Tom Lee Park

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Tom Lee Park
Tom Lee Memorial.jpg
Tom Lee Memorial in Tom Lee Park. (2008)
Tom Lee Park
Location Memphis, Tennessee
Coordinates 35°08′11″N90°03′46″W / 35.1365°N 90.06267°W / 35.1365; -90.06267
Area30 acres (12 ha)
Operated byCity of Memphis
StatusOpen all year from dawn to 10 pm
Public transit access BSicon TRAM1.svg   Riverfront Loop  

Tom Lee Park is a city park located to the immediate west of downtown Memphis, Tennessee, overlooking the Mississippi River. Encompassing about 30 acres (12 ha) parallel to the Mississippi River for about one mile (1.6 km), it offers panoramic views of the Mississippi River and the shores of Arkansas on the opposite side. The park is named after Tom Lee, an African-American riverworker, who saved the lives of 32 passengers of the sinking steamboat M.E. Norman in 1925. [1]


Tom Lee Park is a popular location for walkers, joggers, roller bladers and cyclists, and hosts one event per year, the Beale Street Music Festival that kicks off Memphis in May.


Tom Lee Park is approximately one mile (1.6 km) long, but not more than 400 ft (120 m) wide at any point. It encompasses about 30 acres (12 ha), running south from Beale Street, bounded by the Mississippi River to the west, and Riverside Blvd to the east, offering panoramic views of the Mississippi River.

Luxury homes and condominiums line the top of the bluff overlooking the park and the river.

Sinking of M.E. Norman

Tom Lee (ca. 1925) Tom Lee ca 1925.jpg
Tom Lee (ca. 1925)

The park is named after area resident Tom Lee (1885–1952).

Late during the afternoon of May 8, 1925, Lee steered his 28 ft (8.5 m) skiff Zev upriver after delivering an official to Helena, Arkansas.

Also on the river was the steamboat M.E. Norman, carrying members of the Engineers Club of Memphis, the American Society of Civil Engineers, and their families. [1] [ dead link ]

One man rescues 32 lives

Tom Lee witnessed M.E. Norman capsize in the swift current 15 mi (24 km) downriver from Memphis at Cow Island Bend. Although he could not swim, he rescued 32 people with five trips to shore. Lee acted quickly, calmly and with no regard for his own safety, continuing to search after night fell. Because of his efforts, only 23 people died.

Posthumous honors

Tom Lee with President Calvin Coolidge in 1925. President Coolidge and Thomas Lee, Mississippi River hero, full-length portrait, standing, shaking hands LCCN94509204.jpg
Tom Lee with President Calvin Coolidge in 1925.

To honor the hero, the Memphis Engineers Club raised enough money to purchase a house for Lee and his wife.

Tom Lee died of cancer on April 1, 1952 at John Gaston Hospital. Two years after his death, the park along the Memphis Riverfront was named in his honor and a granite obelisk was erected. The obelisk was destroyed once in 2003 in the aftermath of Hurricane Elvis [2] and again during strong storms in May 2017. [3]

In October 2006, a bronze sculpture by artist David Alan Clark [4] was erected in the park to commemorate the event and to honor the civil hero. The sculpture depicts the rescue of a survivor saved from drowning in the Mississippi River. [5]

Events held in Tom Lee Park

Memphis skyline seen from Tom Lee Park (2006) Memphis skyline pyramid.jpg
Memphis skyline seen from Tom Lee Park (2006)

Among several events held throughout the year, the park is well known throughout the city and region as the site of different outdoor events.


The annual Memphis in May celebration is a high-profile event in the park.

The Beale Street Music Festival is a three-day event during the Memphis in May celebration, hosting over 60 musical acts each year on four stages, in diverse genres such as blues, hip-hop, and metal.

The Sunset Symphony concert, since discontinued, the largest annual performance event of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, was a highlight in the park during Memorial Day weekend, marking the end of the Memphis in May celebration. It has been replaced with a "Celebrate Memphis" event marking the end of the monthlong affair.

Barbecue Cooking Contest

The World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, held the third weekend of May, is the world's largest pork barbecue cooking competition, attracting hundreds of competitors to Tom Lee Park from around the world.

See also

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  1. 1 2 Pogue, Jim (July 1998). "Artifacts from Corps tragedy discovered". Engineer Update. United States Army Corps of Engineers. Archived from the original on August 23, 2007.
  2. "Hurricane Elvis: A look back at an unforgettable storm » The Commercial Appeal". Archived from the original on 2017-06-01. Retrieved 2017-06-03.
  3. "Tom Lee Park obelisk topples during storm, will take months and tens of thousands of dollars to replace". The Commercial Appeal. Retrieved 2017-06-03.
  5. Pogue, Jim (November 2006). "Bronze sculpture honors Memphis hero". Engineer Update. United States Army Corps of Engineers. Archived from the original on 2007-08-24.