Take any kind of mildly extensive walk Downtown and you’ll notice that Memphis has a lot of alleyways. More than that, most of them are quite a bit strange, either in name or in history… or in both. Over the years, some have disappeared from our streets due to construction. One that remains was given the classy name of Park Alley in 1942… perhaps in order to clean up some it’s more traditional dark alley type history.
The iron arch hanging over Park Alley appeared as an item on a Memphis-themed scavenger hunt I was sent on one time. The “KLYX Stereo Alley” sign is one of the only steps taken in the 1964 effort to beautify the alleyways of Downtown Memphis. You might be asking, “why KLYX?” Well, that would be because this alleyway had speakers attached to either side that played the live radio broadcasts from none other than KLYX (a radio station no longer in existence as far as I can tell).
Park Alley continues on into a stretch of alleyway once known as Whiskey Chute Alley. Several people were shot there after a night of drinking in the saloons. The most famous case related to Whiskey Chute is that of Jasper Newton Smith. You can find a statue of him in Elmwood Cemetary, although he isn’t buried there. He was last seen in this alley before his disappearance in May of 1899. Smith came to Memphis a poor man who then married the widow he worked for, eventually inheriting from her when she died. By the time of his disappearance, he owned a lot of property and was worth about $200,000, which would be about $5.5 million today. Rumors abound as to what happened to him… the case is unlikely to ever be solved.
On a brighter note, the ladies of Calvary Episcopal Church began their well-loved Calvary Waffle Shop in 1928 on the corner of Park (aka Whiskey Chute) Alley. The church, located at Second and Adams, began way back in 1832 when Memphis was just a little town.
The church’s Lenten lunch tradition began as a way for the women to raise funds for their mission projects and such. They hauled in buckets of water, cooked over a coal stove, and carefully maintained safe food practices in a building with no running water or refrigeration (ice boxes were the next best thing at this point in time). They brought in their own waffle irons to cook up this signature breakfast item that is still served today.
The first year saw significant profit – $2,000 in fact. Eighty years later, the Waffle Shop now serves a full menu that includes their famous waffles and sausage with a special chicken hash sauce, as well as spaghetti and other new additions, in the basement of Calvary Episcopal Church. Before you jump in your car and head over, though, you need to know that the Waffle Shop is only open during Lent.
Sources & Further Reading:
Alleys of Downtown Memphis by Devin Greaney
Jasper Newtwon Smith from the Elwood Cemetery Blog
What a Way to Go from the Memphis Flyer
Calvary Still Cookin’ for Lent After 80 Years from the Commercial Appeal
Calvary Waffle Shop in Memphis from Southern Belly
Calvary Episcopal’s Iconic Waffle Shop Celebrates 90th Year from the Commercial Appeal