long-time branch head Nancy Patty, had worked at Highland Branch since my childhood days there. Although I continued to work for M/SCPLIC at Raleigh Branch, the Main Library, and the Memphis/ Shelby County Archives in the downtown Cossitt Building, I have always remained most emotionally attached to Highland Branch.

Jimmy Ogle lectured to a standing room only group at
Highland Library during the branch’s mid-April,
60th anniversary observances.

The occasion for my mid-April visit to Highland Branch was to attend Jimmy Ogle’s Power-Point lecture (part one of three) on the history of the six neighborhood districts in the vicinity of the University of Memphis. I had grown up there and, in sentiment, I frequently do “go home again.” I have known Ogle casually since the fall of 1968; I taught at Memphis University School during Jimmy’s junior and senior years there. We have gotten to know each other a lot better in the last several years and I am a big fan of his enormously popular, hands-on approach to spreading the gospel of local history. Jimmy has a strong background for doing such work, but I can only touch on a portion of his history sharing activities here.

  After working for most of the 1970s as a recreation specialist for First Baptist Church, Ogle served in a variety of recreation positions with the Memphis Park Commission, ultimately becoming its deputy director. Following that he served as general manager of Mud Island Park (including the Mississippi River Museum), and later of the Memphis Queen Line. He followed that series of positions with vice-president of operations at Beale Street’s Performa Entertainment, director of the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, and then vice-president of the Ericson Group, Inc.

  In addition, Ogle serves as program specialist for the Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau, supervises Tournament Services for the St. Jude Golf Classic, designs and conducts all sorts of downtown walking tours, will lecture nearly anywhere to any serious group, is an instructor in the Memphis College of Art Community Education programs, and operates scoreboards for high-powered local athletic contests. In history alone, Jimmy is an active member of the West Tennessee Historical Society, Memphis Heritage, the STAX Museum, the Memphis Cotton Museum, and the Shelby County Historical Commission. The lists of his activities and contributions just go on and on. To learn more, check Jimmy’s “Talks and Tours” website at http://www.jimmyogle.com/.

  Finally, Jimmy seems unfailingly up beat, energetic and enthusiastic. He is probably doing more to spark and to satisfy interest in Memphis and Mid-South history than any other individual at the present time. In Jimmy’s words, “every time I give a talk or tour, I learn something new. That’s the thrill --it is much better to be a ‘learn-it-all’ than a ‘know-it-all’ at any time. ‘Discovery’ at any level is exciting . . .” Look for Jimmy to give his “Part Two” lecture on the University area’s neighborhoods in the near future.

John Harkins is archivist at Memphis
University School and president of the
West Tennessee Historical Society.

Published May, 2011 in The Best Times, Story by John Harkins, Ph.D

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Monday, November 01, 2010, Vol. 125, No. 212


History on Foot
Ogle’s walking tours provide unique perspective

Jimmy Ogle, center, points out Lauderdale Courts, the former home of Elvis, during a Pinch District public walking tour. The tour touched on such areas as the Memphis Cook Convention Center and Market Park.(Photos: Lance Murphey)

Jimmy Ogle is taking the city’s history off the page and into the streets – and in some cases under the streets.

Ogle has been offering walking tours of the Downtown area since November 2008. They’ve grown more elaborate but still with a firm grounding in shoe leather and occasional access to some exclusive views mainly from rooftops.

“You’ve got to have the right reputation and ask the right question,” Ogle said. And he is constantly finding new parts of the city’s history to explore.

Ogle began leading free tours of the Shelby County Courthouse last week offered by the Memphis Bar Association at noon on the third Thursday of each month. The tours begin on the southwest corner of Adams Avenue and Second Street. But for the inaugural tour, Ogle began inside the courthouse at the bust of Andrew Jackson in the southern corridor of the century-old structure. The bust, with one of its pedestal panels replaced after a pro-secession mob in Court Square vandalized the monument in 1861, offers the kind of detail Ogle excels at in all of his tours.

Not all tours are open to the public.

Ogle has recently ventured into the city’s storm drain system to tell the story of the Gayoso Bayou. He jokingly called his initial exploration the “Blair Ditch Project” that included audio recordings of his reaction to what he saw underground. The bayou is an interesting feature on old maps to most Memphians. But the geography that created the snake-like bayou is still a force to be reckoned with via a massive culvert about where AutoZone Park is Downtown and five retention ponds in the Downtown area.

“Our city was founded right there on the point where Gayoso Bayou comes into Wolf River and the Wolf River comes into the Mississippi,” Ogle said. “Memphis was somewhat restricted in growth for a few years by the bayou until they learned to build a bridge over it.”

Ogle does a PowerPoint presentation on the bayou. His ventures beneath city streets with small groups of two or three have been very limited and not part of the tour business.

Jimmy Ogle leads a Pinch District public walking tour. The tour is just one of many Ogle offers Downtown.

The city of Memphis has referred people to him for the tours.

“I’d say it would be illegal for some friend of yours to just jump over the fence and jump down in the ditch and walk up the ditch,” he said. “There aren’t any ‘no trespassing’ signs there. There’s clearly a fence there … and clearly there’s an eight-foot ditch wall that drops down. I think it’s advisable for unknowing people to not go down there.”

It’s a view of Memphis few get to see. Aside from city officials, Ogle has led tours for the media and researchers interested in the system of drains or in seeing what’s left of the bayou.

The drains are free of graffiti even in the older sections and Ogle is quick to correct those on the tour if they refer to it as the sewer.

New sections and their uniform smooth gray box-like shape are more plentiful and offer a sharp contrast to the brick arches.

Two older sections on one leg of the drain system form larger brick chambers with elaborate borders around side vents. They look like catacombs in the half-light.

The biggest chamber at about the two-mile mark shows the underside of a large stone arch that may be the underside of what was once a rail bridge over the bayou.

A smaller brick-and-stone arch was probably the location of Anderson’s bridge, one of the first crossings over the bayou allowing access to and from the areas east of the city that was probably a wooden bridge in its original 1824 incarnation.

Even on a cloudless day with no chance of rain there were the sounds of water running, which Ogle said are pumps, and the occasional echoing thump, which is usually traffic overhead. There was water in some parts of the route but never anything above mid-calf, and a guppy or two was even spotted swimming.

Ogle checks the river level and the sky for any clouds as well as weather forecasts for any chance of rain over 50 percent. Even when all of the conditions are right there are times when he vetoes a tour “if I don’t think they are really geared for that or wired right.”

Published Nov 1, 2010 in The Daily News By Bill Dries      Photos by Lance Murphey

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Reprinted from October, 2010 issue of Main Street Journal

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University of Memphis alumni work to save an ancient forest that predates the founding of our nation and is as close to most Mid-Southerners as their own backyard.


Reprinted from The University of Memphis Magazine Spring 2010 issue.      Photos by Lindsey Lissau.


Saving Green

  Stacey Greenberg and Jimmy Ogle are trying to make as big of an impression as possible while leaving the smallest of footprints behind.

Stacey and Jimmy in the
old forest of Overton Park.

The two University of Memphis alumni are part of a. grassroots effort to save a rare, virgin forest found in Memphis that is as old as the city itself.

Greenberg and Ogle are board members of the revived Citizens to Preserve Overton Park (CPOP) group that made national headlines in the early 1970s when it took on _ and ultimately won _ a battle with the federal government that reached the Supreme Court over a planned interstate 40 route through the Midtown park. The group includes many alumni of the U of M and prominent Memphians.

With the old-growth area of Overton Park facing new encroachment, the two U of M alums joined CPOP president Naomi Van Tol to make sure citizens of Memphis retain something rare and special.

“lt is an old-growth forest that has been here 10,000 years,” says Greenberg (BMS ’99). “You can’t find that anywhere else in the area. To be able to go to a 10,000-year-old forest in the middle of the city is something really special.”

Botanist Dr. Thomas Heineke, who was hired by the city to study the Overton Park forest, agrees in his assessment of the park:

“Overton Park is a unique resource which cannot be replaced. It is invaluable to the city and to the region as an outstanding example of old-growth forest. Because it is within an urban set- ting, it is even more exceptional. Everything possible should be done to assure that it is protected in perpetuity.”

Ogle (BSEd ’80), a mainstay of Tiger home basketball games as sideline clock operator, adds, “The important thing is the undisturbed nature of the area over a long period, a lot longer than this nation been here, right in the middle of the city.”

The CPOP group was revived two years ago after four acres of the old-growth forest was clear-cut to make room for a new Memphis Zoo exhibit. Perhaps the exhibit could have been planned better, CPOP members say, to save more of the old forest.

“We are not trying to stop the zoo from improving itself. we are trying to stop any further development in the forest,” says Greenberg, noting that the zoo has 17 acres of old-growth forest fenced off for a new exhibit set to open in several years.

Early map of the Evergreen subdivision,
which included Overton Park.

Greenberg and Ogle both say the zoo clear-cut the four acres two years ago with no recent input from citizens. Ogle, a former Park Commission deputy director, says the zoo continues to decline to meet with the group.

CPOP has worked with state legislators Beverly Marrero and Jeanne Richardson to legally protect the park. The lawmakers introduced the Old Forest Natural Area bill (Senate Bill SB2415 and House Bill HB2563) that Van Tol says would legally protect the 150-acre old-growth forest of Overton Park from inappropriate development under the Natural Areas Preservation Act of 1971.

The bill would not limit nor restrict any public use of the park, such as biking, running or bird watching. A low-impact boardwalk, which the zoo has proposed for the fenced-off 17 acres, would be permitted. It would prohibit any further bulldozing of  the park, and protect it in its entirety _ something that is important for the whole forest to survive, the Sierra Club says.

“It recognizes the forest for its value and it develops a management plan. It is not restrictive at all: it won’t keep people out of there,” Ogle says. “It will prevent anyone coming in and bulldozing trees.”

Heineke’s August 2009 report of the Overton Park forest reported that there are 332 flowering plant species from 85 plant families in the park, including goldenseal and oceanblue phacelia, both listed on the Tennessee Natural Heritage Program Rare Plant List. He estimates many of the larger trees are 200 years or older.

Besides the abundance of plants and trees, hawks, owls and hundreds of other species call the old forest home. Thousands of Memphians use the trails in the old forest and open areas of the park each day.

Jimmy Ogle and Stacey Greenberg
near the park's Lick Creek.

As for the fenced area, Ogle and Greenberg both say a low impact boardwalk would be OK as long as the forest, including its under-story. is left intact. Ogle says that renderings of the planned boardwalk don’t include the under-story which is valuable to the overall health of a forest.

Even with the boardwalk, both want the fence to come down.

"We don't think anyone should have to pay admission to go to the forest," says Greenberg. “This is all publicly owned land. I don’t care if I am 80, I am going to keep fighting to get that fence down.”

The history of Overton Park, which dates to 1901, is noteworthy in itself, says Ogle. “One of the most famous landscape architects in the history of this country, George Kessler, designed this park and Overton’s Greensward, which is the only ‘open play’ field in Memphis to have its own name. Its pedigree is Central Park in New York. The golf course is the second oldest municipal golf course in the country. Brooks Museum came in 1916, the golf house in 1926, Overton Park Shell in 1936.”

Ogle also points out that Overton's old forest is an ever-changing landscape, a sort of rotating exhibit in itself.

“If you come for a hike, you should come in all four seasons. The forest changes in some way every two or three weeks.”

He believes the zoo should concentrate on exhibits that don’t encroach on the old -growth forest.

“The zoo could go back in and redo some older buildings that need to be redone now instead of coming out into the forest.”

Ogle ended with what he says he hopes all will understand: "We are very pro forest, we are very pro zoo.”

CPOP offers free, guided nature hikes on the second Saturday and last Sunday of each month.
Visit www.overtonparkforever.org for more details.

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Hidden Memphis history:
Gayoso Bayou a buried treasure filled with lore, dangers.


  In the distance, water drips, seeps and trickles into the cavern. Echoing, it sounds like a mountain stream as it pools along the floor and flows in the opposite direction of the Mississippi River.

Mark Twain might have described it as "dark as the inside of a cow" down here. Life, traffic, sunshine are proceeding as usual above ground. Here, sunlight is a rare presence that slips in as eerie beams through dime-sized holes in manhole covers overhead.

Jimmy Ogle carries a ladder to get out of the Gayoso Bayou, a mostly underground spillway with roots going back to Memphis' earliest days. Ogle said the tunnels can quickly fill with rushing water more than 8 feet deep when it rains.

Around a bend, it is pitch black again inside Gayoso Bayou. Also known as Bayou Gayoso, it is the grotto-like drainage system that was an open natural drainage canal when the city was founded in 1819. Named for a Spanish governor who landed in the area in the 1790s, it snaked along a course roughly aligned with what is now Danny Thomas Boulevard.

Depending on rainfall, it could be a lazy stream or a torrent. It helped define the city, forming the original eastern perimeter of Downtown as it arced from what is now Walker on the south to Saffarans on the north.

After the Civil War, bridges were built across the canal to open the city to wagon and buggy traffic and expand its boundaries, says Shelby County historian Ed Williams. Williams and University of Memphis historian Dr. Charles Crawford say developers began to cover parts of the canal and build on top of it by the late 1860s.

Most of it now is buried, usually forgotten, beneath the city. Vintage brickwork still forms occasional arched chambers inside the cavern. Those oversized chambers are connected to more modern concrete box culverts, each culvert roughly the size of a single-car garage. Many were installed as New Deal projects during the 1930s.

The caverns in the  tunnels that make up the Gayoso Bayou  beneathThe original Gayoso Bayou was about 5 miles long, says deputy city engineer John Cameron. It now is divided into three segments with two interceptor sewers diverting runoff before the canal ends at the Gayoso Pumping Station on Saffarans. There it is pumped into the Wolf River Harbor. City engineers and inspectors regularly visit Gayoso Bayou, especially when major development projects are built alongside or atop the subterranean presence.

Jimmy Ogle, historian and former vice president of operations for the Ericson Group, works in an office on North Front, close enough to an entry point in Gayoso Bayou that he was drawn to explore the cavern.

"I call it my Blair Ditch Project," he jokes.

Ogle has been a deputy director of the Memphis Park Commission, general manager of Mud Island, general manager of the Memphis Queen Line and director of operations for the Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum.

He teaches history in the continuing education jjjjjoknoxrogram amt the University of Memphis and conducts walking tours of Downtown.

"I'm always about an adventure and something new," he says, adding that his visits ruled the cavern out as a potential public attraction. "It's technically off limits. It has slippery surfaces. The lighting is poor, and it's extremely challenging to get into it."

Deputy city engineer John Cameron says engineers enter the cavern only in groups to watch out for each other. They carry oxygen monitors because of possible oxygen depletion, contamination by poison gases and toxins that could be spilled into the tunnel.

The worst hazards we see during a foray into the bayou are pools of running water more than a foot deep in places and pieces of metal rebar poking from concrete walls or lurking on the floor. Most debris is washed out during heavy rains. A few pieces linger: four Styrofoam cups, a woman's yellow belt, a squashed Diet Coke can, two manhole covers, pieces of broken concrete and a 2007 license plate (508-LUW).

Mosquitoes seem strangely absent, but former public works director Benny Lendermon says the flowing water is not inviting to mosquitoes. Corporate wastes dumped into the drainage systems now are closely monitored, and Lendermon says one of the worst hazards is the occasional spill of acidic waste.

"It can eat through concrete like a knife through butter." Immediately after a heavy rain, the tunnels are flushed with the runoff of oil and grease from parking lots and city streets.

Huckleberry Finn might have been disappointed at how a piece of the Mississippi River has been tamed by engineers and hidden away.

But to Jimmy Ogle, the cavern, requiring wading boots and flashlights to negotiate, still has its charm.

"This is the last great Downtown adventure," he says.


Published August 5, 2009 in The Commercial Appeal by Michael Lollar           Photos by Brad Luttrell

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Zippin Pippin roller coaster gets new life as star of Green Bay park

The project to replicate the Zippin Pippin has been set on the fast track.

"That roller coaster is going to outlast all of us," said Mayor Jim Schmitt of Green Bay, Wis.

That city recently held a celebration of the historic ride, which once anchored Libertyland in Memphis and soon will be the flagship attraction at Wisconsin's Bay Beach Amusement Park.

On Tuesday, Jimmy Ogle, president of the Memphis organization Remember Libertyland, helped contractors rummage through old parts before the last of the ride was hauled north.

The nonprofit group, formerly known as Save Libertyland! Inc., sold Green Bay the name, design and history of the roller coaster, including the cars, for $35,000.

Memphis will unveil a historical marker at the roller coaster's old site near the Mid-South Fairgrounds at noon Nov. 1. A two-sided plaque will commemorate Libertyland on one side and the Pippin, known as Elvis Presley's favorite ride, on the other, Ogle said.

"We've done a lot of fighting, and this has finally been resolved," Ogle said. "In name and in spirit, the Pippin found a home."

During the community event Oct. 9 in Green Bay, a few thousand children were invited to sign the coaster's top-most beam, the place where riders glance heavenward before plummeting nearly 70 feet down the wooden frame. The children were also invited to empty their piggybanks to ensure the future of the ride at the fundraising event.

The project to rebuild the Zippin Pippin will cost Green Bay an estimated $3 million; the city borrowed $2.4 million and pledged $600,000 in private donations.

Nearly all of the building materials will be newly purchased, as most of the old structure in Memphis was deemed unsalvageable once it had been left to the elements after Libertyland closed.

The foundation already has been laid at Bay Beach park. Miron Construction Co. of Neenah, Wis., received $936,753 to build the wooden frame.

"This is our first coaster, so it's definitely a learning experience," said Kurt Wolfgram, project manager.

Wolfgram said the structure would stay true to the design, drawn by John A. Miller in 1923.

Wolfgram said the ride should be finished by March 24. The grand opening for the Zippin Pippin in Green Bay is set for May 7, 2011, and Schmitt has renewed his promise to let any visiting Memphians ride for free.
"The Pippin couldn't come to a better home," the mayor said.

"The great people of Memphis will be proud of what we're doing."


Published October 20, 2010 in The Commercial Appeal   Story by By Sara Patterson

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Know yo' hood

Alum tells University, neighborhood history

By: Scott Hall          Issue date: 9/23/10

Memphis historian Jimmy Ogle launched his four-phase "Know Your Neighborhood" presentation, a discussion on U of M's history, geographical features and bordering neighborhoods, Wednesday in the Ned R. McWherter Library.

Ogle, a program specialist at the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau, also plans to speak about Memphis' hopes for the future as well as the city's memories, like the World War II-era Kennedy Hospital that closed in 1967.

Parts two and three of his program will take place in April and September of 2011, respectively. The program will conclude Sept. 10, 2011, which coincides with The U of M's centennial.

At the presentation, he said the layout of The University district dates back several thousand years.

"Animals actually planned those roads," he said. "It was the high water, dry trails coming into Memphis 2,000 years ago. The Native Americans followed them."

Ogle, a U of M alumnus from 1970, is part of local community organizations like Park Friends Inc., Memphis Heritage and the West Tennessee Historical Society.

He also supervises free tours in downtown Memphis.

With support from The U of M's libraries, Ogle gathered information about The University and its surrounding area, eventually collaborating with Highland Area Renewal Corporation and the Memphis City Council for his program.

Ogle said that since The U of M opened in 1912, growth in the surrounding community has been steady.

"Since 1957, you see streets and neighborhoods have grown around (The U of M) because of the post-World War II boom," Ogle said. "A lot of subdivisions came after the 1940s, following The University out here."

He also talked about the origins of the street names surrounding campus.

"Central Avenue was the midpoint between Poplar Avenue and Southern Avenue, and Midland Avenue was between Highland Street and Goodlett Street," Ogle said. "And that's where you get the names."

Ogle spoke about the railroad that borders The U of M.

"It began in 1835 - it was here a long time before this University was here," he said. "In 1857, the Memphis and Charleston Railroads met and became the first railroad to connect the Atlantic Ocean and the Mississippi River."

He also talked about Highland and how it developed into what it is today.

"The 'Highland Strip' as we knew it back in the '60s and '70s was a real active area," he said. "Historically, McLauren's bakery was one of the first places on (Walker) to serve food to the public in the Highland area."

Bob Hotaling, sport and leisure commerce graduate student, said, as someone who's not from Memphis, he thought it was nice to hear about its past.

"Learning about this area and its historical significance was definitely interesting," he said.

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Look, but don't spit:
Cuspidor gets honored spot at courthouse

When the Shelby County Courthouse was built some 100 years ago, included in the $1.6 million budget was $3,000 for cuspidors.

Better known as spittoons, the foot-tall brass receptacles were scattered throughout the courthouse for the benefit of tobacco chewers and dippers -- not to mention the public -- during the first half of the century.

Cuspidors gradually disappeared, however. Some were donated to the war effort as scrap metal, and cigarettes became more popular, making the iconic cuspidor obsolete.

But on Thursday, one of those long-lost relics was unveiled in a brief ceremony and placed on display in a glass case in the south hall of the courthouse.

Sorry. No spitting, please.

"I'm thrilled that it has such a place of honor," said Laura Ozanne Robinson, who donated the cuspidor to the courthouse keepers. "It's sort of been a family treasure all these years. My mother used to keep flower arrangements in it."

Her father, Russell Ozanne, was the construction manager who oversaw renovations to the courthouse more than 50 years ago. The remaining cuspidors were headed for the scrap heap, so he brought one home, and the rest is history.

When a friend told her that cuspidors were mentioned in a newspaper article last year on the courthouse's 100th anniversary, Robinson decided the piece belonged back in the courthouse.

"When I heard about it, it probably took me 10 minutes to get out and get it," said Jimmy Ogle, a courthouse tour guide and walking encyclopedia of Downtown history. "We'll take good care of it."

The cuspidor is on display outside the courtroom of Circuit Court Judge Robert Childers, and near the 175-year-old bust of President Andrew Jackson, one of the city's founding fathers.

"You used to be able to spit and smoke in the courtroom," said the judge, adding that the county courthouse is second to none. "It's a great place to work. We've got one of the greatest courthouses in the country."

Ever the historian, Ogle wonders if Thursday's event might put the courthouse on the cusp of history, as the only dedication ceremony ever held for a cuspidor.

Published October 28, 2010 in The Commercial Appeal   Story by By Lawrence Buser

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Volume XL No. 2  OCTOBER 2010

  September 13th meeting—Jimmy Ogle’s power-point lecture on “Memphis Memorials” was the tour de force that his audience anticipated. His presentation included a broad array of historical and geographical aspects of Memphis and Shelby County, covering even more ground than its description suggests. Jimmy’s conversational style and numerous images were a real crowd pleaser and there were 60-odd members and guests in attendance. Please go to his website, at www.JimmyOgle.com, to learn more about Jimmy’s frequent lectures and his downtown walking tours. Jimmy is a major asset to local history and is doing pioneering work in many areas where traditional historians have yet to tread. Please keep on keepin’ on, Jimmy.

Volume XXXIX No. 7  April 2010

  For all around fun with Memphis-area history, it would be difficult (perhaps impossible) to beat one of WTHS member Jimmy Ogle’s very animated lectures. On March 23, he delivered a superb, highly personal and fast paced power point “lecture” at Jason’s Deli (Poplar and Highland) on Memphis Music history. We owe it to the local heritage to do everything that we can to make our fellow history lovers aware of Jimmy’s work and his availability.
To learn more, go to his website, www.JimmyOgle.com.


WTHS welcomes questions, comments, and suggestions. For more information visit www.wths.tn.org.
Contact President Ed Frank at efrank@memphis.edu. or Newsletter Editor John Harkins at johnharkins@musowls.org

Excerpts reproduced from the WTHS newsletter.

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A Walk With Nature

Hike Offers Up-Close Look At Overton Park's Old Forest

  On the second Saturday and final Sunday of each month, folks get the opportunity for an up-close view of more than 330 plant species, including 60 native tree species, within Overton Park. On Sunday, Jimmy Ogle climbs into a Tulip Poplar tree known as the “Gnome Home” while helping with the free guided hike of the Old Forest. Debbie LaChapelle (below, left) snaps photos while exploring the diversity of plant life, including some trees that are older than the City of Memphis. Seen Sunday were a red-shouldered hawk and a large mushroom growing at the edge of a fallen tree. For more information on the tours and Overton Park, go to www.overtonparkforever.org

Published November 30, 2009 in The Commercial Appeal                     Photos by Mike Brown

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Jimmy Ogle's walking tours share Downtown history


  Many visitors and residents of downtown Memphis wonder the same thing: what is the origin of November 6 Alley's name? If you missed historian Jimmy Ogle's walking tour yesterday, you're in luck. He will reprise his well-loved presentation on Union Avenue's manhole covers in November.

Downtowners interested in learning more about their little slice of Memphis are invited to wander the streets with Jimmy Ogle every Tuesday at lunchtime (11:45; tours last about an hour) through November 17. Each tour will concentrate on a specific portion of downtown.

For downtowners who can't break away at lunchtime on Tuesdays, he also will lead Saturday afternoon "Super Tours" which last about three hours. Three "Super Tours" are offered, and all are free.

A downtown resident for twenty years, Ogle's professional background has provided him with plenty of opportunities to learn more about Memphis history. He was the Director of Operations for the Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum and also was the Vice President of Operations at Performa Entertainment Real Estate, the managing company for the Beale Street Historic District. He has also been the General Manager for the Memphis Queen Lines and Mud Island.

Given the weather forecast for next Tuesday, and the fact that autumn tends to be the best part of the Memphis weather year, this is a great opportunity for downtowners to enjoy a bit of sunshine, fresh air, exercise, and learn something in the process.

Published September 23, 2009 in Downtown Memphis Examiner by Kaleigh Donnelly

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Rockets On The Rise

Old Forest Hike

Christine Todd teaches a class of nine fourth-graders at Snowden Elementary who are called the Reading Rockets. The class is small in size and Ms Todd is focused on helping each Reading Rocket to improve his or her skills in reading, arithmetic and the sciences. Mutual admiration exists between Ms Todd and the members of her class. It would appear this teacher intends to love her students into learning more.

I volunteer on Tuesdays and assist Ms Todd with the class. I enjoy the work and the pleasure of getting to know these special people.

After hearing Richard Louv (author of "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder") speak at GPAC last month, I made up my mind to arrange a hike through Overton Park’s Old Forest so the Reading Rockets could have a valuable experience with nature and learn about one of our priceless resources here in Midtown.

CPOP's Jimmy Ogle met us at the bridge by the playground and began our outdoor adventure by sharing some of the park’s history. We learned that Overton Park was developed in 1901 and named for John Overton, one of the original founders of Memphis. The children were distracted by a man with his dog and they ran to pet the miniature pinscher. The dog-owner graciously allowed them to pet his dog and then we turned toward the forest.

Our guide described the ways a dead and fallen tree feeds life in the forest while the children ran in nine different directions. With amazing patience, Mr. Ogle encouraged the group to walk only on the beaten path. Their assignment was to collect leaves: oak, magnolia, persimmon, pecan, tulip poplar, sweet gum. One child discovered a spider and every child swarmed to have a look. Huge oak trees looked down on a wild and happy group of children as they discovered fungus, a gnome home, and grape vines large enough for Tarzan to use for swinging across a jungle.

We heard about the forest canopy and how smaller trees grow toward patches of sunlight. Arms were stretched around one huge tree trunk. It took one adult and three children to stretch around that tree! We saw a few birds take flight. At one point we all stood still and listened to the forest. Mr. Ogle taught us how to recognize poison ivy. By the end of the hike our guide could call each of the children by name. And he generously offered to meet us again in the spring when the forest will have new sights and sounds to experience.

It was a perfect day, sunny with mild temperatures. The Reading Rockets walked into the Old Forest and found so many wonders. They found in Mr. Ogle a new friend and teacher. They walked back to the school talking about the forest as if it is now a part of their classroom, a very old place with new things to teach the Reading Rockets.
Thanks to Elaine Blanchard, Christine Todd, and our own Jimmy Ogle for giving their time to share the Old Forest with the Reading Rockets. But most of all, thanks to the Rockets for being excellent nature-hikers!

Posted November 26, 2008 on CPOP by Elaine Blanchard at www.porchswingstories.com

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Gibson Guitars in Memphis

  Beginning in March of 2000, when the Gibson Factory began full operation, entertainment life in Memphis extended one block south of Beale. Memphis proved a prime location for Gibson expansion. In the words of Jimmy Ogle, the Director of Operations, "They were looking for a place, and the right deal was here. They were able to put together a good piece of property in a prime location in downtown Memphis, which is a music city with a great musical reputation." This expansion proved an upward movement for Gibson, and for Memphis. Nothing has been built on that land for thirty years, and now the Beale Street Merchant Association has pushed their safety zone further south to accommodate the Gibson as well as the future arena for the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies. The Gibson gives back to the community, nationally and locally, raising $100,000 for St. Patrick’s Church in the last few years with the Gibson 5K race. Downtown Memphis is looking better each day.

I recently visited the Gibson to find out what really goes on behind that great facade, which claims to hold a working guitar factory, a Smithsonian museum, and the increasingly popular Lounge. It seemed to me that one day that strip of land was a vacant, littered lot, and the next, a Mecca to Blues music.

I can’t claim to have extensive knowledge about guitars or about the history of the blues, I actually have never played a guitar, let alone held one. But even with the lack of soul running through my veins I was able to appreciate what I saw during my visit to the Gibson—it was more a learning experience for me than anything. I knew I was actually going into a real factory when I was handed oversized plastic goggles and the noise volume rapidly increased.

Of the 200 people that Gibson employs here, 140 are factory workers. I only saw about a dozen on my tour, because they were all on their lunch break. But with no fancy machinery, it was immediately obvious that real hands build these guitars. I expressed my surprise to Jimmy Ogle who replied, "Yes, it’s all people, that’s what’s different about Gibson Guitar."

This factory mainly produces ES guitars (‘Electric Spanish’ for the uneducated). Orville Gibson got the patent in 1898 for this guitar, unique in the sense that if you look at it from the side it has an arched, rather than flat, top.

The idea originated from the mandolins and violins of the 1800’s. Chuck Porter, the Director of Tours, taught me Guitarmaking 101. It takes about two weeks to build a guitar from scratch. They are all made out of quality wood: the body is maple, the neck mahogany and the fingerboard rosewood. Porter claims that they don’t turn out a guitar that’s not perfect, which eliminated my immediate thought of walking one street south to a half-price Gibson warehouse—it’s not going to happen. The factory aims at producing 100-150 guitars each day, although now they are only at 45. There are about sixteen plus stations that the guitars each pass through with an inspection between each stop. The ES 335 model, "Beale Street Blue", recently popular, started here in Memphis. This factory also produces "Lucilles", named and styled without ‘F’ holes by B.B. King in 1949 (have Chuck tell you the story of how this model got its name).

After factory the tour I headed upstairs to the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum. There are 39 audio stations, beginning with a look at the sharecroppers in the 1930’s and spanning the musical history of the Memphis area, focusing on how music helped tear down some of the boundaries of racial segregation.

The museum contains antique jukeboxes and memorabilia. Even though seeing an original Seeburg Selectophone Jukebox didn’t excite me, I had the option of listening to a variety of blues songs on the personal headset instead of the tour. I did get a kick out of the costumes on display, like Jerry Lee Lewis’s brown pinstriped suit with embroidered sparkling magenta roses, and of course, Elvis’s jumpsuits.

I thought it was important that the museum also touched on the Civil Rights movement. On display is the saxophone that Martin Luther King asked Ben Branch to play at a sanitation strike rally on the night of April 4 while standing on the balcony at the Lorraine Hotel moments before Dr. King was shot and killed.

After my two tours, impressed with the plethora of knowledge flowing through the Gibson, I asked Ogle what his ideal itinerary would be if he were planning a visit to Memphis.

As though he was prepped for my question, he said, "There are actually three things in Memphis, that no one in the world has—worldwide—impacting things.

"Number One is the home of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll — Graceland. Number Two is the home of the birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll—Sun Studio. Number Three is the site of the most watershed moment of the Civil Rights Movement — the Lorraine Hotel National Civil Rights Museum.

"Saying all that, I’d come to the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum first because that is the primer of everything you’ll see—the major cultural things. I would also go through the unique factory tour where they make guitars, then get on the free Sun Studio Shuttle."

Ogle also gave a quick promo for The Lounge saying that it is apart from Beale in that it is a newer, classier mix of music with both regional and national touring acts.

The Gibson is a multi-use facility full of "attractions that complement the area" Ogle said in closing, and I agree, the Gibson is a string that helps tie this diverse city together.

Published February, 2002 on BluesSpeak.com by Christina Randall

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Expert Q&A / Flood Info Gathering at The Riverside: Reply by tnhighroad, Lakeland, TN on May 11, 2011

Jimmy Ogle, most knowledgeable living devotee of Memphis history & fact will be at the riverside out from the AutoZone Hdqtrs. Building between Union Av. & Beale tonight and again thurs - fri. at 6:00 pm giving insights and answering questions about the river at Memphis and its history. This would be great topical background knowledge for visitors and locals to tap into to help you understand the current situation here. Free for those who are interested.

Trip Advisor
Over 45 million
trusted traveler
reviews & opinions.

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Take A Walk - In The Woods by Liz on February 4, 2011

Thanks, Jimmy! My guys loved swinging on those vines, and looking at pictures of themselves doing so even more. You were such a good sport. (I just mentioned you, and [my son] said, “Who? Jimmy?”, so clearly I should’ve asked him for your name!)

I’ll definitely check out your walks, with the kids and definitely with family when they visit from out of town

Your Family Adventure Guide

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Re: Randolph Caravan - Oct. 2010

Jimmy, thanks for the day we really enjoyed it. It was nice to be involved on something local and away from the normal touristy things to do. We are now in the smoky mountains, very beautiful. You are lucky to live in such a beautiful country, as now doubt we are.
We didn’t get to say goodbye to the couple we were sitting with at IHOP. Nice people, sorry about that.

Best regards.

Bryan & Linda

Bryan Fraser
Managing Director
AIM Pumps P/L
Web www.aimpumps.com.au
Po Box 290 Morningside Qld 4170
U3/225 Queensport Rd Murarrie
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If you missed our Camp meeting last night, you really missed a great program! Local Historian and Adventurer Jimmy Ogle presented a wonderful and enlightening Power Point program on Memphis history that was a "must see event."

Thanks Jimmy!

I'm a 3rd generation Memphian and have studied our local history for 40+ years and I learned a lot. Jimmy did a great job and gave a very enthusiastic presentation. If you ever get a chance to see him in action at another event, you need to make an effort to do so.

A. Doyle
Camp Historian
SCV Camp 215
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