Prized MLK artifacts remain a hot commodity

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THE OWNER OF the actual hearse used to transport Martin Luther King Jr.’s body in Memphis is willing to sell it for posterity to preserve is role in MLK’s history, but wants it to remain available to the public

Many people like the idea of owning a piece of history. On occasion they get the opportunity.

It could be a letter written by Theodore Roosevelt. It could be a check signed by Shoeless Joe Jackson. It could be packaged space food that an Apollo astronaut took to the moon and back.

In short, museums aren’t the only ones that gather the artifacts and documents that help tell our nation’s story. Items of cultural or historical interest often end up in private hands, tucked away in storage or in someone’s personal library.

But that raises a question: Do some artifacts hold such significance that they should be available for everyone to see rather than closeted away from public view?

“Sometimes an item does emerge that seems like it’s much too important a piece of history for it to end up in a private collection,” says Gary Zimet, whose memorabilia business Moments in Time specializes in rare letters, manuscripts and other historic artifacts.

Zimet encountered one such item recently, the 1966 Cadillac Superior Coach hearse that 50 years ago was used for Martin Luther King Jr.’s first funeral service in Memphis. After the service, the hearse carried King’s body to the Memphis airport to be flown back to Atlanta and laid to rest.

The hearse’s owner, who prefers to remain anonymous, wants to sell it, but not just to anyone, Zimet says.

“He discussed with me the idea of selling the vehicle to a corporation or philanthropist who would be willing to donate it rather than keep it hidden away privately,” he says.

The asking price: $2.5 million.

The goal is for the hearse to end up in a museum, preferably the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, or the National African-American Museum at the Smithsonian.

A website, www.PreservingTheDream.com, has been established where people can learn more about the hearse and the role it played in the nation’s history.

King died at the hands of an assassin in Memphis in 1968, and this year marked the 50th anniversary of his death. On the day he died, the hearse transported King’s body from St. Joseph Hospital to the R.S. Lewis and Sons Funeral Home.

The hearse had been in storage for about 40 years before it was obtained from the original owner, Memphis Cadillac Superior Coach dealer Zane Smith. Five years ago it was restored to its original condition.

 

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