The Pink Palace Museum: It’s big, it’s pink and it’s full of cool stuff about Memphis

Miniature Circus runs daily at the Pink Place Museum. Photo by Bob Hazlett
Nose-to-nose with a (stuffed) polar bear at the Pink Palace Museum. Photo by Bob Hazlett
Pink Palace with lilies. Photo Credit: Commercial Appeal.
Memphis Pink Palace - yellow flowers
Face to Face with a T-Rex at the Pink Palace Museum. Photo by Bob Hazlett

In Memphis we have museums that specialize in fine art, modern art, street art, metal art and, of course, the art of music. But we have one museum that likes to zig while everyone else zags. 

The Pink Palace Family of Museums refreshingly doesn’t focus on any one medium or aspect of Memphis culture. It gives visitors an in-depth and unique look at just about everything there is to know about the Mid-South, from cultural and natural history to region-shaping industries and rare oddities.

Here are a few highlights you have to check out on your next visit to the Pink Palace. 

CTI 3D Giant Theater
As one of the first large-screen theaters in the Mid-South, the Pink Palace’s CTI 3D Giant Theater experience is a beacon for both visitors and locals. Past viewings include movies as diverse as science documentaries on dinosaurs to mainstream revivals like Indiana Jones series. Recently, the Palace has upgraded its theater to feature a state-of-the-art projection system with multi-channel audio, creating what will undoubtedly be the best movie-going experience in the city. 

Planetarium
Looking up at the stars is a time-honored tradition for all kids. It’s also an enormous draw to the Pink Palace. In addition to the museum’s 3D theater experience, the Pink Palace’s planetarium has attracted kids, families and schools field trips for years. The modern planetarium creates a “galactic-sized” adventure and the fully immersive experience (in both imagery and sound) may blow kids’ minds! 

The Shrunken Head
There may be no greater example of The Pink Palace zigging when everyone else is zagging than the rare oddity that sits on display in the middle of the mansion’s rotunda: The Shrunken Head. A gift from Abe Scharff, owner of Kraus Cleaners and a world traveler with a taste for the exotic, The Shrunken Head was among a number of gifts to the museum upon Mr. Scharff’s death in 1969.

Burton Callicott Murals
The Pink Palace is a museum. But it’s also a house. Actually, it’s a mansion, and arguably one of the more important parts of the permanent collection. Take the three-story entry hall to the mansion. Instead of traditional wood paneling, the mansion features a series of murals painted by young Memphis artist Burton Callicott. Commissioned by the Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.), the murals commemorate the exploration of West Tennessee by the Spanish conquistador Hernando DeSoto. Put another way, it’s a pretty striking foyer.

Piggly Wiggly
A big part of the Pink Palace experience is its focus on business leaders who put Memphis on the map. A great example is Clarence Saunders, the father of self-service shopping, and the founder of Piggly Wiggly grocery stores. He designed a store that offered self service and cash and carry shopping with the belief that if he could offer lower prices than his competitors, people would wait on themselves; a classic business story, sure, but also a pioneering one. The Pink Palace honors this retail innovation with an exact replica of his first store, which opened at 79 Jefferson in 1916.

From the Boss to the King: Memphis 1900 – 1960
And really, what would any museum about Memphis be without an exhibit that touched on the region’s incredibly rich music heritage? But unlike many of the other museums in Memphis, the Pink Palace places music within a broader cultural context, including everything from politics to fashion to cotton.

Know before you go

  • Where: 3050 Central Avenue, in the heart of East Memphis, and not far from the Children’s Museum of Memphis, the Memphis Zoo and My Big Backyard.
  • WhenThe Pink Palace is closed only three days a year: Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.
  • How MuchThe full price for museum, planetarium and 3D theater is $15.25 for kids (3-12) and $23.25 for adults. Lower prices are available for select museum attractions. Admission to the Pink Palace Museum is free on Tuesdays from 1 p.m to 5 p.m. See website for details
by Peter Short