Explorer Extraordinaire

Tour guide Jimmy Ogle enlightens, entertains, and enjoys every minute.



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“He lost a leg, not an arm!”

Ogle also ushers history fans on field trips to nearby counties, and nature lovers to the Old Forest Trail in Overton Park. And if he’s not on far-flung excursions or wandering down streets, he’s standing at podiums or sitting at head tables. Now and then, he admits, he’s a little uncomfortable. While giving a talk to the General Nathan Bedford Forrest chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, he told the audience, “I really don’t like being here. Y’all know more about this than I do. You’ll kill me!” The presentation went well, says Ogle, except for one detail. “J. Harvey Mathes was an editor of the newspaper then,” Ogle explains. “He’d gotten engaged before the Civil War, and in telling about him, I said he lost an arm in the war and was worried about coming home to his bride.” A member of the audience quickly set him straight, saying, “He lost a leg, not an arm!” The person who spoke up happened to be Mathes’ great-grandson, explains Ogle, “and I said, ‘Why don’t you finish the story?’” Laughing about the incident now, Ogle says he’d seen Mathes’ armless bust at Confederate Park prior to the luncheon and that image caused “my mouth to disconnect from my brain. But it also helped me find an interesting  source,” he adds, “Mathes’ relative.”

Sometimes Ogle receives calls from out-of-towners asking for customized tours, and one came from a couple who lived in Greenwich Village. “I could tell from the start it would have an Elvis bent to it,” says Ogle, “and that they were sincere in their interest.” In addition to showing them such sights as Lauderdale Courts and Humes High School (where the King lived and attended school), “I took them to see certain photos I had collected over the years, and to visit George Klein in his Graceland Sirius studio.” Of particular interest to the wife was Plastic Products Record Plant, at 1746 Chelsea, which mastered many of the early Sun, Stax, and other record labels. She was so impressed by this gem, says Ogle, that she donated $2,000 for a commemorative plaque, which will be dedicated on August 17th at 9 a.m. 

photograph courtesy Jimmy Ogle

“You’re ham enough. You’re in.”

With a website that claims his motto is “have mouth will travel,” Ogle says that mouth got him in trouble as a boy. As a kid in church he’d sit and chatter on the back row, and it never failed that when the family got home from church the phone would ring with “some busybody in the choir loft” reporting his behavior. He’d hear his mother say, “Jimmy talking again?” Then: “Jimmy, go to your room!” 

But his gift of gab, not to mention his love of history and dedication to research, has not only shaped his reputation as a solid tour guide; it also landed him an acting job with historic Elmwood Cemetery Costume Players. “They were there at Court Square one year with their Costume Twilight Tour. I went to the director and said, ‘I’d like to be in that tour,’ and he said, ‘You’re ham enough. You’re in,’” recalls Ogle, who got the role of a railroad engineer. 

During rare moments away from his “hobby” or his real job with the RDC, Ogle works in time to see his family — his mother, two brothers, and one sister,  who all live in the area and who show up for some events in T-shirts bearing the slogan “Team Ogle.” He recently made a trip to Knoxville to see his grandchildren, Macie Lynn, age 4, who calls him Pops O, and James Ogle III, born June 29th. And he finds time to serve as scoreboard operator for the U of M’s men’s basketball, and on the stat crew for the school’s football team, while also serving as an instructor at Rhodes College’s Meeman Center for Lifelong Learning. 

He’s garnered a few awards along the way, including serving as Honorary Duckmaster for a day at The Peabody, receiving the Harcangel Award from the Highland Area Renewal Corporation for the many tours and lectures he’s given in that area, and being named 2011 Volunteer of the Year by the Memphis Charitable Foundation and The Blues Ball.

Not bad for a guy who makes a living and pursues a pastime doing exactly what he wants to do. “I’ve always been good on my feet,” says Ogle. “And I love learning new things.” Sharing what he’s learned with others has become more than just a hobby. Says Ogle: “It keeps me going.” 

 

For tour information, visit JimmyOgle.com or greatamericansteamboatcompany.com.

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