Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Zippin Pippin -- Elvis' Favorite Ride -- Is Donated to Save Libertyland

Posted By on Thu, Apr 26, 2007 at 4:00 AM

On Monday, Carolina Crossroads, the company that bought Libertyland's Zippin' Pippin, the second-oldest wooden roller coaster in the world, for $2,000, donated the coaster to Save Libertyland — which was incorporated as a nonprofit organization last week.

Steven Mulroy, lawyer and County Commissioner, burned the midnight oil last week to get Save Libertyland incorporated as a nonprofit. The city's deadline for a decision on what was to be done with the classic coaster was Tuesday, April 24th.

Carolina Crossroads had originally planned to take the cars from the coaster and build a replica of it at their retro rock-and-roll themed amusement park, Roanoke Rapids. Though they have maintained one of the coaster's cars and are still planning to build a replica, they've given the rest of the coaster to Save Libertyland.

Today, at the gates of Libertyland, Mulroy said that Save Libertyland plans to donate the 100-year-old coaster back to the city of Memphis, with the condition that the city preserve it.

"Through the generosity of Carolina Crossroads, we hope to open a park around the Zippin Pippin rollercoaster and the historic Grand Carousel, which have both been a part of the city's history for nearly a century," Mulroy said.

Save Libertyland would like to turn all 20 acres of the former amusement park into a city park, using Coney Island’s redevelopment plan as a model. The organization would be willing to work with the Salvation Army, which plans to buy all 170 acres of the Mid-South fairgrounds in August in order to build a community center.

Libertyland, like its famous coaster, has had its ups and downs over the years. It was opened on July 4th, 1976, to coincide with the nation’s bicentennial. The Pippin, which was Elvis’ favorite roller coaster, continues to attract people from all over the world as a part of their Elvis experience.

The organization has been in contact with Elvis Presley Enterprises. Save Libertyland would like to work with the EPE to possibly include the Zippin' Pippin in tours of Elvis' Memphis, a plan that Save Libertyland's Denise Parkinson maintained could help the roller coaster pay for itself.

Save Libertyland also plans to get the coaster on the National Historic Registry, which would bar federal funds from being used to move or destroy the coaster. It would be the second ride in Libertyland to be on the registry, along with the Grand Carousel, which has a history of its own.

The Grand Carousel has long had a reputation for being haunted. On August 2nd, 1976, not two months after the park opened, a 17-year-old boy named Mike Crockett was operating the carousel as his first summer job. When a child in the park lost his balloon in the ride's inner workings, Crockett climbed into its roof to retrieve the prize. While he was inside, the carousel somehow started up and the gears crushed him to death.

"No one even knew his name until today," Parkinson said. "I want to re-envision this place as the Mike Crockett Memorial Park."

-Cherie Heiberg

Sing It, Celine and Elvis!

Posted on Thu, Apr 26, 2007 at 4:00 AM

Elvis and Celine Dion are together again, for the first time.

Yeah, it was confusing to us, too. But last night's America Idol made reality TV a whole lot cooler in our eyes thanks to a duet performed — live, sort of — by Elvis Presley and Celine Dion. Yes, you read that right. The King of Rock and Roll and the Queen of sinking ships performed "If I Can Dream" in a spookily real choreographed performance. Think Star Wars-esque hologram technology — we won't even try to describe it. Just watch. Then watch it again, because you won't be able to resist.

Stolen SWAT Team Assault Weapons Recovered

Posted By on Thu, Apr 26, 2007 at 4:00 AM

Memphis Police have recovered most of the assault weapons stolen from a North Carolina SWAT team van parked outside Interstate Bar-B-Que on South Third Monday afternoon.

Clent Green and Brian Bowles were both arrested in connection with the incident, and charges are pending while other persons of interest are questioned. Bowles was charged with possession of a stolen vehicle, after police discovered the getaway car (a 2006 Ford Expedition) used in the SWAT van burglary was also stolen.

Three assault rifles and three shotguns were recovered yesterday, and police continue to search for two stolen .357 handguns.

"From the moment that these weapons were stolen, our officers have worked tirelessly to recover these weapons that had fallen into the hands of these criminals," says police director Larry Godwin.

At a press conference Thursday morning, police detailed a timeline of criminal activity leading up to the weapons theft:

April 19th: A 2006 Ford Expedition was reported stolen from a hotel parking lot in Tunica.

April 20th: A MED employee reports the theft of his license plate (which was later discovered on the Expedition).

April 23rd: Around 9 a.m., a witness reports seeing a man get out of the stolen Expedition and attempt to pry open the door of a Ford pick-up. After spotting the witness, the suspect ran to the stolen SUV and fled.

At 3:36 p.m., visiting Wake County, North Carolina SWAT officers report the theft of eight weapons from their van. They had stopped in Memphis to eat on their way to a weapons competition in Arkansas.

April 24th: The abandoned Expedition was recovered by officers in Millington. Stolen property inside the vehicle was linked to another car burglary that occurred in Whitehaven on April 21st. CSI investigators managed to link the goods to Green and Bowles.

Later that day, acting on a tip, a Memphis police officer recovers one of the stole weapons.

April 25th: Memphis police locate and arrest Green. At his residence, police discover stolen items from yet another auto burglary. Later, police recover five more weapons. They locate and arrest Bowles.

—Bianca Phillips

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Hot Panda Sex ... Or Not

Posted By on Wed, Apr 25, 2007 at 4:00 AM

Once the San Diego Zoo traded its distant, brooding male panda Shi Shi for panda playboy Gao Gao, their female panda, Bai Yun, has given birth twice. They didn’t even have to artificially inseminate her, as Gao Gao was reportedly up to the task time and time again. And now, after a third mating, another baby panda is on its way this summer.

It's widely known that the Memphis Zoo's pandas have had trouble in bed this year. The female, Le Le, sent the right scent signals and the zoo even turned on some porn, but her male companion Ya Ya just wasn’t interested. He seemed to prefer munching bamboo bars and napping to making the beast with two backs. The cad. (He obviously has issues.)

After Le Le retired to her room, desolate, Memphis zookeepers tried artificial insemination. We’re not sure if that’s worked yet, but we do think the San Diego Zoo is on to something. The Memphis zoo should just trade in the ambivalently male Ya Ya for the studly Gao Gao and let him do his stuff. We're betting he could make Le Le go go.

-Cherie Heiberg

DA’s Office Contradicts Wright Family Claims in Mardis Case

Posted By on Wed, Apr 25, 2007 at 4:00 AM

Jennifer Donnals, communications director for Shelby County attorney general Bill Gibbons' office, responded to the claims of members of Mickey Wright's family that appeared in this week’s Flyer.

Wright’s widow, Frances, and her sister, Gail Miller, say that the state failed to inform them of their victims' rights, including the right to issue a victim impact statement for the judge to consider during the sentencing process.

Donnals says that a victim-witness coordinator with the district attorney's office called Wright July 14, 2004. Then, according to internal DA office documents, via Donnals, the victim-witness coordinator mailed Wright a pamphlet called "Information for Crime Victims and Witnesses," in keeping with victims' rights procedures. The internal documents also note multiple phone calls to Wright from the victim-witness coordinator, and 15 personal meetings between Wright and the victim-witness coordinator.

Donnals said that the case for a first-degree murder conviction fell through and altered the procedure for the victim impact statement. "Victim impact statements are given when there's a trial, after the conviction and before the sentencing. When a defendant pleads guilty, however, it is not automatic that there is a victim impact statement. In this case, the judge, I'm told, met with the family in his chambers and agreed to let them give a statement on the record in court, which they did," she says.

Donnals said the DA office followed state victims' rights statutes as closely as the timing of Mardis' plea-bargain allowed. The first-degree murder trial was set to begin Monday April 9th, when Mardis and the state struck a plea bargain announced April 5th, along with Mardis’ 15-year sentence.

Wright says that she was not aware of the plea negotiation, and was informed that a deal had been struck about two hours before the announcement of Mardis' sentence. "[The law] states that whenever possible, victims have the right to be informed and advised prior to the entry into any plea agreement, which we feel we did in this case. We wish it would have been more time as well, given the circumstances."

Prosecuting attorney Thomas Henderson obtained new information in the case that cast doubt on the state's ability to get a first-degree conviction. According to Donnals, the new information involved witness testimony that "would have made it impossible to prove first degree murder, [specifically], premeditation."

Wright and Donnals respective claims about the timing of Wright's notification of the plea bargain contradict one another. Wright says that she was called at 11:30 the morning of the 5th. Donnals says that "the family was present all day to meet with prosecutors in the case regarding Mr. Mardis' agreement to plead guilty."

— Preston Lauterbach

Memphis in May to Keep Riverside Drive Open Longer

Posted By on Wed, Apr 25, 2007 at 4:00 AM

Memphis in May will keep Riverside Drive open longer as it prepares for the annual month-long Festival. Work on the Festival in Tom Lee Park began today, but Memphis in May officials plan to work in and around Tom Lee Park and keep Riverside Drive open to traffic as much as possible.

Jim Holt, President & CEO of Memphis in May said, “Keeping Riverside Drive open while work is underway in Tom Lee Park will benefit those who rely on this major thoroughfare to access their homes and their jobs. While our work schedule is critical to the success of the month-long Festival, being a good neighbor and keeping the inconvenience of the Festival to a minimum is a real responsibility of the Festival.”

During the Festival's stay in Tom Lee Park, traffic on Riverside Drive will be diverted to two-way traffic with access to one lane northbound and one lane southbound beginning Saturday, April 28. The street will close completely beginning at 12:01 a.m on Thursday, May 3rd in preparation for the Beale Street Music Festival, May 4-6. The street will close from Georgia St. to Union Avenue. The street will re-open on Tuesday, May 8th at 12:01 a.m.

Riverside Drive will close again for the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest on Wednesday, May 16th at 12:01 A.M. through Monday, May 21st at 12:01am, and again for Memphis in May’s finale, the Regions Sunset Symphony, at 12:01a.m. on Friday, May 25th and reopen at 12:01a.m. on Monday, May 28th.

Memphis Thieves Rob SWAT Team

Posted By on Wed, Apr 25, 2007 at 4:00 AM

Say what you will about Memphis' crime problem, our crooks have cojones the size of cantalopes.

The Wake County, North Carolina, SWAT team was on its way to a SWAT competition in Little Rock, Arkansas, on Monday, when they stopped in Memphis to sample some of the famous food at Interstate Bar-B-Que on South Third.

While team members were enjoying their meal, some unidentified suspects in a stolen Ford Expedition broke into the SWAT vehicle and stole all the high-powered weapons the team had left in the car.

The vehicle used in the break-in has since been recovered, but the weapons, including three fully automatic rifles, have not yet been located. More details are available at the WMC-TV 5 Website.

We're still trying to imagine the scene at the competition in Little Rock: "Uh, hey, can we, like, borrow a couple AK-47s..."

-Cherie Heiberg

Germantown Landmark to Fall

Posted By on Wed, Apr 25, 2007 at 4:00 AM

One of the most distinctive homes in Germantown — if not all of Shelby County — will soon fall to the wrecking ball. Developers plan to demolish the so-called “Spanish House” at 8598 Dogwood Road to make way for an upscale subdivision.

Little is known about the origins of this sprawling Mediterranean-style residence. Tucked away behind a high wooden fence, the 13-room mansion was known by locals as the “Mystery House” and even the “Stairway to Heaven” house because of an unusual architectural feature — an iron-gated archway on the roof that opened to reveal a flight of red-carpeted stairs that seemingly reached — well, to heaven.

The five-acre estate included a classically-styled swimming pool, a separate goldfish pond, stables, and other structures,

Perhaps because of its flamboyant architectural design, rumors persisted that the home was originally constructed for a gentleman who served as the ambassador to Spain. That’s probably not true. According to old city directories, it was apparently built around 1930 by Erwin Cordes, president of the Eastern Development Company, a real estate firm with offices in downtown’s Falls Building.

At the time, the corner of Dogwood and Cordes would have been considered way out in the country, and the estate was surrounded by nothing but farmland. The house has had other owners over the years, but it has stood vacanct since January when, according to the Shelby County Tax Assessor website, the property was sold for $1.1 million to a company called Historic Properties, LLC.

Candlelight Vigil for Victims of Sexual Violence Tonight

Posted By on Wed, Apr 25, 2007 at 4:00 AM

Tonight (Wednesday, April 25th) is the Memphis Sexual Assault Resource Center’s Annual Candlelight Vigil to remember victims of sexual violence.

Someone is sexually assaulted in America every two and a half minutes. One in six women are victims of sexual assault during their lifetime. And during 2004 and 2005, there were an average 201,000 victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.

The vigil will be held at 2675 Union Ext. at 5:30 p.m. For information and links to helping organizations go to the MSARC website.

Daly Ad Rejected by CBS

Posted on Wed, Apr 25, 2007 at 4:00 AM

According to a story in today's New York Times, a TV ad featuring John Daly has been rejected by CBS for being inappropriate. The ad, for the golf ball maker MaxFli, shows Daly driving a golf cart and holding what looks to be a beer.

From the story: "'Any implication that participants are drinking in excess or performing an activity that requires a level of alertness while drinking does not meet network standards,' said LeslieAnne Wade, a CBS Sports spokeswoman."

MaxFli, which says the drink in question was ginger ale, has responded by posting the ad on its Web site.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Barack Snake Moan

Posted By on Tue, Apr 24, 2007 at 4:00 AM

Memphis director Craig Brewer's Black Snake Moan may have fizzled at the box office, but the Memphis filmmaker has left us with some lingering iconography.

Really, how long did you think it would take before somebody suggested that Barack Obama should chain Hillary Clinton to a radiator?

Until about now?

Timberlake to Bring Sexy Back to Golf

Posted By on Tue, Apr 24, 2007 at 4:00 AM

A Website called Londonnet reports the following: "Justin Timberlake wants to become a professional golfer.

"The 26-year-old singer is getting so good on the greens he is hoping to land a place on the Professional Golf Association (PGA) circuit. "A source said: 'Justin is a very keen golfer and he's playing to a very high standard now.'"

Golf fanatic Justin - who plays off a six handicap and is a member of Los Angeles' exclusive Sherwood Country Club - is determined to fulfil his ambition before he is 30 and is practicing as much as possible."

And, we might add, we're quite "keen" on the idea of ol' JT getting a sponsor's exemption to the St. Jude tournament in Memphis this year. Hell, he could probably beat John Daly these days.


Ford Trial: Overdoing the Obvious

Posted By on Tue, Apr 24, 2007 at 4:00 AM


Every writer needs a good editor. And so does every prosecutor.

Assistant U.S. attorney Tim DiScenza closed out the government’s case against former state senator John Ford Tuesday with a two-hour-and-twenty-minute closing argument. Coming at the end of a long day, the performance may not have helped the government’s already powerful case. In fact, it may have struck some jurors as being exactly what the defense team has been saying about the pursuit of Ford: overzealous.

Defense attorney Michael Scholl will make his closing argument Wednesday. It’s a good bet that it will be shorter than DiScenza’s if he wants to score points with the jury.

DiScenza played snippets of a dozen or so tapes the jury had already seen and heard two or three times. The tapes clearly showed Ford doing favors for E-Cycle Management in exchange for payments.

But they were no longer new. As U.S. District Judge Daniel Breen told jurors, closing arguments are just that – argument, not evidence. The government had already summarized its case with a summary witness, FBI agent Mark Jackson, and a time line.

And on Tuesday, jurors had already sat through a three hour and thirty minute lunch break while the judge and attorneys worked out some undisclosed procedural matters apparently involving a juror who was excused.

DiScenza, a veteran career prosecutor who has already won two convictions in Tennessee Waltz trials, started off well enough with a legal maxim that goes something like this: “If you have the facts, argue the heck out of the facts. If you have the law, argue the heck out of the law. If you don’t have the facts or the law, then accuse the government of misconduct and argue entrapment.

That is what Scholl has been doing for two weeks. He called only three defense witnesses, and John Ford was not among them. Unlike his brother, Harold Ford Sr., who made a memorable stand against prosecutors in his 1993 corruption trial, John Ford decided not to testify.

DiScenza finished strong, too.

“Who’s got the power?” he said, voice rising. “Only twelve people have the power to stop this. And that is the twelve of you who go back into that jury room.”

But the ending may have come roughly two hours too late. Closing argument is a last chance to persuade the jury with personality, charm, and rhetorical skills. But every speaker and every writer knows that attention flags after 30 minutes for even the great ones. And a story you have heard three times already is not a great one, no matter who is telling it.

Possibly making matters worse, earlier in the day assistant prosecutor Lorraine Craig drew the assignment of cross-examining Ford’s twenty-something girlfriend, a perky young woman who suggested undercover FBI agent L.C. McNeil may have done some unauthorized undercover work under the covers with a girlfriend in Miami after partying with Ford and friends one night. McNeil had denied the suggestion last week, but Craig bored in so hard on the witness, Mina Knox, that Breen interjected at one point.

In short, if there was a ray of hope for the defense after the proof was in, it was that one or more jurors would hang the panel. After Tuesday, that seemed like less of a Hail Mary than it had a day earlier.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Crossroads to Freedom at Rhodes College

Posted By on Mon, Apr 23, 2007 at 4:00 AM

Rhodes College has launched the Crossroads to Freedom project, a digital archive of Memphis and Mid-South civil rights movement material.

The archive includes photographs, government documents, personal papers, and oral histories. Organizers hope that the project will begin discussion within the community about the long-term effects of the movement on Memphis.

The college will host a public opening of the archive April 25th at 7 p.m. in the McCallum Ballroom of the Bryan Campus Life Center. The event will include a panel discussion involving participants in civil rights activities from throughout the region.

You can view part of the exhibit online. It currently includes collections of documents from the 1955 Hoxie, Arkansas, school desegregation as well as documents from the 1962 Hearings of the Commission on Civil Rights in Memphis.

The Orange Mound Mural Project

Posted By on Mon, Apr 23, 2007 at 4:00 AM

At the Orange Mound Community Center, a group of young people are creating an indoor mural to brighten the neighborhood and provide an artistic outlet for students.

The participating teenagers, who attend Melrose High, Fairview Junior High, Airways Middle, and Sherwood Middle, decided on a cohesive design for the wall, with help from teaching artist Lurlynn Franklin.

On Saturday, April 28th, from 10:30 to noon, a reception to unveil the finished artwork will be held. The mural program, sponsored by the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, is a pilot project on which Brooks hopes to expand each year.

For more information call 544-6208 or e-mail

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