Over ninety years ago, 55,000 people came to hear Billy Sunday preach in Boston. An overflow crowd of 15,000 had to be turned away from the temporary tabernacle that had been erected on Huntington Avenue. During the next ten weeks, the baseball star-turned evangelist drew an estimated 1.5 million to his Boston meetings.
Sunday was unlike any other preacher at the time. Contemptuous of what he called “flabby-cheeked, brittle-boned, weak-kneed, effeminate Christianity,” he preached like the competitive athlete he was. He was constantly in motion, leaping around the stage, crouching and jumping, walking and running. Wild-eyed and frantic, he electrified his audiences.
His acrobatic antics, colorful language, frank discussion of sexual mores, and retinue of performers smacked of a vaudeville show. But his masterful preaching moved many to commit their lives to Jesus. The social changes brought about by urban growth, and industrialization caused many Bostonians to embrace the evangelist’s call for a return to biblical values. In spite of the critics, an estimated 1,500,000 people came to hear Sunday during his ten-week Boston crusade; nearly 65,000 made the trip down the “sawdust trail.”
Source: Mass Moments, www.massmoments.org, Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities
See also: A New Breed of Athelete