Crystal Shrine Grotto
After the excesses of Memphis tourism -- Graceland, the Pink Palace, Mud Island, the Peabody Ducks -- you need a soul-cleansing diversion like the Crystal Shrine Grotto. It sits on the urban fringe, hidden in the interior of Memorial Park Cemetery. Down a quiet tree-lined drive, a craggy rock spire pokes up from among an expanse of gravestones.
Crystal Shrine Grotto was built by artist Dionicio Rodriguez in the 1930s, and was completed around 1938. On the National Register of Historic Places, this handmade cave of Bible scenes is a cool escape from the summer sun.
You walk through a hole in a large concrete tree stump -- Abraham's Oak -- named for "the founder of the Hebrew Nation." A plaque says that " Rodriquez, a descendant of the artistic Aztec race of Mexico, has reproduced this historic stump entirely of concrete reinforced with steel and copper bar so as to ensure its existence for many centuries to come."
The grotto cavern is constructed of rock quartz crystal and semiprecious stones. It illustrates "Christ's Journey on the Earth from Birth to Resurrection." The scenes are a mix of strange abstractions and more scriptural religious dioramas.
Rodriguez was a self-taught sculptor from Texas (originally from Mexico City), hired by the Memorial Park's founder during the Depression. He specialized in creating cement sculptures simulating natural wood and stone. The concrete stump trash containers spread around the cemetery are also his work.
Rodriguez also created the fake wood, iron, and stone replica grist mill at Old Mill Park in North Little Rock, AR, immortalized in the opening scenes of Gone with the Wind.