Summer a perfect time to visit Chucalissa museum in Memphis
By Samantha Gibbs
It is the beginning of another hot summer in Memphis when schools are out and people begin to take vacations.
As the summer season progresses, tourists travel from all over the nation and globe to visit Memphis to sample our delicious food and take in famous sites such as Graceland or Beale Street. These are places rich in history and are a great visit for anyone. However, Memphis is also full of hidden treasures that offer a wide variety of learning experiences such as the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa.
Many museums in Memphis provide information on the city’s history. The C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa provides a unique view of Memphis history with various exhibits that interpret Native American culture from 1000 A.D. to 1500 A.D.
Chucalissa is both a museum and an archaeological site, discovered in 1933. At that time, the City of Memphis was constructing a park designated for the African-American population known today as T.O. Fuller State Park. The city recruited Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) workers to assist in developing attractions in the park including a swimming pool. When the development process began for the pool, the workers found an extensive amount of artifacts. Many of the artifacts were some of the remains left behind by Native Americans. This led to the creation of the Chucalissa Indian Village museum in 1956.
Memphis State took over operation of the site in 1962 and now known as the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, named after the first museum director.During the 1970s and 1980s, the museum featured exhibits including replica houses, a burial mound and visible residential mounds. Visitors were allowed to walk in and around these exhibits, which allowed an in depth view of Native American life and funeral practices.
The burial mound closed in the early 1990s due to NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) legislation. Due to deterioration and decay from age, the replica houses were removed in the late 1990s. This marked a new era for Chucalissa and allowed the museum to develop new programming and evaluate remaining exhibits.
Today the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa continues to operate under the University of Memphis. In fact, most of the employees are students, faculty or alumni of the university. Their duties include designing exhibits and programs, providing tours for groups and visitors and working with volunteers. Each staff member is dedicated to ensure a fun and educational experience for visitors.
A tour includes an introduction video, a trip into history by way of an exhibit hallway once known as the Hall of the Sinti (a Choctaw word for “snake”), a hands-on look at Native American artifacts in the Hands-On Archaeology lab, an exhibit dedicated to the history of Southwest Memphis and a scenic tour of the grounds.
The grounds include a medicinal herb garden that showcases various plants once used by Native Americans for medicine and food. There is also a mound complex including a platform mound once occupied by a ruler of a Native American community. A concrete path encompasses the complex allowing visitors to closely examine the mounds. Visitors are then encouraged to explore the half-mile-long nature trail that features more plants species once used by Native Americans.
In addition to educating the public about Native American pre-historical life, the museum actively participates in community engagement. Community engagement has the potential for a variety of meanings, but for the staff at Chucalissa it means collaborating with organizations and individuals on projects. These projects vary from installing a permanent exhibit at the museum to developing a community garden.
There are also many opportunities for the public to get involved in museum projects. Opportunities include: artifact analysis and inventory, work in various gardens and much more. By working with Chucalissa, a person is not viewed as just a volunteer or community member, but an essential part of museum staff. During these dog days of summer, be sure to stop by Chucalissa to learn about a part of Memphis history.
For information about volunteer opportunities, upcoming events and everyday life at the museum check out the museum’s website at www.memphis.edu/chucalissa or their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/chucalissa.The museum is located at 1987 Indian Village Drive in T.O. Fuller State Park. The phone number is 901-785-3160.