WEST MEMPHIS LAYOVER
It was a soggy start to our second day in West Memphis, Arkansas. Rain moved in early and didn’t let up until afternoon. Thankfully, this was a scheduled rest day we didn’t need to be out running in the rain. Our good luck continues!
The schedule was light and we took time in the morning to run a few errands – drug store, grocery, gas, ice and a trip to the post office. The rain was coming down heavy as we made our way around the city, experiencing the rhythms of a Monday morning in West Memphis.
We spent an hour or so at the West Memphis Public Library, connected to WiFi and pecking away at our laptops. A steady stream of patrons came in and out, most of them asking the librarian for information or logging in at the bank of computers. The librarian was a bit hard of hearing, so there was a fair amount of yelling in what would ordinarily be a quiet place. If you go there, the network password is baddog. One word – all lowercase.
After that we drove a few miles to nearby Marion, Arkansas. Marion is part of the Greater Memphis Metro Area, but has the character of a small community. To us, it felt like Suburban West Memphis.
This town is home to the Sultana Disaster Museum, which chronicles a tragedy that few of us know or understand. The museum is a labor of love for its Director, Dr. Louis Intres. After spending time with him on a late September afternoon we came to understand his passion.
The museum is normally closed on Mondays, but Louis graciously offered to meet us there for a private tour. As we arrived, he was gathering up some literature for our further research. He went through each document (including two books on the Sultana tragedy) and arranged everything in a neat pile on the front desk. Then we launched into the tour . . .
The tale of the Sultana is as compelling as any story you’ll hear – historical or fictional. It occurs in 1865 at a pivotal time in US history. General Robert E. Lee surrendered his Confederate troops to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox on April 9 and President Lincoln was shot dead just 5 days later. Prisoners of war were returning home and the nation didn’t need another tragedy. Especially a tragedy that could have been avoided. The Sultana sank on April 27, taking the lives of over a thousand people and changing the lives of thousands more.
There’s such a compelling story here and simple blog isn’t enough. Check out the effort that Dr. Intres is doing to honor the lives of those unfortunate souls who died (or survived) the last voyage of the Sultana. This lost piece of American history will soon be known. Louis and his team is raising $100K (https://www.gofundme.com/f/sultana-disaster-museum-construc…) to leverage $500K and $5M in grants and donations to give a proper home to this important story. National media is taking notice – just Google it! And please do what you can to support this important effort.
You should know this about Louis – he’s is committed to the story of the Sultana in every way.
We exchanged pins and took pictures outside the museum. Victoria danced at blue building with a pelican painted on the side and we drove back to West Memphis. We ate the best tortilla soup ever at a place called Mi Pueblo. Our server Poncho came from Guatemala and calls this place home.