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Battlefields, Baseball, Bar-b-que, and Rock & Roll Add up to Fun traveling aboard “Patty’s Charm”

“The Great Elvis Presley – Memphis Heritage Tour and Pilgrimage” did not come from the pages of a travel agent tour book or a regional brochure. The Tour and Pilgrimage evolved from three elements. First is the available window of time August 9 – 18 free from career and family obligations. Second, add a shared common interest and love of Minor League Baseball, bar-b-que, blues, rock and roll, Southern culture, and Civil War history and above all else – having a great time. And third, add the chemistry of four good friends: Wiley Pearson, Tom Corcoran, Ron Arslanian, and Rick Lieb. In eleven days, these middle age guys touched each area of interest, some more than once, as passengers aboard “Patty’s Charm,” the Private Motor Coach, Inc. house on wheels bus conversion/motor home. Also aboard were driver/escort and company founder Ed Lonsbary and mascot “Rusty” – a six-year-old Cardigan Welsh Corgi. 

Their itinerary began the evening of August 8, 2002 with a send-off party at Rick’s home in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Wives, family and friends joined the festivities. The next morning, Tom, Ron and Rick stowed their luggage and refreshments aboard the private coach then headed down the highway. That first leg of the trip took them from Valley Forge to Frederick, Maryland to pick-up Wiley Pearson. Then, with the group complete, they went to Sharpsburg, Maryland for a tour of the Antietam National Battlefield. This Civil War site marks the end of General Robert E. Lee’s invasion of the North. This battle claimed more than 23,000 men killed, wounded and missing in one single day – September 17, 1862 – a record that stands until this day. The battle also led to Lincoln’s issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation granting freedom to all persons held as slaves.

From Antietam they motored through Waynesboro, Lynchburg and Roanoke, Virginia. They traveled along Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway, a 105-mile road that winds astride the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains and through Shenandoah National Park. They paused often to take in the spectacular vistas of the landscape to the east and west with Rusty at their feet. The Blue Ridge Parkway carried them through to Asheville, North Carolina. Continuing on, they enjoyed the scenic views of the Great Smokey Mountains, Gatlinburg, and Pigeon Forge to Chattanooga, Tennessee.

A tour of the Chattanooga National Military Park brought to life the clash of Union and Confederate Armies in the fall of 1863 and some of the hardest fighting of the Civil War. Historically, the prize was Chattanooga, key rail center and gateway to the heart of the Confederacy. Following the Battle of Chattanooga, or sometimes called Chicamaugua, which occurred on September 19 and 20 in 1863, Union Armies controlled the city of Chattanooga and nearly all of Tennessee. The next spring, General William T. Sherman used Chattanooga for his base as he started his march to Atlanta and the sea. Chicamauga refers to an opening in the Great Smokey Mountains, which allowed the Union armies to cut the Confederacy in half and eventually take Atlanta.

On the lighter side, Wiley, Tom, Rob and Rick satisfied their love for baseball by watching the Minor League Baseball team Chattanooga Lookouts play the Mobile Bay Bears. Then, a day later, the men toured the Jack Daniel’s Old Time Distillery, which was established in 1866 in Lynchburg, Tennessee. On the tour, they saw whiskey filtered drop-by-drop through ground charcoal contained in huge 10-foot high wooden vats. Their distillery guide told them that the whiskey’s trip from the top to the bottom of the vat takes about two-days. After this journey, the whiskey is then put into 55-gallon oak barrels and left to age for three-years. The barrels are stored in 50 six-story warehouses scattered over 500-acres of land. Each warehouse houses a million gallons of whiskey.

In Memphis, they dined at Jim Neely’s Interstate Bar-b-Que, acclaimed by USA Today as the “Best place in America for a pork bar-b-que sandwich.” Interstate Bar-b-Que is world famous for its award winning taste of real hickory barbecue, prepared southern style from a secret recipe. Although Rusty, the Private Motor Coach, Inc. mascot, did not sample any Jack Daniel’s, he sampled the lip-licking barbecue and barked for more!

While in Nashville, they also visited the Grande Ole Opry known for its 75-year legacy, as the best entertainment and pageantry country music has to offer. As was the custom, the boys took in the Minor League Baseball game between the Nashville Sounds and the Portland Beavers.

Another day and more miles, the group traveled in the modern coach “Patty’s Charm” from Nashville to Tupelo on the Natchez Trace, an historic stagecoach and wagon road some 285 miles long between Vicksburg, Mississippi through to Tupelo and Jackson. In Tupelo, the fellows stopped to see the most significant landmark of the town’s modern history. The site is the 2-room house where Elvis Presley – “The King of Rock & Roll” – was born on January 8, 1935. The Elvis Presley birthplace is part of the Elvis Presley Center including the Elvis Presley Museum and Memorial Chapel. The museum houses a unique collection of long-hidden treasures from Elvis’ early life as well as his illustrious career. Themed - “Times and Things Remembered” – the museum contains hundreds of articles of clothing and personal mementos such as motorcycle boots and a jumpsuit from Elvis’ Las Vegas act.

There was more good eating at Hagy’s Catfish Hotel. Established in 1938, the “Catfish Hotel” is one of the oldest family owned restaurant in America and is located close to Shiloh National Military Park in Hardin County Tennessee. This nationally known restaurant is famous for its “All You Can Eat” Catfish Dinner. Today, a third generation of Hagy’s maintain the tradition of quality food and hospitality.

The foursome’s love for history took them to another Civil War Battlefield – Shiloh National Battlefield in Shiloh, Tennessee. Shiloh commemorates the two-day battle - April 6 and 7, 1862 – which proved to be a decisive victory for federal forces when they advanced and seized control of the Confederate railway system at Corinth, Mississippi. Shiloh is historically significant because it is the first major battle in the Western theater of the Civil War. The battle resulted in nearly 24,000 killed, wounded and missing.

On August 15th, they arrived in Memphis, Tennessee for events commemorating the life of Elvis Presley. A seminar they attended at the University of Memphis asked them to ponder “Is Elvis History?” Zoe & The Alexander Band entertained them and a candlelight vigil honoring Elvis. On the 16th, they participated in more Elvis Week Events: George Klein’s Elvis Memorial Service and The 25th Anniversary Elvis Concert. The concert commemorated the sound and style that uniquely combined Elvis’ diverse musical influences – pop, country, gospel, and R & B. - and created a whole new era of American music and popular culture. Still trying to get their Minor League Baseball fix they watched the Memphis Redbirds take on the Iowa Clubs.

There was more bar-b-que in Memphis at the famous “must-eat-at” Beale Street Bar-B-Que. Then a tour of the 14-acre estate Graceland gave them insight into the legendary career of Elvis Presley. The highlight of the Graceland mansion tour was Elvis’ trophy building, which houses his enormous collection of gold records and awards along with an extensive display of career mementos, stage costumes, jewelry, and photographs. The tour ended in Meditation Garden, where Elvis and members of his family have been laid to rest. Elvis died in his Memphis home, Graceland on August 16, 1977 at 42-years of age.

Another solemn visit took them to the National Civil Rights Museum, located at the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was tragically assassinated April 4, 1968. The museum offers the world’s first and only comprehensive overview of the civil rights movement in exhibit form. Through a series of vignettes of key events in the civil rights movement, the visitors gained a deeper appreciation of the history, struggle and personalities involved in the civil rights movement.

The return from Memphis to Bethesda, Maryland took two days making a full roundtrip totaling some 2,038 miles or more. The days flew by, as did the miles and venues. Many stories of the past were told and retold. New stories were added. Bonds of friendship between Rick, Tom, Ron, and Wiley were again cemented. For a eleven precious days these men were free to roam fulfilling their hopes and dreams. Their parting words to each other were: “Let’s do it again!” 



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