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|Paynesville Press - June 6, 2001|
Baseball evangelist preached at the Assembly Grounds
A few years ago Dorothy Hendrickson asked me if, in my research, I had read anything about Billy Sunday coming to preach at the Assembly Grounds. She told me he was an evangelist many years ago and was as famous as Billy Graham is today. I hadn't read anything about him up to the end of 1930 and thought that he either did not visit Lake Koronis or that I had somehow missed any reference to it in the Paynesville Press. Curiosity got the better of me and I went to the Internet to find out about the evangelist, Billy Sunday.
William Ashley Sunday was born Nov. 19, 1863, in Ames, Iowa. His father died just 32 days later. When he was a young child, his mother sent him and his brother to an orphanage. From 1883 until 1891, he played professional baseball and gained nationwide recognition for his skills. He was the first player to run the bases in 14 seconds and set a number of records for stealing bases. While on the Chicago White Stockings Baseball Team, he became "saved" and started working for the Young Men's Christian Association. At that time the average worker made about $480 per year. Baseball teams offered him salaries of $400 to $2000 per month, which he refused, choosing instead an $84 per month ministry position. In 1897 Sunday held his first revival meeting at Gardner, Iowa, and approximately 100 people accepted Christ as their Savior during the week of meetings. By 1903 he was ordained a Presbyterian minister and just seven years later became an evangelist. Throughout his evangelistic career he held approximately 300 revivals scattered throughout the United States. Amazingly, Sunday is thought to have reached over 100 million people, all in the days before broadcasting. He was active in the Prohibition movement and his largest revival in 1917 in New York City had that topic as the theme. During this ten-week revival over 98,000 people came forward to accept Christ. He continued to preach and hold revivals until 1935. Sunday preached his last sermon at First Methodist Church, Mishawaka, Indiana, in which 44 people responded. He died Nov. 6, 1935; thousands attended his memorial service.
At last, in the July 16, 1931, issue of the Paynesville Press, I found the first reference to Billy Sunday. "W.A. Sunday, the world's most famous Evangelist, nationally known as Billy' Sunday, will speak Sunday, July 26th, at 2 o'clock in the afternoon in the large Tabernacle on the Lake Koronis Assembly Grounds, Paynesville, Minnesota, under the auspices of the Evangelical Hospital and Deaconess Home. A life's opportunity to hear this world renowned, baseball preacher! Probably there isn't another man living who has charmed and thrilled more people by a forceful expounding of the simple Gospel, than Billy Sunday!"
Admission to the tabernacle was 50 cents; however, if people were willing to stand, the fee was 25 cents. Reserved seats were secured by sending 50 cents to the Reverend J. M. Baitinger, 690 East 7th Street, St. Paul, Minnesota, or by purchasing advance tickets on sale at the Heitke-Unger Store.
For the anticipated large crowd at the Assembly Grounds, a "loud speaking apparatus will be installed on the grounds that everyone present will be able to hear this eminent speaker. The same kind of loud speaking system will be used as is in Madison Square Garden, New York."
Quotations from other speeches of Billy Sunday's may have been used in his Assembly Grounds talk. Examples of Sunday's statements include many topics. "More men fail through lack of purpose than lack of talent." "The world is wrong side up. It needs to be turned upside down in order to be right side up." "Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile." "They tell me a revival is only temporary; so is a bath, but it does you good." "Some persons think that they have to look like a hedgehog to be pious." "Whiskey and beer are all right in their place, but their place is in hell."
Over 1200 people were in attendance at the Lake Koronis Assembly Grounds. A large percentage of the crowd was from out of town, having come long distances to hear Mr. Sunday. Unfortunately, also present in the large crowd were pickpockets. "George Smith of this city lost $16, while parties from Willmar and St. Cloud reported having missed large sums. This is very unfortunate, and it is hoped that there were no more losses."
The limited information contained in the archives of the Press regarding Billy Sunday's visit to Lake Koronis Assembly Grounds leaves one to wonder what was preached that day. Effortlessly, one can envision the evangelist and crowds gathered by the shore of Koronis for a resounding view from the lake.
Information for this column was found in the following issues of the Paynesville Press: July 16, 1931; July 23, 1931; July 31, 1931. URLs for information on Billy Sunday include: http://www.bemorecreative. com; www.encarta.msn.com/find/ Concise.asp?ti+04832000; and http:// www.billysunday.net.
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