A Room With a View – Visiting the Memphis Cotton Museum

I have loved Memphis for many years now, and yet, until recently, had never been to the Cotton Museum. And that’s just downright silly – because it’s pretty fascinating.

Here, the trading floor of the Memphis Cotton Exchange has been restored to its 1940 appearance. The small room holds many wonders and puts you right in the would-be action, telling the story of how Memphis came to be.
Long before cell phones and the Internet, cotton was bought and sold by traders from private phone booths. A mannequin, lovingly nicknamed Bob by museum staff, shows how it was done.

Four Doors.  A visit to the Memphis Cotton Museum. May 13, 2015.

A few other costumed gentlemen stand on the landing above him taking orders from a ticker-tape machine and updating what would have been an ever-changing chalkboard used to track the price of cotton and other commodities in places like Liverpool, New Orleans, and Chicago.

On a Ladder. A visit to the Memphis Cotton Museum. May 13, 2015.

Working the Ticker Tape. A visit to the Memphis Cotton Museum. May 13, 2015.

The Cotton Exchange Chalkboard. A visit to the Memphis Cotton Museum. May 13, 2015.

Stay Awhile. A visit to the Memphis Cotton Museum, May 13, 2015.

In addition to this captivating history, the museum also represents one of Memphis’ most beloved legacies, the Blues. Many Memphis visitors come to the Bluff City interested in hearing Blues music, but are often unaware of this connection: In the words from the Cotton Museum’s website (which I absolutely LOVE) are “that the Blues evolved out of the desperation and creative will of those seeking a better life in a time of absolute oppression and complete despotism.”

BB King Guitar.  A visit to the Memphis Cotton Museum. May 13, 2015.

And as one can imagine it has an abundance of – wait for it – cotton.  (I may or may not have lofty plans of knitting a scarf, made from genuine, hand-spun local cotton.  Stay tuned in the next year to see if I can keep my promise.)

Basket O Cotton.  A visit to the Memphis Cotton Museum. May 13, 2015.

And lastly, a private backstage glimpse allowed us the privilege of seeing this – An official Certificate of Membership Book dated from September 1, 1921 – appropriately opened to ticket #901. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t chills.  Very cool.

Choose 901.  An official stock certificate from the Memphis Cotton Museum. May 13, 2015.


Our friends at the Museum tell us that this Thursday (May 27th) their latest exhibit, Faulkner’s World: an Exhibit of Photographs by Martin J. Dain opens to visitors. The Museum describes the event as “a glimpse of the home life of William Faulkner during his final years.” From images of a prisoner plowing fields at Parchman Penitentiary to photos of Faulkner’s funeral procession, the photographs are beautiful and dynamic and poignant. The exhibit will be on display through June.

The Memphis Cotton Museum is located at 65 Union Ave in downtown Memphis. For information on the museum, click here.

All photos were taken by Carla McDonald.
These words were made by Courtney Oliver.
For thoughts and suggestions, please go here and we will read and respond graciously!