Editor's note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run “Isn’t That Something” columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen and his knowledge of local and regional history. The following column first appeared Oct. 6, 2007.
WORTHINGTON — In a time I remember, kids in public places were like flies. They could buzz around and no one paid them much attention. Kids had to be alert, however. They never knew when someone might take a swat at them.
The thing that brought this to mind was a tent revival meeting at Worthington one summer. They set up their tent on the grounds of the old Second Avenue water tower. I don’t know who “they” were.
We kids buzzed around the entrance night by night. Word was that if we went inside “they” might baptize us. We kept a distance, but we hovered near. We enjoyed the singing.
One thing that kindled this memory is a book, “Experiences of a Pioneer Evangelist of the Northwest,” by Elder W.B. Hill, published in 1902. Mr. Hill, an Adventist, recalled his days of traveling through area towns and preaching in tents, in halls and sometimes in the streets. He came to Worthington for a tent meeting in June 1890:
“It was decided that J. W. Collie, W. A. Alway, and myself should hold a course of tent meetings at Worthington, a beautiful town of about fifteen hundred inhabitants, situated near the southwestern corner of the State. We went by way of Shetek and Currie …
“We arrived at Worthington in the latter part of June. We found Mr. DeWolf there. … He kindly helped us to secure a good location for our tent. It was late one summer afternoon when the three quiet strangers entered the town which was soon to be stirred as it never was before by the truths which they bore to the people. In the dusk of the evening we pitched our family tent, and made a bed of the preaching tent and some blankets.
“It was rather a hard bed for tired limbs, and the discomfort was much increased by clouds of hungry mosquitoes. In the morning there came a rapping on the tent pole. It was Mr. DeWolf, who had come to invite us to breakfast. He and his good wife were very kind to us, especially to me. They kindly gave me a home all ten weeks I was there …
“The meetings were sometimes well attended, and sometimes not. When the interest would lag, we would get out handbills, announcing special subjects, and so draw the people …”
Evangelist Hill had a special memory of Worthington’s Methodist pastor, who he knew only as Elder Harrington.
“The Methodist minister, Elder Harrington, lived near the tent. He had a great desire to hear, but would not enter the tent. He was in the habit of clandestinely standing on the outside to listen.
“We thought to cure him of such unseemly behavior, so the next time he was discovered eavesdropping, the speaker was informed of it, and he said, ‘I understand Brother Harrington is standing on the outside of the tent. There is plenty of room within. Please come in, Brother Harrington, and be seated.’ He refused to come in, but went away for that time. Even after that he was discovered standing outside in the rain, listening to the preaching. He would not be seen in the congregation, for fear of setting a bad example to his church members, so he listened on the sly …”
Worthington’s tent meetings were a pleasant memory for the evangelist — contrasted, in particular, with Winona:
“I was called upon to go to Winona. … The enemy of all right … stirred up his children, of whom there were a great number in that city, to tear the tent down …
“So on one Sunday evening, when the tent was full of people, a great crowd of half-drunk followers of the beast … assaulted the tent, and tore it down on the heads of the assembled multitude. The yells of the mob and the screams of the women and children were terrific …
“A board fence that ran by the tent was stripped of its boards in a twinkling, by men attending the meeting, and used as weapons of warfare against the rioters. One man made a rush for Elder Shultz, when a stout German … struck him with his fist, under the ear, and sent him sprawling on the ground …”
It was a kind of evangelism Billy Graham never knew, nor did Billy Sunday who brought his crusade to Worthington 25 years later.