Of all the things you might associate with Memphis – Elvis’ mesmerising moves, Blues on Beale Street, intimidatingly sized portions of pulled pork – chances are that a connection to a 5000 year old civilisation isn’t likely to be one of them. Odd then, that, of all the buildings fighting for your attention in this southern city’s skyline, it is likely to be the gargantuan figure of a gleaming steel pyramid that catches your eye every time.
Many are made aware of Memphis’ namesake only after seeing this structure rise from beside the banks of the mighty Mississippi and subsequently asking why such an archaic building exists in a town founded less than 100 years ago. But clever clogs will be aware that Memphis was the name of the first royal city of Ancient Egypt’s Old Kingdom – a humungous port town built up around the Nile’s delta plain. Before it was usurped by Alexandria (a mere 2000 or so years later), this settlement was thought to have been the epicentre of industry and trade from which the entire Egyptian empire flourished; enough of an achievement for soon-to-be-president and Memphis founder Andrew Jackson (among others) to consider it a suitable name for his new metropolis.
Opened in 1991, this ‘Great American Pyramid’ was modelled on the oldest and largest of Giza’s prismatic attractions. Though it only clocks in at two-thirds the actual size of its counterpart, it still sits, taller than the Statue of Liberty, at a rather impressive 321 feet. But what it may lack in size, it more than makes up for in experience. It has, after all, been occupied by more than a few dead pharaohs in its time. In its first fifteen years, it was used as a 21,000 seat sporting arena, a training ground for home-grown basketball team the Grizzlies, a conference centre, a museum exhibition space, a music venue, a sound stage for motion pictures and, for a brief stint, a mega-church.
But all that came into contact with it seemed to face troubles of varying magnitude, and between flooded floors, awful acoustics and bad mistakes, many began to jokingly speculate about a curse hanging over the location; a rumour that was exacerbated when a small crystal skull was discovered by construction workers as they laboured at the apex, and was subsequently removed. Though gossip abounds as to how and why this mystical little feature came to be here, many have concluded that Isaac Tigrett – Hard Rock founder and spirituality advocate – placed it there after showing interest in investing in the venture. His warning that removing such an item would ‘disturb the cosmic balance of the earth’ was taken a little more seriously after more and more issues arose.
Having lain dormant since 2007, the Memphis pyramid is now on the cusp of a comeback. Set to become the flagship store for Bass Pro Shops, the triangular beacon will be a mecca for those who adore the great outdoors. But, in keeping with tradition, it will be no ordinary retail outlet. Its great chambers will now play host to an elaborate aquarium, Atlantis-style bowling alley, an observation deck to rival the Grand Canyon’s, an archery range, and a fully operational swamp themed hotel with log cabin style accommodation and a few live alligators thrown in for good measure. After nearly a decade in the dark, it seems a new empire will rise after all.