Homegrown

September 28, 1952

No one could have known at the time, but this was the first of many ribbon cuttings. Kemmons Wilson opened his first hotel, located at 4941 Summer Ave., using his five children in the photo opp, then went on to create the world’s largest hotel chain, Holiday Inn, headquartered in his hometown. Though the photo became iconic as Holiday Inn exploded and became part of Memphis lore, it initially ran on page A7 of the newspaper.

Looking back: The tallest of the Wilson children, Spence, then 10, vividly remembers the moment that launched his father to fame and fortune.

"The five of us really didn’t understand what was taking place," said Spence Wilson, now 73. "We were a bit antsy, ready to go inside and get out of the heat. When Mayor Watkins Overton didn't show for the ribbon cutting, Mom quickly suggested that we kids do the honors — we were dressed for the occasion. When the shutter closed, only Betty was looking at the camera. In that brief moment, we unknowingly became a part of history."

The five youngsters of Mr. and Mrs. Kemmons Wilson, (from left) Spence, 10, Robert, 8, Kemmons Jr, 6, Betty, 4, and Carol, 3, shared honors in cutting a ribbon at open house ceremonies at Holiday Inn, Memphis' newest hotel-courts at 4941 Summer on September 28, 1952. The motel is the largest in the South and was built and operated by Mr. Wilson. (The Commercial Appeal)

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