How did you come up with the term ghost pit? I’ve never heard it before.
I’m also interested in drag racing, and there is a term in drag racing called ghost tracks that refers to old facilities that were once used for racing. I’d been doing some research on ghost tracks and was also collecting some barbecue stuff. I started noticing businesses like liquor stores with old barbecue pits, so I photographed a couple of them.
Besides driving around, how do you find ghost pits?
In 1984, The Commercial Appeal published a big map showing where the city’s 84 barbecue restaurants were located. I had kept that and used it as a starting part. I also look at old phone books.
What’s the most unusual new use you’ve seen for a building with a ghost pit?
A lot of them wind up as restaurants or daycares, but I did find one that was a mortuary.
Wow. What did they do with their pit?
I know, right? That one always provokes all kinds of bad jokes.
Tell me about the pit at Tops on Rhodes. Don’t you think this is the oldest continuously operating pit in Memphis?
Yes, I do. I knew Tops started in 1952, so I looked at a phone book listing from then and all the restaurants listed are gone except for Tops. Out of the four Tops listed in the book, only the Rhodes location is left.
What are you working on now?
I am trying to finish a post about what is the oldest ghost pit in the city. I’ve about got it. I think it’s a club on North Thomas, at 645 Marble. A city directory from the 1930s lists a restaurant at that location. When the pit was added I can’t say, but it’s still there today on the west side of the building.