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Billy Sunday Billy Sunday

William Ashley Sunday (November 19, 1862 – November 6, 1935) was an American athlete and religious figure who, after being a popular outfielder in baseball's National League during the 1880s, became the most celebrated and influential American evangelist during the first two decades of the 20th century.

Born into poverty, Sunday spent some years in an orphanage before taking a series of odd jobs in several small Iowa towns as he demonstrated his prowess in amateur athletics. His exceptional speed provided him the opportunity to play baseball in the major leagues for eight years. He was known for his daring base-running and dramatic outfield play, but he was only an average hitter.

Converted to evangelical Christianity in the 1880s, Sunday left baseball for the Christian ministry. He gradually developed his skills as a pulpit evangelist in the Midwest and then, during the early 20th century, he became the nation's most famous evangelist with his colloquial sermons and frenetic delivery.

Sunday held heavily reported campaigns in America's largest cities, made a great deal of money, and was welcomed into the homes of the wealthy and influential. Perhaps more than a million people came forward at his invitations, and he may have personally preached the gospel of Jesus Christ to more people than any other person in history up to that time. Sunday was a strong supporter of Prohibition, and his preaching almost certainly played a significant role in the adoption of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1919.

Despite questions about his income, no scandal ever touched Sunday. He was sincerely devoted to his wife, who also managed his campaigns. But his three sons disappointed him, and his audiences grew smaller during the 1920s as Sunday grew older and alternate sources of entertainment preoccupied his countrymen. Nevertheless, he continued to preach and remained a stalwart bolster of conservative Christianity until his death.

Early life

Billy Sunday was born near Ames, Iowa. His father, William Sunday, was a Union soldier during the Civil War who had enlisted in the Iowa Twenty-Third Volunteer Infantry and died of disease at Patterson, Missouri, five weeks after the birth of his youngest son. When Sunday was ten years old, his impoverished mother was forced to send him and his older brother to the Soldiers' Orphans Home in Glenwood, Iowa. At the orphanage, Sunday gained orderly habits, a decent primary education, and the realization that he had exceptional athletic ability.[1]

By fourteen, Sunday was shifting for himself. In Nevada, Iowa, he worked for Colonel John Scott, a former lieutenant governor, tending Shetland ponies and doing other farm chores. The Scotts provided Sunday a loving home and the opportunity to attend Nevada High School, which had a fine local reputation.[2] Although Sunday never received a high school diploma, by 1880 he was better educated than the typical American of his day.[3]

In 1880, Sunday moved to Marshalltown, Iowa, where, because of his athleticism, he had been recruited for a fire brigade team. In Marshalltown, Sunday worked at odd jobs, competed in fire brigade tournaments, and played for the town baseball team. In 1882, with Sunday in left field, the Marshalltown team defeated the state champion Des Moines team 13-4.[4]

Professional baseball player

Sunday's professional baseball career was launched by Adrian "Cap" Anson, a Marshalltown native and future Hall of Famer, after his aunt, an avid fan of the Marshalltown team, gave him an enthusiastic account of Sunday's prowess. In 1883, on Anson's recommendation, A.G. Spalding, president of the Chicago White Stockings, signed Sunday to the defending National League champions.[5]

Sunday struck out four times in his first game, and there were seven more strikeouts and three more games before he got a hit. During his first four seasons with Chicago, he was a part-time player, taking superstar Mike "King" Kelly's place in right field when Kelly served as catcher.[6]

Sunday's speed was his greatest asset, and he displayed it on the basepaths and in the outfield. In 1885, the White Stockings arranged a race between Sunday and Arlie Latham, the fastest runner in the American Association. Sunday won the hundred-yard dash by ten feet.[7]

Sunday's personality, demeanor, and athleticism made him popular with the fans, as well as with his teammates. Manager Cap Anson considered Sunday reliable enough to make him the team's business manager, which included such routine duties as making travel arrangements and carrying thousands of dollars of team cash.[8]

In 1887, when Kelly was sold to another team, Sunday became Chicago's regular right fielder, but an injury limited his playing time to fifty games. During the following winter Sunday was sold to the Pittsburgh Alleghenys for the 1888 season. He was their starting center fielder, playing a full season for the first time in his career. The crowds in Pittsburgh took to Sunday immediately; one reporter wrote that "the whole town is wild over Sunday." One reason why Pittsburgh fans supported a losing team during the 1888 and 1889 seasons was that Sunday performed well in center field as well as being among the league leaders in stolen bases.[9]

In 1890, a labor dispute led to the formation of a new league, composed of most of the better players from the National League. Although he was invited to join the competing league, Sunday's conscience would not allow him to break his contract with Pittsburgh. Sunday was named team captain, and he was their star player, but the team suffered one of the worst seasons in baseball history. By August the team had no money to meet its payroll, and Sunday was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for two players and $1,000 in cash.[10]

The Philadelphia team had an opportunity to win the National League pennant, and the owners hoped that adding Sunday to the roster would improve their chances. Although Sunday played brilliantly in his thirty-one games with Philadelphia, the team finished in third place.[11]

In March 1891, Sunday requested and was granted a release from his contract with the Philadelphia ball club. Over his career, Sunday was never much of a hitter: his batting average was .248 over 499 games, about the median for the 1880s. In his best season, in 1887, Sunday hit .291, ranking 17th in the league. He was an exciting but inconsistent fielder. In the days before outfielders wore gloves, Sunday was noted for brilliant catches featuring long sprints and athletic dives, but he also committed a great many errors. Sunday was best known as an exceptionally fast runner, regarded by his peers as one of the best in the game, even though he never placed better than third in the National League in stolen bases.[12]

Sunday remained a prominent baseball fan throughout his life. He gave interviews and opinions about baseball to the popular press;[13] he frequently umpired minor league and amateur games in the cities where he held revivals; and he attended baseball games whenever he could, including a 1935 World Series game two months before he died.


On a Sunday afternoon during either the 1886 or 1887 baseball season, Sunday and his teammates had drunk a few beers and were wandering the streets of Chicago on their day off. At one corner they stopped to listen to a street preaching team from the Pacific Garden Mission. Sunday was attracted to the old gospel songs that he had heard his mother sing, and he began attending services at the mission. A former society matron who worked there finally convinced Sunday that he must receive Christ, and after some struggle, he did so. The effect was immediate. Sunday stopped drinking and began faithfully attending the fashionable Jefferson Park Presbyterian Church, a congregation handy to both the ball park and his rented room.[14]

Even before his conversion, Sunday's lifestyle seems to have been less boisterous than that of the average contemporary baseball player. Nevertheless, after his conversion, his changed behavior was recognized by both teammates and fans. Sunday shortly thereafter began speaking in churches and at YMCAs.[15]


In 1886, Sunday was introduced at Jefferson Park Presbyterian Church to Helen Amelia "Nell" Thompson, daughter of the owner of one of Chicago's largest dairy products businesses. Although Sunday was immediately smitten with her, both had serious on-going relationships that bordered on engagements.[16] Furthermore, Miss Thompson had grown to maturity in a much more privileged environment than had Sunday, and her father strongly discouraged the courtship, viewing all professional baseball players as "transient ne'er-do-wells who were unstable and destined to be misfits once they were too old to play." Nevertheless, Sunday pursued her with the same tenacity that he pursued baseball and the Gospel. On several occasions, Sunday said, "She was a Presbyterian, so I am a Presbyterian. Had she been a Catholic, I would have been a Catholic—because I was hot on the trail of Nell." Mrs. Thompson had liked Sunday from the start and weighed in on his side, and Mr. Thompson finally relented. The couple was married on September 5, 1888.[17]

Apprenticeship for evangelism

In the spring of 1891, Sunday turned down a $400 per month baseball contract in order to accept a position with the Chicago YMCA at $83 per month. Sunday's job title at the YMCA was Assistant Secretary, but the position involved a great deal of ministerial work. It proved to be good preparation for his later evangelistic career. For three years, Sunday visited the sick, prayed with the troubled, counseled the suicidal, and visited saloons to invite patrons to evangelistic meetings.[18]

In 1893, Sunday became the full-time assistant to J. Wilbur Chapman, one of the best known evangelists in the United States at the time. Chapman was well educated and was a meticulous dresser, suave and urbane. Personally shy, like Sunday, Chapman commanded respect in the pulpit both because of his strong voice and his sophisticated demeanor. Sunday's job as Chapman's advance man was to precede the evangelist to cities in which he was scheduled to preach, organize prayer meetings and choirs, and in general take care of necessary details. When tents were used, Sunday would often help erect them.

By listening to Chapman preach night after night, Sunday received a valuable course in homiletics. Chapman also critiqued Sunday's own attempts at evangelistic preaching and showed him how to put a good sermon together. Further, Chapman encouraged Sunday's theological development, especially by emphasizing the importance of prayer and by helping to "reinforce Billy's commitment to conservative biblical Christianity."[19]

Popular evangelist

Kerosene Circuit

When Chapman unexpectedly returned to the pastorate in 1896, Sunday struck out on his own, beginning with meetings in tiny Garner, Iowa. For the next twelve years Sunday preached in approximately seventy communities, most of them in Iowa and Illinois. Sunday referred to these towns as the “Kerosene Circuit” because, unlike Chicago, most were not yet electrified. Towns often booked Sunday meetings informally, sometimes by sending a delegation to hear him preach and then telegraphing him while he was holding services somewhere else.

Sunday also took advantage of his reputation as a baseball player to generate advertising for his meetings. In 1907 in Fairfield, Iowa, Sunday organized local businesses into two baseball teams and scheduled a game between them. Sunday came dressed in his professional uniform and played on both sides. Although baseball was his primary means of publicity, Sunday also once hired a circus giant to serve as an usher.[20]

When Sunday began to attract crowds larger than could be accommodated in rural churches or town halls, he pitched rented canvas tents. Again, Sunday did much of the physical work of putting them up, manipulating ropes during storms, and seeing to their security by sleeping in them at night. Not until 1905 was he well enough off to hire his own advance man.[21]

In 1906, an October snowstorm in Salida, Colorado, destroyed Sunday's tent—a special disaster because revivalists were typically paid with a freewill offering at the end of their meetings. Thereafter he insisted that towns build him temporary wooden tabernacles at their expense. The tabernacles were comparatively costly to build (although most of the lumber could be salvaged and resold at the end of the meetings), and obviously, locals had to put up the money for them in advance. This change in Sunday's operation began to push the finances of the campaign to the fore. At least at first, raising tabernacles provided good public relations for the coming meetings as townspeople joined together in what was effectively a giant barnraising. Sunday built rapport by participating in the process, and the tabernacles were also a status symbol, because they had previously been built only for major evangelists such as Chapman.[22]

Under the administration of Nell

Eleven years into Sunday's evangelistic career, both he and his wife had been pushed to their emotional limits. Long separations had exacerbated his natural feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. As a product of a childhood that could well be described as a series of losses, he was extremely dependent on his wife's love and encouragement. Nell Sunday, for her part, found it increasingly difficult to handle household responsibilities, the needs of four children (including a newborn), and the long-distance emotional welfare of her husband. His ministry was also expanding, and he needed an administrator, a job for which his wife was ideally suited. In 1908, the Sundays decided to entrust their children to a nanny so that Nell Sunday could manage the revival campaigns.[23]

Mrs. Sunday transformed her husband's out-of-the-back-pocket organization into a “nationally renowned phenomenon.” New personnel were hired, and by the New York campaign of 1917, the Sundays had a paid staff of twenty-six. There were musicians, custodians, and advance men, of course; but the Sundays also hired Bible teachers of both sexes, who among other responsibilities, held daytime meetings at schools and shops and encouraged their audiences to attend the main tabernacle services in the evenings. The most significant of these new staff members were Homer Rodeheaver, an exceptional song leader and music director who worked with the Sundays for almost twenty years, and Virginia Healey Asher, who (besides regularly singing duets with Rodeheaver) directed the women's ministries, especially the evangelization of young working women.[24]

Campaign platform

With his wife administering the campaign organization, Sunday was free to do what he did best: compose and deliver colloquial sermons. Typically, Homer Rodeheaver would first warm up the crowd with congregational singing that alternated with both numbers from gigantic choirs and music performed by the staff. When Sunday felt the moment right, he would launch into his message. Sunday gyrated, stood on the pulpit, ran from one end of the platform to the other, and dove across the stage, pretending to slide into home plate. Sometimes he even smashed chairs to emphasize his points. His sermon notes had to be printed in large letters so that he could catch a glimpse of them as he raced by the pulpit. In messages attacking sexual sin to groups of men only, Sunday could be graphic for the era.[25] Some religious and social leaders criticized Sunday's exaggerated gestures as well as the slang and colloquialisms that filled his sermons, but audiences clearly enjoyed them.[26]

In 1907, journalist Lindsay Denison complained that Sunday preached “the old, old doctrine of damnation,” getting results by "inspiring fear and gloom in the hearts of sinners.”[27] But Sunday himself told reporters "with ill-concealed annoyance," that his revivals had "no emotionalism." Certainly contemporary comparisons to the extravagances of mid-nineteenth-century camp meetings—as in the famous drawing by George Bellows—were overdrawn.[28] Sunday told one reporter that he believed that people could "be converted without any fuss,"[29] and, at Sunday's meetings, "instances of spasm, shakes, or fainting fits caused by hysteria were few and far between."[30]

Crowd noise, especially coughing and crying babies, was a significant impediment to Sunday's preaching because the wooden tabernacles were so acoustically live. During his preliminaries, Rodeheaver often instructed audiences about how to muffle their coughs. Nurseries were always provided, infants forbidden, and Sunday sometimes appeared rude in his haste to rid the hall of noisy children who had slipped through the ushers. Tabernacle floors were covered with sawdust to dampen the noise of shuffling feet (as well as for its pleasant smell and its ability to hold down the dust of dirt floors), and coming forward during the invitation became known as “hitting the sawdust trail.”[31]

New York City Tabernacle, 1916

By 1910, Sunday began to conduct meetings (usually longer than a month) in small cities like Youngstown, Wilkes-Barre, South Bend, and Denver, and then finally, between 1915 and 1917, the major cities of Philadelphia, Syracuse, Kansas City, Detroit, Boston, Buffalo, and New York City. During the 1910s, Sunday was front page news in the cities where he held campaigns. Newspapers often printed his sermons in full, and during World War I, local coverage of his campaigns often surpassed that of the war. Sunday was the subject of over sixty articles in major periodicals, and he was a staple of the religious press regardless of denomination.[32]

Over the course of his career, Sunday probably preached to more than one hundred million people face-to-face—and, to the great majority, without electronic amplification. The vast numbers who "hit the sawdust trail" are also remarkable. Although the usual total given for those who came forward at invitations is an even million, one modern historian estimates the true figure to be closer to 1,250,000.[33] Of course Sunday did not preach to hundred million different individuals but to many of the same people repeatedly during the course of a campaign. Before his death, Sunday estimated that he had preached nearly 20,000 sermons, an average of 42 per month from 1896 to 1935. During his heyday, when he was preaching more than twenty times each week, his crowds were often huge. Even in 1923, well into the period of his decline, 479,300 people attended the 79 meetings of the six-week 1923 Columbia, South Carolina, campaign. That number was 23 times the white population of Columbia. Nevertheless,"trail hitters" were not necessarily conversions (or even "reconsecrations") to Christianity. Sometimes whole groups of club members came forward en masse at Sunday's prodding. Undoubtedly some audience members simply wanted to shake Sunday's hand. By 1927, Rodeheaver was complaining that Sunday's invitations had become so general that they were meaningless.[34]

Wages of success

Large crowds and an efficient organization meant that Sunday, the former resident of an orphan home, was soon netting hefty offerings. The first questions about Sunday's income were apparently raised during the Columbus, Ohio, campaign at the turn of 1912-13. During the Pittsburgh campaign a year later, Sunday spoke four times per day and effectively made $217 per sermon or $870 a day at a time when the average gainfully employed worker made $836 per year. The major cities of Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Boston, and New York City gave Sunday even larger love offerings. Sunday donated Chicago's offering of $58,000 to Pacific Garden Mission and the $120,500 New York offering to war charities. Nevertheless, between 1908 and 1920, the Sundays earned over a million dollars; an average worker during the same period earned less than $14,000.[35]

Sunday was welcomed into the circle of the social, economic, and political elite. He counted among his neighbors and acquaintances several prominent businessmen. Sunday dined with numerous politicians, including Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, and counted both Herbert Hoover and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. as friends.[36] During and after the 1917 Los Angeles campaign, the Sundays visited with Hollywood stars, and members of Sunday's organization played a charity baseball game against a team of show business personalities that included Douglas Fairbanks.[37]

The Sundays enjoyed dressing well and dressing their children well; the family sported expensive but tasteful coats, boots, and jewelry. Mrs. Sunday also bought land as an investment. A fruit orchard farm and rustic cabin at Hood River, Oregon, caught the attention of reporters, who called it a "ranch." Sunday was a soft touch with money and gave away much of his earnings.[38] Neither of the Sundays were extravagant spenders. Although Sunday enjoyed driving, the couple never owned a car. Their American Craftsman-style bungalow at Winona Lake, Indiana, where the Sundays had moved their legal residence in 1911, was furnished in the popular Arts and Crafts style and had two safes, but the house had only nine rooms, 2,500-square-feet of living space, and no garage.[39]

Religious views

Billy Sunday was a conservative evangelical who accepted fundamentalist doctrines. He affirmed and preached the inerrancy of the Bible, the virgin birth of Christ, the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, a literal devil and hell, and the imminent return of Jesus Christ. At the turn of the 20th century, most Protestant church members, regardless of denomination, gave assent to these doctrines (except, perhaps, for the imminent return of Christ). Sunday refused to hold meetings in cities where he was not welcomed by the vast majority of the Protestant churches and their clergy. (Dissenting clergymen found it politic to limit their objections to Sunday's theology while he was adding new members to their congregations.)[40]

Nevertheless, Sunday was not a separationist as were most orthodox Protestants of his era. He went out of his way to avoid criticizing the Roman Catholic Church and even met with Cardinal Gibbons during his 1916 Baltimore campaign. Also, cards filled out by "trail hitters" were faithfully returned to the church or denomination that the writers had indicated as their choice—including Catholic and Unitarian.[41]

Although Sunday was ordained by the Presbyterian Church in 1903, his ministry was nondenominational, and he was not a strict Calvinist. He preached that individuals were, at least in part, responsible for their own salvation. “Trail hitters” were given a four-page tract that stated, “if you have done your part (i.e. believe that Christ died in your place, and receive Him as your Saviour and Master) God has done HIS part and imparted to you His own nature.”[42]

Sunday was neither a theologian nor an intellectual, but he had a thorough knowledge of the Bible, and he was well read on religious and social issues of his day. His surviving Winona Lake library of six hundred books gives evidence of heavy use, including underscoring and reader's notes in his characteristic all-caps printing. Some of Sunday's books were even those of religious opponents. In fact, he was later charged, probably correctly, with plagiarizing a Decoration Day speech given by the noted agnostic Robert Ingersoll.[43]

Social and political views

Sunday was a lifelong Republican, and he espoused the mainstream political and social views of his native Midwest: individualism, competitiveness, personal discipline, and opposition to government regulation.[44] Writers such as Upton Sinclair[45] and John Reed attacked Sunday as a tool of big business, and poet Carl Sandburg also crudely accused him of being a money-grubbing charlatan.[46] Nevertheless, Sunday sided with Progressives on some issues. For example, he denounced child labor[47] and supported urban reform and women's suffrage.[48] Sunday condemned capitalists "whose private lives are good, but whose public lives are very bad," as well as those "who would not pick the pockets of one man with the fingers of their hand" but who would "without hesitation pick the pockets of eighty million people with fingers of their monopoly or commercial advantage."[49] He never lost his sympathy for the poor, and he sincerely tried to bridge the gulf between the races during the nadir of the Jim Crow era,[50] although on at least two occasions in the mid-1920s Sunday received contributions from the Ku Klux Klan.[51]

Sunday was a passionate supporter of World War I. In 1918 he said, "I tell you it is [Kaiser] Bill against Woodrow, Germany against America, Hell against Heaven." Sunday raised large amounts of money for the troops, sold war bonds, and stumped for recruitment.[52]

Sunday had been an ardent champion of temperance from his earliest days as an evangelist, and his ministry at the Chicago YMCA had given him first-hand experience with the destructive potential of alcohol. Sunday's most famous sermon was "Get on the Water Wagon," which he preached on countless occasions with both histrionic emotion and a "mountain of economic and moral evidence." Sunday said, "I am the sworn, eternal and uncompromising enemy of the Liquor Traffic. I have been, and will go on, fighting that damnable, dirty, rotten business with all the power at my command."[53] Sunday played a significant role in arousing public interest in Prohibition and in the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1919. When the tide of public opinion turned against Prohibition, he continued to support it. After its repeal in 1933, Sunday called for its reintroduction.[54]

Sunday also opposed eugenics, recent immigration from southern and eastern Europe,[55] and the teaching of evolution.[56] Further, he criticized such popular middle-class amusements as dancing,[57] playing cards, attending the theater, and reading novels.[58] However, he believed baseball was a healthy and even patriotic form of recreation, so long as it was not played on Sundays.[59]


Sunday's popularity waned after World War I when radio and movie theaters became his competitors for the public's leisure time. The Sundays' health also declined even as they continued to drive themselves through rounds of revivals—smaller of course, but also with ever fewer staff members to assist them.[60]

Worse, the Sundays were disgraced by the behavior of their three sons who engaged in all the activities Billy preached against. In the end, the Sundays were effectively forced to pay blackmail to several women to keep the scandals relatively quiet.[61] In 1930, their housekeeper and nanny, who had become a virtual member of the family, died. Then Sunday's daughter, the only child actually raised by Nell, died in 1932 of what seems to have been multiple sclerosis. Rescued from financial ruin by the Sundays, their oldest son George committed suicide in 1933.[62]

Nevertheless, even as the crowds declined during the last fifteen years of his life, Sunday soldiered on, accepting preaching invitations and speaking with effect. In early 1935, he had a mild heart attack, and his doctor advised him to stay out of the pulpit. Sunday ignored the advice. He died on November 6, a week after preaching his last sermon on the text "What must I do to be saved?"[63]


  1. ^ Dorsett, 8-10, 13.
  2. ^ The 4-H baseball field in Nevada is named Billy Sunday Field.
  3. ^ Dorsett, 14; Bruns, 29.
  4. ^ Dorsett, 15; Knickerbocker, 26-7.
  5. ^ Anson's aunt, Emily Haviland attended Marshalltown games with her husband Marshall, who was the official team scorer in 1871. In 1916, Anson recalled that his aunt "finally induced me to give Billy a chance in Chicago. She was what you call a dyed-in-the-wool fan and never missed a game the Marshalltown club ever played." In 1921, Sunday told veteran writer William Phelon Jr., "It was owing to the fact that Capt. Anson of the Chicago team had an aunt in Marshalltown that I became a big leaguer." Cap "had Aunt Emma there and she was greatly interested in seeing me progress in baseball. She praised my playing to Anson, told him I was about the fastest fielder on earth and insisted that he give me a chance with Chicago and he agreed." Rosenberg, 132.
  6. ^ Cap Anson, Sunday's manager, said in his 1900 autbiography that Sunday struck out his first thirteen times at bat. However, contemporary newspaper accounts report eleven strikeouts at most, with two of his other at-bats reported simply as outs, probably not made by striking out. Sunday's verifiable strikeouts-in-a-row are four. Knickerbocker, 31-32.
  7. ^ Interestingly, even before his conversion, Sunday was uncomfortable with this race and tried to withdraw. He was persuaded to run because a great deal of money had been bet on the outcome, some of it put up by his teammates. In later years he regretted having been involved in a gambling event. Knickerbocker, 45-47; Firstenberger, 18.
  8. ^ Sunday later said, "That was my first experience at bookkeeping and I was never shy a dollar." Bruns, 39-40; Knickerbocker, 37.
  9. ^ Knickerbocker, 73-75, 97, 109, 120; Bruns, 51; Dorsett, 36-39.
  10. ^ Knickerbocker, 125-131.
  11. ^ Knickerbocker,131-133; Bruns, 51; Dorsett, 36-39.
  12. ^ Fans reportedly said, "Billy is fast enough, but he can't steal first base." Knickerbocker, 135-137, 2-3.
  13. ^ For example, in 1917 Baseball Magazine published his opinions on baseball's patriotic value and the game's importance to the nation in wartime.
  14. ^ Knickerbocker, 80-89; Dorsett, 24-28. Sunday could never remember the date of this experience, although he made repeated reference to it. The oft-told conversion story poses a number of chronological difficulties. The best explication of the problems and their partial solutions is Knickerbocker, 59-63, 79-89.
  15. ^ Dorsett, 29.
  16. ^ Firstenberger, 7.
  17. ^ Dorsett, 32-34; Frankenberg, 62; Martin, 34. Some of the difficulty about remembering the exact date of Sunday's conversion may have been the result of Nell and Billy having met and fallen in love before Billy had become a Christian, a circumstance that might later have been embarrassing because evangelicals would have condemned such a courtship.
  18. ^ Dorsett, 39-43, 48. Sunday's father-in-law became unhappy that Sunday had exchanged the promise of $3,500 for seven weeks of work for a six-day-a-week job that paid $1,000 per year.
  19. ^ Dorsett, 49-57.
  20. ^ Knickerbocker, 145-146; McLaughlin, 11. One newspaper reporting on the Garner revival "to be conducted by W.A. Sunday" noted that "this must be 'Billy' Sunday who used to play ball for Anson with the Chicago White Stockings. 'Billy' is as true a Christian gentleman as he was a rattling ball player, and that is saying a good deal."
  21. ^ Dorsett, 61-64.
  22. ^ Dorsett, 64-65; Firstenberger, 46.
  23. ^ Dorsett, 81-84; Firstenberger, 45, 98-100. In 1911, Nell Sunday met Nora Lynn at the Erie, Pennsylvania campaign and persuaded her to become the Sundays' live-in housekeeper. Lynn was employed by the Sundays for twenty years; she effectively became a member of the Sunday family and died in their house.
  24. ^ Dorsett, 86, 100-104; Firstenberger, 124-126. Firstenberger has documented more than seventy individuals who were members of the Sunday evangelistic team through the years of Billy Sunday's ministry. Virginia Asher and her husband William had known the Sundays since the 1890s and had previously worked for Dwight L. Moody and other evangelists. Both were friends of J. Wilbur Chapman, and both had cottages at Winona Lake, Indiana. Asher organized permanent, post-campaign "Virginia Asher Councils" to continue work among those who, during that period, were called "businesswomen."
  25. ^ A theological opponent, Universalist minister Frederick William Betts, wrote, "Many of the things said and done bordered upon things prohibited in decent society. The sermon on amusements was preached three times, to mixed audience of men and women, boys and girls. If the sermons to women had been preached to married women, if the sermons to men had been preached to mature men, if the sermon on amusements had been preached to grown folks, there might have been an excuse for them, and perhaps good from them. But an experienced newspaper reported told me that the sermon on amusements was "the rawest thing ever put over in Syracuse." I can not, must not, quote from this sermon...Betts, Frederick William (1916). Billy Sunday, the Man and Method. Murray Press.  p. 30, "rawest thing;" p. 43, "fainted under that awful definition;" p. 36, "if you do not 'hit the trail' then watch out for the fireworks")...[a friend] says that Mr. Sunday's sermon on the sex question was raw and disgusting. He also heard the famous sermons on amusements and booze. [He] says that all in all they were the ugliest, nastiest, most disgusting addresses he ever listened to from a religious platform or a preacher of religion. He saw people carried out who had fainted under that awful definition of sensuality and depravity. Homer Rodeheaver said that "One of these sermons, until he tempered it down a little, had one ten-minute period in it where from two to twelve men fainted and had to be carried out every time I heard him preach it."Martin, Robert Francis (2002). Hero of the Heartland: Billy Sunday and the Transformation of American Society, 1862-1935. Indiana University Press. ISBN 0253341299. , p. 87
  26. ^ Firstenberger, 36-39. Fundamentalist leader Bob Jones, Jr., who knew Sunday as a teenager, admitted in his memoirs that he was "repelled by the roughness" of Sunday's performance and noted that Sunday's messages seemed "studied and stage-managed"—which of course, they were. Bob Jones [Jr.], Cornbread and Caviar: Reminiscences and Reflections (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1985), 89.
  27. ^ "In spite of his conviction that the truly religious man should take his religion joyfully, he gets his results by inspiring fear and gloom in the hearts of sinners. The fear of death, with torment beyond it—intensified by examples of the frightful deathbeds of those who have carelessly or obdurately put off salvation until it is too late—it is with this mighty menace that he drives sinners into the fold. name=denison>Denison, Lindsay (1907), "The Rev. Billy Sunday and His War On the Devil," The American Magazine, September, 1907, 64(5), p. 461
  28. ^ McLoughlin, 127.
  29. ^ Rocky Mountain News, September 7, 1914, 1, in McLoughlin, 128.
  30. ^ McLoughlin, 128.
  31. ^ Firstenberger, 37; McLoughlin, 97; Dorsett, 91-92. The term was first used in a Sunday campaign in Bellingham, Washington, in 1910. Apparently, "hitting the sawdust trail" had first been used by loggers in the Pacific Northwest to describe following home a trail of previously dropped sawdust through an uncut forest—a metaphor for coming from, in Nell Sunday's words, "a lost condition to a saved condition."
  32. ^ Dorsett, 92-93. "Scores of newborn boys were named 'Billy Sunday' in his honor, and in Fulton County, Illinois, a recipe for 'Billy Sunday Pudding' was formulated by local residents. The puddingwas designed to bake in the oven during his sermon and be ready when the family came home from the meeting." Firstenberger, 39.
  33. ^ Dorsett, 93; Firstenberger, 39, 120-123; Lyle W. Dorsett, "Billy Sunday," American National Biography, 21: 150-52; Bernard A. Weisberger, They Gathered at the River: The Story of the Great Revivalists and Their Impact upon Religion in America (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1958), 254.
  34. ^ Dorsett, 136.
  35. ^ Dorsett, 90-91.
  36. ^ Dorsett, 93-94, 134, 149-50.
  37. ^ Dorsett, 93, 95; Knickerbocker, 156. The movie stars won, 1-0, and Sunday jokingly complained that his team could not get a break from the umpires, Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin.
  38. ^ In 1913, Sunday's mentor, J. Wilbur Chapman, wrote that he could not think of a time that Sunday had "had opportunity for conversation" that he had not asked, "Do you need any money?" Frankenburg, "Forward."
  39. ^ Dorsett,95-96; Firstenberger, 80-92. In her will, Nell Sunday donated the house and its collection of artifacts as a museum.
  40. ^ Firstenberger, 26-29. Although preached in colloquialisms, Sunday's theology was fairly sophisticated and "orthodox in its basic ingredients." See Daniel LaRoy Anderson, "The Gospel According to Sunday," Th.D. dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 199.
  41. ^ Dorsett, 80-81; Firstenberger, 30. A short but striking first-person account of Sunday's 1915 Syracuse campaign by a Universalist clergyman is Frederick W. Betts, Billy Sunday: The Man and the Method (Boston: Murray Press, 1916.) Betts was clearly disgusted by Sunday but awestruck by the power of his personality and sermons over even his educated acquaintances.
  42. ^ Weisberger, 253.
  43. ^ Dorsett, 77; Firstenberger, 32, 63. Sunday's library included a copy of Thomas W. Hanford, Ingersollia: Gems of Thought from the Lectures, Speeches and Conversations of the Late Col. Robert G. Ingersoll(1899) with underlined text and marginal notes.
  44. ^ Martin, 126-127.
  45. ^ Sinclair Lewis' novel Babbitt includes a character named Mike Monday, "the distinguished evangelist, the best-known Protestant pontiff in America...As a prize-fighter he gained nothing but his crooked nose, his celebrated vocabulary, and his stage-presence. The service of the Lord had been more profitable." In his novel, a visit by Monday is opposed by "certain Episcopalian and Congregationalist ministers," whom Monday calls "a bunch of gospel-pushers with dish-water instead of blood, a gang of squealers that need more dust on the knees of their pants and more hair on their skinny old chests." Lewis's Elmer Gantry is a novel about an evangelist with more than a passing resemblance to Sunday. (Sunday in turn referred to Lewis as a member of "Satan's cohort.")Elmer Gantry study guide,
  46. ^ McLoughlin, 223. John Reed, "Back of Sunday," Metropolitan Magazine (May 1915), 10. Carl Sandburg, "To Billy Sunday", 1915. Sandburg wrote, "You come along squirting words at us, shaking your fist and calling us all dam fools so fierce the froth slobbers over your lips...always blabbing we’re all going to hell straight off and you know all about it...Go ahead and bust all the chairs you want to. Smash a whole wagon load of furniture at every performance. Turn sixty somersaults and stand on your nutty head. If it wasn’t for the way you scare the women and kids I’d feel sorry for you and pass the hat. I like to watch a good four-flusher work, but not when he starts people puking and calling for the doctors." Sunday also appears in some modern fiction, both as an historical touchstone and as a metaphorical figure. For example, John Jakes inserts a mention of Sunday in Homeland, his historical novel about Chicago; and Sunday's life is employed metaphorically in Rod Jones' novel Billy Sunday.
  47. ^ "Men who will gladly draw their check for $10,000 and give it a child's hospital see nothing ridiculous in the fact that the $10,000 for the child's hospital came of out of $200,000 made from a system of child labor which crushes more children in one year than the hospital will heal in ten." Quoted in McLoughlin, 145.
  48. ^ Firstenberger, 66-68; McLoughlin, 140-143.
  49. ^ Quoted in McLoughlin, 144-45.
  50. ^ Dorsett, 96-97, 152-154.
  51. ^ Firstenberger, 29-30. Sunday apparently never either praised the Klan nor denounced it (McLoughlin, 274-275). According to Larson, Sunday's Memphis campaign of February 1925 featured both a special night for African Americans and an "unofficial Klan night." (Larson 1997, p. 55).
  52. ^ McLoughlin, 257-259; Firstenberger, 60-62; Dorsett, 113-114.
  53. ^ Dorsett, 112-113; Firstenberger, 69; McLaughlin, 180-184. Sunday preached that "whiskey and beer are all right in their place, but their place is in hell."(Compare Christianity and alcohol.)
  54. ^ McLoughlin, 232-234; Firstenberger, 72. During Prohibition, Sunday's revival theme song, "Brighten the Corner Where You Are," is said to have become a drinking song in the blind pigs. A line in the popular Frank Sinatra song "Chicago," written by Fred Fisher in the 1920s, refers to Chicago as "the town that Billy Sunday couldn't shut down."
  55. ^ McLoughlin, 146-48.
  56. ^ Although Sunday was a firm creationist, he believed that the seven days of creation were indeterminate periods and not literal 24-hour days. As proof Sunday quoted 2 Peter 3:8 that "one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." "Nuts for Skeptics to Crack," (sermon) May 24, 1917, Papers of William and Helen Sunday, Reel 11. William Jennings Bryan asked Sunday to participate in the Scopes Trial. Although Sunday assured Bryan that "all the believing world is back of you in your defense of Christ and the Bible," Sunday declined to come to Dayton. Sunday to Bryan, July 4, 1925, William Jennings Bryan Papers, Library of Congress, Box 47.
  57. ^ "Sunday said that "three-fourths of all the fallen women fell as a result of the dance" Quoted in McLoughlin, 132.
  58. ^ McLoughlin, 132-135; Firstenberger, 65-66.
  59. ^ Knickerbocker, 156-157.
  60. ^ Dorsett, 148."Sabbath church attendance was not greatly affected by the rapid rise of the entertainment industry, but revivals conducted in big tents and tabernacles night after night for several weeks running were definitely undercut when the public found new competitors for their time."
  61. ^ Dorsett, 129. In a 1929 letter to his wife, Sunday wrote that "all we have earned in the last 5 years has gone to Millie," Billy, Jr.'s ex-wife. BS to HTS, Box 4, Folder 32, The Papers of William and Helen Sunday [microfilm] (Wheaton, Illinois: Billy Graham Center, 1978).
  62. ^ All three of Sunday's sons died violently: George from a "fall" from a hotel window; Billy, Jr. in an automobile crash after a night of partying; and Paul in an airplane crash. Although Sunday's four children contracted nine marriages, Billy and Nell Sunday had only three grandchildren. The grandchildren, in turn, contracted five marriages that resulted in only one great-grandchild, who apparently died childless. The great-grandchild, Marquis Ashley Sunday, was killed by his lover in San Francisco on March 22, 1982. Therefore, fifty years after his death, Sunday had no known living descendants. Dorsett, 126-130. Firstenberger, 136-137, gives the genealogical details.
  63. ^ Dorsett, 141-143.




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