Hugh "Hu" Brinkley
... Memphis Philanthropist and The Lyceum Theatre



Hugh Lawson White Brinkley preferred to be called "Hu".  With either name, it's doubtful that many Memphians today know who he is or anything about him.  Hu was born in 1842 in the Nashville home of his grandfather, John Overton, one of the original founders of Memphis.   His parents named him after Hugh Lawson White, a great-uncle who was a senator and one-time presidential candidate.  With this background he had social connections throughout the South and the wealth to support them. 

He achieved his first recognition by completing the job of linking the railroad between Memphis and Little Rock.  After that success he completed the beltline to connect all of the railroads coming into Memphis.


The accomplishment of the railroad hub gave Hu the funds to build the Lyceum Theatre, which was a great source of pride for Memphis in the late 1800s.  He then served in the state legislature, as well as a Memphis fire and police commissioner and Vice Mayor.  Afterwards he led the Greater Memphis campaign that resulted in the 1899 annexation of most of Memphis's eastern suburbs, which made the city 4 times larger.


Click on small photos to see an enlargement

In 1889 Hu married Lucy Mosby.  She died within a year and he never remarried.  After her death he seemed driven to promote causes that helped women's lives in Memphis.  He built the Lucy Brinkley Hospital for Women and dedicated it to her.  Today's Methodist University Hospital still has the Lucy Brinkley Pavilion.  He paid off the mortgage on the Young Women's Christian Association building and left them an additional $40,000 in his will to build the Anne Brinkley Home for working women, dedicated to his mother.  Throughout his life, he continued to be totally unpretentious and to work out of his father's old downtown office and to live with a sister in her home.  Hu Brinkley died in 1904 as the result of an operation for appendicitis.

Link Memphis-Little Rock

Lucy Brinkley Hospital 1926

George Vincent Hotel 1955

Lucy Brinkley Ad

 Anne Brinkley House

The Lucy Brinkley Hospital was a little 75 room non-sectarian hospital, for white women only.  It had a surgeon, 2 assistants, and a corps of nurses.  It also had an excellent reputation.   In 1907 they built their new building at 855 Union, in the Medical Center area.  In the late 30s, that building was converted into the Blackstone Hotel.  In 1948, it became the George Vincent Hotel.  In 1956 the building was purchased by the University of Tennessee  and converted into dormitories for medical students.  In 1975, it was demolished and the Dunn Dental Building now occupies the site.

1899 Annex



1904 Obit

Hu's Grave - Elmwood

Lucy's Grave - Elmwood


Lyceum Theatre ... 2nd and Jefferson

The very grand Lyceum Theatre was built by H. L. Brinkley in 1894 at 2nd and Jefferson. By all accounts, the interior was lavishly decorated in a Spanish motif, with imperial green, rich yellow, and gold. It was the first Memphis playhouse to have electric lights. The first performance in 1894 was 'The Count de Grammot', which opened to a packed house. The Lyceum became the place to go, and night after night it was filled with the elite of the city who sat in the box seats which were known as The Golden Horseshoe.


Lyceum 1911

Lyceum 1916

Lyceum 1935

Lyceum Stage and Pit


In a very short period, the Lyceum was considered the finest theater in the South. The Hopkins Stock Company was the resident company. All famous actors of the day appeared here: Maud Adams, Lillie Langtry, Anna Held, George M. Cohan, etc. But in time, new theaters opened downtown and the Lyceum began to decline. To survive, it switched to vaudeville in 1919, and then to motion pictures, and was the first Memphis Theatre to show movies on a regular basis.  Finally, it shifted to boxing and burlesque.  Ultimately it lost the battle to the downtown theatres and closed in 1935. 


1910 Program 1924 Lyceum Bill Lyceum Bill 1898 Stock Players 1908 Paderewski

1918 Ad


The Lyceum is listed in the Memphis Directories from 1899 up to 1935. In 1919-1920, the name changed briefly to Loew's Lyceum.  Loew's had leased the theatre to show their films while the Loew's State and Palace were being built downtown.   The Lyceum was demolished shortly after closing in 1935. Today the site of the Lyceum is occupied by Regions Bank Building.


1909 Peabody card-Lyceum Ad

1897 CBC

1916 Birth-Nation

YWCA 1910s

Methodist University Hospital

"One thing leads to another..."

Hu Brinkley and Swami Vivekananda ...  Swami Vivekananda was an Indian Hindu Monk and the key figure in the introduction of the Indian philosophies of Vedanta and Yoga to the Western World in the late 19th century.  He is credited with raising interfaith awareness and bringing Hinduism to the status of a major religion.  He came to America in 1893 for an important speech in Chicago and stayed through 1895 for speaking tours of the country.  His American tour included 10 days in Memphis, where he stayed at the Ginny Moon boarding house on 3rd Street.  His Memphis host was Hu L. Brinkley, who lived at the same boarding house.  During this visit, he made several speeches where his universal message was one of tolerance and respect.  His fans came from everywhere and he attracted a huge following similar to a modern Pop Star. 

Swami in Memphis Swami in America Memphis Comments... Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda

The Auditorium Theatre

In Memphis, Swami Vivekananda gave several speeches  at the Auditorium Theatre.  The old Auditorium was located about where the Chisca Hotel is now located.  The theatre's name was changed to the better known Bijou Theatre in 1903.  It was a very large and major Memphis theatre, which burned in 1911.  It was not rebuilt. 
(Read more about this historic theatre on the Theatre Page of this website).

Auditorium - Bijou Theatre


The Confederate Spy and her Memphis Boarding House

Virginia "Ginny" Moon and her sister Lottie were Confederate spies during the Civil War.  They traveled back and forth between the north and south carrying badly needed drugs under their large hoop skirts.  Ginny was caught several times, but always managed to charm her way out of it.  She was finally imprisoned in New Orleans shortly before the war ended. 

Ginny Moon

1894 Directory


After the war, Ginny opened a boarding house - for men only, where she continued to live her eccentric lifestyle.  She stressed  liberal views, hated Victorianism and was a stern supporter of women's rights.  She heroically stayed in the city during the 1875 yellow fever epidemic and become a heroine for helping the sick and the suffering.  When her black housekeeper died, she raised the lady's  son as her own, along with other orphans that she had supported.   Young men adored Ginny and her boarding house was the favorite meeting place for young intellectuals in Memphis.  


Ginny's Boarding House


 In spite of advancing age, Ginny was still a strikingly handsome woman, who always dressed in black silk with bonnet and parasol,  and chain smoked cigarettes - all of which made her somewhat of an eccentric paradox.  Always restless, in the 1920's, she ended up in Hollywood where, at the age of 75, she had bit parts in two movies, "The Spanish Dancer" and "Robin Hood".  From there she headed east to New York and lived in the Bohemian section of Greenwich Village.  In September of 1925, at the age of 81, Ginny was found dead on the floor of her basement artist's flat.  She was cremated and her ashes returned to Memphis for burial at Elmwood Cemetery.    There is a historical marker for Ginny Moon in CONFEDERATE PARK, but that park is being renamed in 2013 and the marker will probably be removed or will "disappear".

NOTE:  Before it was Ginny's Boarding House, this historic building at 178 Third was the La Salette Academy from 1867 to 1893.  After Ginny's Boarding House, it was the 19th Century Club from 1901 to 1926.  No details after that date.





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