Fall 2023

We need your help! Below are images from our digital archive that are missing important details. See if you can help us fill in some of the gaps.  

DIG MEMPHIS MYSTERIES is a multi-week series of mysteries, all centered around a common theme. If you suggest an answer, please share with us how you solved the mystery. Include your name, and we’ll give you credit on the record in the DIG archives.  To keep up to date with all DIG MEMPHIS MYSTERIES, follow us on Instagram at @digmemphishistory

DIG MEMPHIS MYSTERIES is back for an autumn season of mysteries!

Over the years, the Memphis and Shelby County Room has received numerous photographs, often donated to the library without details such as dates, locations, or the identities of individuals appearing the photograph. Because these donations are usually small and not part of a larger collection, they’ve typically not been one of our higher priorities for digitization. This year, that changes!

We’ve recenting starting digging into these smaller donations and scanning items that otherwise would be inaccessible. As the digitization efforts get underway, we’ve uncovered a plethora of interesting material – images of buildings, people, and topics not currently represented in DIG Memphis! We’re using this Fall Season of Mysteries to highlight some of this new material and ask for your help in making the archive better. Scroll below to see some of our new DIG MEMPHIS MYSTERIES!


This week is our final mystery in the Fall series focusing on newly digitized materials. The photos come from a collection that was used in the 1987 WHBQ-TV Black History Month public service announcements. The library made copies of these black and white photos of distinguished Black Memphians, filling 6 folders that had been waiting to be digitized.

Today’s #MysteryMonday post focuses on a gentleman who is featured in a number of these photos. The unidentified man seems to have taken an important trip, serving as an ambassador of some kind. In the photos he poses with his hosts, receives as lei, and accepts gifts, including a model boat with the label “Bon Voyage.”

Do you recognize this man? Can you help us fill in the context surrounding his trip?

If you can provide any details on information about these images, please let us know in the comments box!

After this week, we’ll be taking a pause to investigate the submissions we’ve received for our Fall mysteries. Stay tuned for an update on which mysteries have been solved and be sure to follow us on Instagram for updates!


Are you ready for some football? Football themed mysteries, that is. This week’s newly digitized photos were gifted together by Gordon Fox and are all part of the M Files mini collection: Sports in Memphis. Can you help us identify these athletes, their teams, or their sport?

Mystery One

“Football Team” The M Files, Sports in Memphis, BCC1618

This photo of an early football team comes with plenty of clues! The back of the photo includes a list of names: Row Bottom. L to R: Bill Turner, Lee Ford, Bill Aden, Harvey Luckelt(?). 2nd Row: Rex Latting, Burt Munson, (?) Fox, Bob Scrivener(?), Aex Yebron (?)-Standing. Back Row: Emery Shaplow, Bill Fowler [City Engineer], Lee McCourk [Fescher L. Cement Co.], Allen Sperry. Do you know what team these upside-down triangle and striped uniforms represent? Any idea what year this is?

Mystery Two

“Early Football Team” The M Files, Sports in Memphis, BCC1621

Looking closely at the center of this image, we can tell this is another football team. Some of their uniforms match the upside-down triangles from photo 1. Do they play for the same team? The same school? Do you recognize any of the players? Can you tell us the year?

Mystery Three

“Sports Team” The M Files, Sports in Memphis, BCC1620

This photo holds a few mysteries. Our only clues can be found on their uniform logo which features the letter “M” in an upside-down triangle, inside a circle. Do you recognize those uniforms? What team do they play for? What sport do they play? Are any of those faces familiar to you?

Mystery Four

“People on Horseback” The M Files, Sports in Memphis, BCC1619

This image comes with fewer clues as there are no names or uniforms to help us identify these equestrians. Do you recognize any of their faces?


Today’s #MysteryMonday photos continue our Fall series highlighting newly digitized materials – this time with a focus on streetscapes! We have two photos that were donated separately and with little information attached to them. Take a close look at each of them and use the clues you see to help us uncover more information about these Memphis locations. We’ll be adding more “streetscapes” mysteries to our Memphis Streetscapes Collection. You can find a link to all “Unmapped Images” on the collection’s homepage!

Mystery One

“Old Dueling Grounds”. Digital ID BCC1630

Included with this photo is a note that reads, “old dueling grounds, state line.” Perhaps this location is somewhere along State Line Road? Does this landscape look familiar to you? Do you know any historic Memphis dueling lore that could help us place this?


This mystery was solved through an anonymous tip on our website that suggested the road in the photo was near Dueling Oaks, an oak grove on the property of William Joyner, outside his mansion. Our anonymous tipper explained that duels were illegal in Tennessee so “participants traveled just across the state line to have a legal duel.” Another response from our website backed them up: “I expect the road is current day Highway 51. The dueling grounds were just across the Mississippi line from what is today Whitehaven.”

We confirmed that this is the location with a 1974 article from the Commercial Appeal. The article retells the story of the last duel fought at Dueling Oaks between accountant Edward Freeman and lawyer Edward Hamlin, the final Memphis dueling victim. The article pulls from an 1870 account of the duel which describes an old field on Joyner’s land which is now where Highway 51 crosses the Mississippi line—proving our tippers right!

Mystery Two

“Memphians and an Early Automobile]” Memphis Streetscapes Collection. Digital ID BCC1654.

This photo of an unidentified group people and a Model T on a Memphis street was included with a few other photos, including pictures of passengers aboard the old James Lee Riverboat. Those photos were from the late 1910s, and perhaps this image is from around the same time period. Do you recognize any of these faces? What about the street behind them? Where was this car parked? And can you help us determine when the photo was taken?


Today’s #MysteryMonday photos came from a folder of historic photographs of Memphis Buildings taken by Poland Photographers. While the folder included easily recognizable images like the Peabody Hotel, there were a number of buildings that were difficult to identify. This week’s mystery focuses on three unidentified buildings. Included below are the details of what we know about each image and what we need your help to uncover!

Mystery One

“University of Tennessee, Institute of Pathology”. Digital ID BCC1577

In this first image, the sign on the building reads, “University of Tennessee, Institute of Pathology.” We’re not sure where this building was. Do you recognize the street? What direction would the photographer be facing?


We received a few clues on this mystery  in the comments of our Instagram post. This building was the University of Tennessee Institute of Pathology, and we were not sure where it was located. Instagram user @paranan11 suggested the building was at 858 Madison and that the building was still there. They were backed up by @girleight who added that the photo was taken from 869 Madison.

After poking around Google Maps, we confirmed that both of these users were right! Looking from 869 Madison, attempting to get the slightly angled perspective of the original photo, reveals that while the building is no longer the Institute of Pathology, 858 Madison seems to maintain some of the original building from our photo. Additionally, it is still used by the University of Tennessee. Though it is now the Molecular Process Building. 

Mystery Two

“Photo of automobiles and buildings” Memphis Streetscapes Collection. Digital ID BCC1579

This image is a little trickier. We’re not sure what street it is on nor what building is photographed. Does anything in this image look familiar to you?


This mystery was solved by a suggestion from @aggietoo on our Instagram page. She posted that perhaps the building was the old Le Bonheur Hospital, and in fact, it is! Searching the Commercial Appeal archives led to an article from 1952 covering the opening of the new hospital, and including an image of the hospital from this same angle.

Searching DIG Memphis for “Le Bonheur” brings up additional photographs of the original building, all looking quite similar to the photograph here. That would place our photographer near the coordinates: 35.143773, -90.033088.

Mystery Three

“Photo of Unidentified Building” Memphis Streetscapes Collection. Digital ID BCC1580

While we don’t know the name of the downtown building in this final image, we do know that it housed American Savings Bank & Trust Company and Merry Optical Co.  Can you use the clues in the image to help identify the street or building? Where would the photographer have been standing to take the photo?


This was solved on Instagram thanks to the sharp eye of @great_white_schark and backed up by @paranan11 and @girleight. They identified the location of the building as the northeast corner of Madison Ave and Second Street by perusing the vintage postcards on historicmemphis.com and discovering that the building was “the Germania Bank Building, which replaced the Masonic Temple, and then was replaced by the Blake Building.”

We further confirmed the location using Commercial Appeal’s archives and found a 1931 advertisement for a Manhattan Savings Bank & Trust at Second and Madison, which tracks with the visible sign on our original image that reads American Savings Bank & Trust (though there seems to be a slight name change). The illustration in the ad looks similar to the building as well. Further, the newspaper ran a history of this particular corner in a 1982 article in the Business Section of the paper.

Unfortunately, that gorgeous mysterious building is no more, replaced with a modern brown structure. Which you can see in the Google Street View Image.

Explore more mysteries:


Here are some resources that can help with your search.

City Directories 1849-1943 – Shelby County Registrar (link)

Commercial Appeal Archives 1894-Today – ProQuest (link)

Historic Shelby County – Aerial Maps (link)

Maps of Memphis (link)

Vehicle Registration Plates of TN – Wikipedia (link)