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Published April 4, 2015

From The Depths Of Hell To The Devil’s Lair

They said one to another, Behold! Here cometh the dreamer… Let us slay him… and we shall see what comes of his dreams. – Genesis 37:19-20

On a visit several years ago to Memphis, TN, Jeanne and I had the opportunity to visit the U.S. Civil Rights Museum. The museum is located in the Loraine Motel building where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968.

Should you get a chance to go there, pay no attention to the tourist brochures which say the tour takes one and a half hours. Plan on at least three hours. What you see there will cause you, many times, to pause and reflect on what our nation and its people have gone through since the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

On April 4, 1968, James Earl Ray fired one shot from a rifle that killed Dr. King as he was standing on the second floor balcony of the Loraine Motel.

Ray had taken a room on the second floor of a boarding house located on a small hill across the street from the motel.

Entering the boarding house museum, I was immediately struck by the location of the entrance. The entrance is from street level behind the boarding house. To get inside, you enter from underground.

Once inside, there are many displays of photographs and an electronic ‘crawl’ that gives quotes from many important people about Dr. King’s life and his untimely death.

From there, you can climb the two flights of stairs to the second floor. At the top, you are blocked from going further. But, you get a brief look at what is up there.

After going back down, the elevator takes you up to the displays on the second floor.

RELATED: A Visit To The Vietnam Memorial: What’s In A Name?

The bedroom and bathroom of Ray’s room have been restored to the way they were on that day. There are FBI photos of the rooms posted so that you can see that they are ‘as they were’. The rooms are sealed behind Plexiglas walls.

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The bathroom from which he fired the fatal shot is quite small. Ray had to stand in the bathtub, which is directly below the small window, to do the dirty deed. The window sill is missing, having been taken by the FBI for evidence analysis. The window is still open a few inches, slightly askew, as it was the day it was discovered by the police. The bedroom area is restored as well, showing its Spartan, yard sale furnishings.

Though you cannot go into the bathroom to look out of the window, there is window next to it that you can look through. You realize what a clear view of that entire side of the motel he had that April afternoon. It is here that I paused and reflected on what he must have seen. And I wondered what was going through his mind as he looked through the scope of that rifle.

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In a very large room next to Ray’s quarters is a timeline display of the assassin’s movements before, during and after the shooting. Many items are displayed behind glass. Everything from FBI wanted posters to his aliases, alias passports, wallet and handgun are there to see.

At eye level, right in the middle of the display case, is the infamous rifle. Also on display are some bullets of the type he used that day. The rounds were ‘soft point’ ammunition. It is noted that this type of ammunition had been banned for use in combat by the Geneva Conventions. Yet, it was easily available, legally, in the United States.

Walking around the display to view the backside, I looked down at a curious object. It was a circular glass container about two inches in diameter and one inch deep. It was a petri dish. Inside of it was a padding of cotton. On the cotton was a very distorted, jagged, dark piece of metal. The tag beside it described it as the fatal bullet removed at the autopsy.

My knees nearly buckled. Tears came to my eyes. Something so small could take down something so great.

As I left the boarding house museum, I paused to look back at it once again. It was then that I realized that there was profound symbolism in how one enters that building and then exits onto Main Street.

Like James Earl Ray forty years ago, I had just retraced the steps of evil… from the depths of hell to the devil’s lair.

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  • Earl Barber

    Earl

  • Earl Barber is a blue collar working stiff who prefers playing his 12-string acoustic guitar for free to most any other endeavor. An occasional essayist, Earl has been posting on random internet sites, most notably the old WRAL-TV GOLO pages, with his essays for over ten years. All my articles.

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