321 feet high, the Pyramid of Memphis dominates the skyline of its earthquake-conscious city.
321 feet high, the Pyramid of Memphis dominates the skyline of its earthquake-conscious city.

Pyramid of Memphis

Field review by the editors.

Memphis, Tennessee

It took a providential fish to lift a pyramid's curse.

Fake cypress tree is dwarfed by America's Tallest Free-Standing Elevator.
Fake cypress tree is dwarfed by America's Tallest Free-Standing Elevator.

The story, told by a recorded voice in the Pyramid of Memphis elevator, is this: in 2005 the Pyramid was a joke. It was abandoned, empty, and dark, a victim of years of bad luck, poor management, and possibly hoodoo. Johnny Morris, billionaire owner of Bass Pro Shops, was thinking about buying the unloved Pyramid and turning it into an eye-popping shoppertainment destination -- but he wasn't sure.

So Johnny went fishing in the Pyramid's shadow on the Mississippi River. He said that if he caught a fish that weighed over 30 pounds, he'd view that as a sign of bounty and buy the Pyramid. He caught a 34-pounder. He and his buddies kissed the fish, released it, and the Pyramid had a new owner.

Ten years later, on May 8, 2015, the revitalized Pyramid opened to the public. At 321 feet high, it's still the second largest pyramid in America (Barely topped by the Luxor Pyramid in Las Vegas). The glass and steel exterior is opaque, so once inside you can't see out. That's okay; there's plenty to keep you distracted.

You can, of course, buy things in the Pyramid, including Johnny-Morris-brand fishing poles; pink guns and camo bikinis for ladies; and fudge. But there's more -- and that's where the Pyramid gets dismissed by some in Memphis as "Redneck Disneyland." The Pyramid has live-fire pistol and archery ranges, a 4-D duck hunting simulator, an indoor fishing boat marina, a sideshow-style shooting gallery for kids, and a 13-lane bowling alley with ball returns shaped like toothy aquatic carnivores.

Bow hunting for fish in the Pyramid's indoor swamp.
Bow hunting for fish in the Pyramid's indoor swamp.

Notorious in its early years for Nile-like indoor plumbing floods, the Pyramid now has a water-filled "cypress swamp" that winds between its retail displays, complete with fake moss-draped trees, thousands of real fish, and dozens of live alligators (Gator Feeding Show every Saturday at 2 p.m.).

In the Pyramid bowling alley, a shark ball return discourages groping hands.
In the Pyramid bowling alley, a shark ball return discourages groping hands.

Jeff Warren, the Pyramid's assistant general manager, told us that the Pyramid has "the happiest fish in the world," and that Memphis has upgraded the building to withstand a major earthquake (The New Madrid Fault is nearby). He also said that its vast, open, interior -- 535,000 square feet -- has its own climate. "We have to have a special air balancing system in here to maintain the pressure," he said, "so when you enter you're not literally sucked in the doors."

You'd be dead as a mummy if you visited the Pyramid and weren't tempted to ride its color-shifting "tallest freestanding elevator in North America." It takes you 283 feet up to a cantilevered, glass-floored observation platform hanging off the Pyramid's summit, supposedly inspired by the Grand Canyon Skywalk. It's on this ride that you'll hear the Pyramid fish story as told by Bill Dance, who was one of Johnny Morris's buddies the day he caught the fateful fish. Bill has his own tribute display in the Pyramid. So does the fish; a life-size mounted replica that hangs next to the elevator doors.

Gazing across the Mississippi River.
Gazing across the Mississippi River. "That must be... Arkansas!"

Perhaps the oddest feature of the Pyramid is its self-described "wilderness hotel," with 103 rooms spread up and across the Pyramid's sloping inner walls. With screened-in porches and rocking chairs, the rooms resemble treetop hunters' cabins, and give their occupants commanding views of -- the inside of the store. "Only a couple of rooms have an exterior view, and it's not a great view," said Jeff. "The view that's cherished and prized," he said, is the one that looks out over the wilds of the Pyramid's shopping jungle.

Also see: Origins of a Cursed Pyramid | Video 1991: Behold the Pyramid

Pyramid of Memphis

Bass Pro Shops

Address:
1 Bass Pro Drive, Memphis, TN
Directions:
Downtown, along the river. I-40 exit 1 onto Riverside Drive S., then turn right at the first stoplight onto Bass Pro Drive and follow it to the Pyramid.
Hours:
M-Sa 8 am - 10 pm, Su 8-7 (Call to verify)
Phone:
901-291-8200
Admission:
Free, but $10 to ride elevator to the top.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Mud IslandMud Island, Memphis, TN - < 1 mi.
Fire Museum Of MemphisFire Museum Of Memphis, Memphis, TN - < 1 mi.
Lopsided Pink DogLopsided Pink Dog, Memphis, TN - < 1 mi.
In the region:
Statue of Elvis, Memphis, TN - 1 mi.

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