Memphis Arena excavation turns up 1841 Colt (and some other cool things)


June 19, 2003, 10:00 PM
From the Memphis Commercial Appeal (,1426,MCA_437_2050348,00.html)

Arena yields rare, racy finds

By Blake Fontenay
June 19, 2003

When archeologists began sifting through the dirt beneath the FedExForum site last spring, they found some pretty cool stuff:

Like a couple of 1860s-vintage Colt .45 revolvers, one of which was still loaded. Corset parts from old bordellos. A mug from a saloon once frequented by legendary musician W. C. Handy.

In all, the archeologists uncovered about 2.6 tons worth of artifacts, some dating as far back as the 1820s, that open a window into the Bluff City's past.

Now the question is where to put them.

"In order to have a major permanent exhibit, that's going to take a little planning, a little thinking,'' said Guy Weaver, whose firm has been handling the archeological work.

After a year of studying and cataloging the findings, Weaver & Associates LLC plans to complete a report on the artifacts by the end of this month.

As that process wraps up, Weaver thinks it's appropriate to start talking about putting some of the more interesting items on public display.

The Pink Palace Museum, the Chucalissa Archaeological Museum, the Shelby County Archives and the Hall of Mayors at City Hall are all possible candidates for either temporary or permanent exhibits, Weaver said.

Weaver also thinks the arena would be a good spot to display some of the 110,000 artifacts after it is completed next year.

So far, though, artifact storage hasn't been high on the priority list for those planning the arena's construction.

"I really don't have any thoughts because there has been no communication in the (construction) program about it,'' said Arnold Perl, chairman of the New Memphis Arena Public Building Authority. "This is the first I've heard about it."

Mike Golub, senior vice president of business operations for the Memphis Grizzlies, the NBA team that will manage the arena, said the discovery of artifacts worth displaying was news to him.

"To our knowledge, a lot of what they recovered was trash - beer bottles and things like that,'' Golub said.

Golub said an exhibit of site artifacts might be appropriate, particularly if it meshes with the arena's interior theme emphasizing the community's musical and cultural heritage.

Weaver admits that recovered items range from "the sublime to the ridiculous." Many of the more mundane or poorly preserved pieces could be shipped to a regional storage facility, perhaps in Alabama, so future generations of researchers would have access to them.

However, Weaver said other items provide a snapshot of life in that section of downtown Memphis, particularly from the 1860s through the 1880s.

Using old insurance company maps, city directories and census records, Weaver's staff learned a lot about the occupants of various buildings that stood on the site at different points in time.

For example, one 1888 map marks several buildings with "FB" - shorthand for female boarding houses.

"That's kind of a polite way of saying these were houses of ill repute," Weaver said.

Many of the findings from those areas are personal effects that likely belonged to the residents or their clients.

Other findings are hard to explain. Weaver's crew uncovered more than 700 bottles, some glass and some stoneware. Many bore the name "Salls" - after Joseph Salls, a local beer brewer.

Since Salls's brewery was in a different part of downtown, the archeologists aren't entirely certain why so many bottles were found in such a small area near a former tenement house.

But one of their theories would make sense to anyone who has ever visited the area, just south of the present-day Beale Street Entertainment District, on a Saturday night.

"It's possible the residents of the tenement house would drink bottles of beer and throw the bottles under the building,'' Weaver said.

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June 19, 2003, 11:13 PM
Man! Where's my hard hat?!?!:cool:

June 19, 2003, 11:24 PM
Boy if those guns could talk I wonder what they would say? Sounds like the Beale Street area has always been a rowdy party spot.

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