What’s in a Name?

Owners name buildings to give them identities and personalities. Once a building becomes part of the public domain, however, control over both the name and the character of the structure are largely out of their control. This occurrence is made clear in the case of this museum’s name. When Clarence Saunders planned his behemoth mansion, he christened it Cla-Le-Clare. The moniker was a combination of the names of his children—Clay, Lee and Clare. Memphis legend tells us that locals renamed it the Pink Palace as soon as the Georgia marble was added to the mansion.

Picture Taken on Sunday of Daffodil Show 1953 1
The Memphis Park Commission was later tasked with turning the empty home into a museum. The commissioners decided to rename Cla-Le-Clare the Memphis Museum of Natural History and Industrial Arts. Before the museum opened to the public, members of the Museum Advisory Board began making recommendations to shorten the clumsy name. They got their way in 1936 after telling the Park Commission that they wanted their current “limiting” and “cumbersome” name shortened to the Memphis Museum. In the same meeting, they remarked that the Pink Palace nickname was not “definite” enough to become the official name. Nevertheless, visitors and the press continued to talk about the museum inside the Pink Palace. The “Memphis Museum” stuck until 1966 when the Board realized that they were having issues publicizing the museum. As part of a larger campaign to increase visitors, they received permission to change the name to the Pink Palace, making official what was already common practice.
The museum underwent a major expansion in the 1970s, and a part of this change included refocusing the exhibits on regional and local history as well as constructing a new building to house them. The Board of Trustees felt that the “Pink Palace” did not fit the museum’s new identity. As Board Chairman William Reed said, the expansion would leave the museum “no longer pink nor palatial.” They suggested multiple new names including “Memphis Museum of Interaction” and “Museum of Man and Nature.” The suggestion to change the name to anything new was fought vigorously in the newspaper editorials. The Press-Scimitar editors concluded their argument by saying, “And, of course, the name changers are embarking on a futile course. No matter what new name might be adopted, Memphians will always call it the Pink Palace.” The Park Commission agreed, and the Pink Palace was here to stay.
“Pink Palace Name Faces Test at Meeting,” Memphis Press Scimitar, 1/13/1976.
”Our Colorful Pink Palace,” Memphis Press-Scimitar, 12/12/1975.


WWII at the Museum

In the fall of 1940, war was underway in Europe, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt instituted the first peacetime draft in American history. In November 1940, the Museum Advisory Board received a request to make space available in the Memphis Museum (now called the Pink Palace) for Draft Board #12. The Draft Board moved into the Mineral Room and the minerals moved to the mammal hall or were placed in storage. Thousands of Memphis’ men came through the museum as the National Archives estimates that 26,764 individuals enlisted for military and civilian service in Memphis throughout the war.
The museum also became a place for other wartime activities. Beginning in May 1942, first aid classes were held for three hours every morning. Civilian defense instruction was conducted each afternoon. Classes continued through August 1942. In December 1942, the city Board of Education cancelled all evening meetings in school buildings for the duration of the war. The Buntyn-Normal Civic Club moved their monthly meeting to the museum because their normal venue was no longer available.

mansion color sketch
The museum also became a place to show artifacts and objects that were relevant to the global conflict. The Park Commission installed a flag pole on the museum lawn in November 1942. Everett Woods, the chairman of the Advisory Board, suggested creating an exhibit of minerals used for national defense purposes. Ernest Ball, superintendent of the Memphis City Schools, donated 37 model war planes built by students to government specifications. Two other model planes, a B-25 Billy Mitchell Bomber and a Curtiss P-40, were also loaned. The museum held a lecture on the use of carrier pigeons in war. In early 1945, the museum exhibited “victory trophies” including German uniforms, parachutes and money collected by American troops in Europe.


Undercover Bird Man

When the Pink Palace opened its doors in 1930 as the Memphis Museum of Natural History and Industrial Arts, there were not a lot of objects in the collection. In fact, the museum opened on March 8, 1930 with little fanfare other than two small news articles. Only three rooms had partially finished exhibits. The “most interesting collections” were an Arctic wolf, Kodiak bear, Sonora grizzly, glacier grizzly, sea otter, California heads and a musk ox head. The commissioners said “It is the idea of the commissioners as well as the advisory board that the utmost care be taken in its acceptance and placing of exhibits in this museum…This care on the part of those in charge of the museum we hope the public will appreciate and by doing so thereby understand the small amount of space occupied at this time with exhibits.” In an effort to fill out the museum, the board added the Boshart bird collection in 1931 after a considerable amount of handwringing.


Charles Fred Boshart was born in Lowville, NY, in 1860. He attended Cornell University and earned a degree in agriculture. He worked in farming until 1909 when he succeeded his father as vice-president and director of the First National Bank of Lowville. He collected his first bird, a robin, in 1875 when he was fourteen. His family members reported that he collected birds throughout his life. He eventually had roughly 80 assistants who collected birds in 25 states and multiple countries. He died in 1928, and he left his collection to Cornell. However, the university could not meet all of the stipulations for the gift, which included constructing a building to display the collection, so the executors of the will decided to sell the collection in 1931 for $2,100. Clark & Deck Studios, the firm hired by the City of Memphis to help with the layout of the museum, approached Park Commissioner Frank Fisher about purchasing the birds. Not trusting the firm’s opinion, Fischer asked Nash Buckingham of the American Wild Fowlers to have Washington, D.C. ornithologist Dr. Harry Oberholser inspect the collection before the purchase. Oberholser, who worked with the United States Bureau of Biological Survey, was instructed to not tell Deck that he was connected to the city’s purchase of the birds. Oberholser reported to Buckingham that the birds were a good collection for the museum. In a separate letter to Fischer, Oberholser made it clear that, for several reasons, it would be best if Deck never found out about his connection to the City of Memphis. The birds were purchased and finally put on display in 1938.

“City’s Museum Opens Tomorrow,” Evening Appeal, March 7, 1930.
“Park Board to Open New Museum Today,” Commercial Appeal, March 8, 1930. Pg. 9.


Hunting for Memphis

Pink Palace visitors from 1948 to 1975 were fond of visiting the Berry B. Brooks African Hall. Brooks was a respected Memphian with a reputation as a huntsman, naturalist and conservationist. He was also a civic leader who was generous with his time, finances and big game trophies.

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Brooks was born in Senatobia, Mississippi, in 1902 and moved to Memphis when he was 12. He attended Washington and Lee University and then worked as a clerk before starting his own cotton company in 1929. During his 53 years in the cotton business, Brooks served as king of the Cotton Carnival in 1957 and as two-time president of the Memphis Cotton Exchange. Cotton gave him the resources he needed to engage in his favorite activity—big game hunting. In 1947, Brooks took his wife and daughter on his first of four African safaris. In addition to his hunting, Brooks also made films while on expeditions and gave a series of lectures for both the Goodwyn Institute and the museum. In 1973, Brooks was the first American elected to the Hunting Hall of Fame.
Brooks once said, “There is often a feeling of sadness in collecting animals. But it is overcome by the many other things you do in the way of conservation. I have tried to make every animal I ever collected immortal by giving it to the museum.” To this end, Brooks offered forty-one animal heads on loan to the museum in 1948. He also offered to show the films he made on his safaris. The Museum Advisory Board decided to plan a premier opening of the African Hall. The museum amended the original loan agreement in 1950 after Brooks’ subsequent safaris added more specimens to the African Hall. In the end, Brooks loaned 51 animals to the museum. The museum hosted a second premier in 1952 after Brooks’ second African safari, adding three rooms of trophies. In 1958, museum director Ruth Bush argued for making the collection more educational by placing miniature dioramas in the large hall to show the habitat of the animals. In 1959, the Advisory Board voted to ask Brooks to remove his heads from the three additional rooms and display only one of each species in the large hall to make room for a children’s museum sponsored by the Junior League. In 1973, Brooks gave the collection to the museum as a gift.

In mid-1975, the museum changed from being an eclectic mix of artifacts to focusing on regional cultural and natural history. The staff crated and stored the collection and tried to find a buyer for the heads. Before Brooks died in January 1976, some of his friends attempted to raise funds to build a place to display the animals. The Barry Brooks Foundation received the collection in 1980, but they were unable to place them anywhere. The trophies were sold in 1985. Some of the animals were sold again in 2005 at an auction held at Worlds Away, a downtown store.

More information about Barry Brooks can be found in Peter Hathaway Capstick’s Death in a Lonely Land. Quote from “Barry Brooks, Game Hunter, is Dead at 73,” Commercial Appeal, January 22, 1976.