Billy Sunday Comes to Town

February 22, 2013 § 2 Comments

Billy Sunday in Action

Billy Sunday in Action

One hundred four years ago this week, Billy Sunday began conquering Springfield.  The dynamic but controversial professional baseball player turned evangelist embarked on a six and a half week Springfield revival on February 28, 1909. Through services attended by masses, cottage prayer meetings, and unprecedented support from local clergy, over 4,000 individuals responded to Sunday’s alter calls.  He appealed to all levels of society.  Springfield’s working class flocked to his services, and Sunday spoke to the state legislature, the Illini Country club, Springfield High School, the Women’s Club, and the noon businessmen’s organization.  He was invited to lunch at the Governor’s Mansion and the Lawrence House.  The March 30, 1909, Illinois State Journal reported that Susan entertained Billy Sunday, his wife Helen, and his entire team at a luncheon in her home. The party included two soloists, a pianist, a song leader, a personal worker, two women Bible workers, two men Bible lecturers, and an architect.

The architect was A. P. Gill who had arrived in Springfield in late January to organize the local churches and to build the Tabernacle.  Erected on the corner of First and Adams Streets to the specifications of the Sunday organization, the Tabernacle was the center for the revival meetings.  The temporary building was designed to seat 7,000 people. The slanted front platform accommodated Sunday’s pulpit, a 600 voice choir, and seats for the press, guest clergy, and visitors of note.  Newspaper accounts reveal that Susan was one of those special guests on at least two occasions.  The March 17 issue of the Illinois State Register notes that the Lieutenant Governor, a State Representative, the Secretary of the State Board of Charities, and Mrs. Charles Deneen (the wife of the governor) accompanied by Mrs. Susan Lawrence Dana occupied the coveted seats the night before.  Susan and Mrs. Deneen were also on the platform on April 4 during a special service for women conducted by women on Sunday’s staff according to the April 5 Register.

In Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House, I portray Susan as a constant seeker of spiritual truths.  Most of her quests were non-traditional.  She investigated spiritualism (see Chapter eight), phrenology, astrology, New Thought, Theosophy, Baha’i (see Chapter 15), and numerology (see Chapter 18).  However, like many other Springfield citizens, for six and a half weeks Susan was apparently a mainstream Christian captured by the charisma of Billy Sunday.

Tabernacle in Springfield, Illinoisfrom Billy Graham Center

Tabernacle in Springfield, Illinois, March 1, 1909
(from Billy Graham Center)

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§ 2 Responses to Billy Sunday Comes to Town

  • Nancy Chapin says:

    Good report! but I hardly think of Billy Sunday as ‘mainstream’. He was about as evangelistic as you could get. I think his interpretation of religion was on a par with Susan Lawrence’s other religious interests.

    • susanandme says:

      Good point. I put “mainstream” in my first draft, then I took it out, then I put it back in. I used it because so many mainstream churches supported and promoted the revival. As a result, they benefited. For example, 340 of those who answered Sunday’s altar call joined First Christian Church during that period.

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