Column: Billy Sunday story sparks '40 memoriesNorma Norell’s article in Feb. 20 Daily Globe set my memory banks back six decades. I served at a prisoner of war site camp in Whiteville, N.C. The German POWs cut pulpwood for paper and lived in the confines of the camp.
By: Al Swanson, Daily Globe historical columnist, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Norma Norell’s article in Feb. 20 Daily Globe set my memory banks back six decades. I served at a prisoner of war site camp in Whiteville, N.C. The German POWs cut pulpwood for paper and lived in the confines of the camp.
From the Dec. 8, 1906, issue of the Globe, these clippings described the scene of Billy Sunday speaking:
“Hundreds made the Decision and walked down the aisle to shake Billy’s hand and commit themselves to Christ. He had come to save Worthington, and few doubted he had failed after his month-long crusade ended.
“They loved his broad smile, his boyish figure in the natty suit, his exaggerated grins.
“Rev. Sunday had a very loud clear voice — no microphone in those days — and sometimes he would get onto the piano bench during his preaching. He fought the enemies of God, America, motherhood and hard work single-handed. And fight he did. He would work himself into a rage against the devil until sweat poured from his forehead. Then he would shed his coat, vest and tie, roll up his sleeves and continue the battle crouching, jumping up and down, shaking his fist and running back and forth.
“Billy always had a profound effect upon the communities he visited. Worthington was no exception.”
These clippings reminded me of my military assignment after I had returned from overseas. The POW camp was a lonely assignment, guarding the POWs as they worked. They were well fed and going nowhere. Home was Germany, across the Atlantic Ocean.
Some of the soldiers would go to town. Frequently there would be an evangelical tent church. It was something to do, and the services in the tent attracted them. The townspeople seemed to welcome the soldiers and sometimes brought them to their homes for dinner. Soldiers weren’t always welcome in small towns, but when they went to the tent church, they were accepted.
The sight of a tent church — and the services there and then the meals later — lasted in my memory for six decades.
Al Swanson is president emeritus of the Nobles County Historical Society.