Just heard from David Alan Clark, the sculptor who designed and built the Tom Lee sculpture in Tom Lee Park.
Since 2006, the image of Lee leaning from a boat and rescuing someone from the river has become a river icon. The sculpture is now an icon on a river rising to historic levels unseen since 1927 and 1937.
Lee’s rescue of 32 people whose riverboat capsized south of Memphis was in May 1925, two years before the first of the two great floods.
“I’m worried about him now that Memphis in May has deserted him,” Clark writes. “And I don’t think his boat is seaworthy.”
The first weekend of Memphis in May came a bit early this year as it does from time to time. Usually the first weekend hits pretty close to the May 8 anniversary of Lee’s heroic achievement.
In designing and building the striking monument near the river’s edge, Clark included a surface meant to reflect the patterns of moving river water. And the concrete circle on which the monument stands has a circle of 32 lights, one for every person Lee pulled out of the river and to safety.
By the weekend, those lights could reflect the waver of real river water and the effect of river water won’t be symbolic.
Today, the river found its way onto Riverside Drive at Beale Street, an intersection with a lot of history and symbolic value.
It brings to mind a story I heard several times over the years directly from the two key players in the story – Rufus Thomas and Dwight “Gatemouth” Moore.
It goes back to the very late 1940s or early 1950s when both were at WDIA.
Moore, who later went on to become a bishop in the Church of God In Christ, hosted a Sunday morning program on the radio station. And one Sunday he announced that the following Sunday he would walk on water. And anyone who wanted to see him do it could be at Riverside and Beale at a certain time.
Moore’s plans kicked up quite a storm of controversy and not coincidentally quite a bit of interest and on that Sunday, quite a crowd at the intersection.
Moore took a step from dry land onto the muddy waters and did not sink. He took another step with the same result. On the third step he went in.
The plan never was for him to go very far, just a few steps onto some strategically placed boards Thomas was to place just below the water’s muddy surface before the crowd assembled. The third step wasn’t where the board was