Saturday, May 25, 2013


After our tour of Charleston and Savannah, we returned to Charlotte, North Carolina, to catch our flight home. There isn't a lot to do in Charlotte, but everything we looked at mentioned the Billy Graham Library just outside of town. We had nothing else on our itinerary and an hour to kill, so why not?

Billy grew up on a 300-acre dairy farm a few miles outside Charlotte.  The 2,400 square-foot two-story home, where he lived from age nine until he went away to college, has been moved twice, first in 1984 to Praise the Lord's Heritage USA site (a religious theme park in Fort Mill, South Carolina), and then in 2006 to this site next to the Billy Graham Library (the building with the cross-shaped door/window), about four miles away from the original farm.

The site reminded me of the Joseph Smith Birthplace in Sharon, Vermont. Tasteful landscaping and native forest surround the complex, and friendly guides/missionaries are on hand to answer any questions.

The home is decorated in what the site's literature calls "the comfortable mixed style Mother Graham [Billy's mom] enjoyed in her later years, with items from various decades--including some original furnishings and memorabilia."

It is nice to breeze through the home, which is really a reproduction rather than a restoration, but the true attraction is the Billy Graham Library.  The term "Library" doesn't refer to its collection of books, although it does include "Ruth's Attic Bookstore," named after Billy's wife. The building is actually a museum detailing Billy Graham's life and work (similar to a Presidential Library) and a crusade center.

 There are several rooms that display memorabilia from Billy Graham's life and ministry:

This photo from 1947 shows the enormous crowds the twenty-nine-year-old Billy Graham drew for his sermons.  

Louis Zamperini, the Olympic runner and World War II Japanese prison camp survivor who Laura Hillenbrand wrote about in her fabulous book Unbroken . . . 

. . . attended a rally very similar to this one just two years later, and it changed his life.
Zamperini and Graham.  Read the story about Zamperini's conversion here.
I love the line-up on the marquee in this 1972 photo:

The bookstore, complete with a larger-than-life statue representing the Parable of the Sower, is impressive:

I think some of the seminary teachers I know would love this little statue:

While visitors are waiting for a tour, they can also visit the Graham Brothers Dairy Bar:

Since we were a bit pressed for time, we couldn't take the full tour, but we did walk through all of the exhibit areas.  There was quite a bit of information about the Grahams' lives, including Ruth Graham's childhood with her missionary parents in China and Korea:

On a full tour, visitors catch a bit of the revival spirit in this room:

Footage of some of Graham's sermons plays in another room:

At the end of the tour, guests are asked to commit to receiving Christ as their personal savior, and are given time to meditate,  pray, and speak with missionaries:

Guides/missionaries are friendly but not pushy, and I suspect our experience there was not unlike the experience an evangelical would have on Temple Square in Salt Lake City.

Just like LDS historical sites, the grounds around the house and complex are exceptionally well-groomed. Religious music was being piped through strategically placed speakers, creating a lovely, peaceful atmosphere. A Memorial Prayer Garden lies at the edge of the woods at the end of this cross-shaped brick walkway.

 Billy Graham's wife of 64 years, Ruth, died in 2007 and is buried in this garden area:

There is a nice spot for Billy right next to her:
Can anyone translate that kanji for me?
Regardless of your religion, I think the Billy Graham Library complex is well worth the hour or two it takes to visit.  Graham's influence on the Christian world has been immense, and it is interesting to learn a little bit more about his life and work.

If you are interested in the Louis Zamperini/Billy Graham connection, this is a fun video:

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


When we planned our trip to Savannah, we hadn't planned on stopping by the Flannery O'Connor Childhood Home, but it turned out that some of what we wanted to do was closed (e.g., the Jewish synagogue) or otherwise unavailable.  When we happened to walk right by the O'Connor house, we decided that perhaps it was worth a visit.

O'Connor was born in 1925 in Savannah and lived there until 1938.  She died in 1964 at age 39 of lupus.  She had written two novels (I confess that I have read neither, although I did buy one of them--Wise Blood--about a year ago, but I haven't started it yet) and thirty-two short stories, not that much for a writer, but apparently enough to make her famous and to win the National Book Award in 1972.  (I have read several of the short stories, a staple of any good English degree.)

As a side note, right after returning from the trip I read a novel called A Good Hard Look by Ann Napolitano.  The adult Flannery O'Connor is one of the main characters, and the author included a lot of the information that we learned from the tour guide in the O'Connor home.  (Since we were the only guests the entire time we were there, we got LOTS and LOTS of stories about Flannery.)  The cover of the book refers to the crop (gaggle? pod? herd?) of forty to fifty peacocks Flannery kept on her farm in Andalusia, Georgia, where she lived and wrote after her college years until her death. She never married, and the eccentricity evident in her during her childhood years apparently remained an integral part of her character.

The home, although it has passed through the hands of several owners since Flannery lived there, has been restored to what it must have looked like during Flannery's childhood, right down to the color of the paint.  That is Flannery on the left, a funky, adult-looking child who called her parents by their first names:
 Flannery was an only child and was always a bit precocious.
When she was six years old, she actually trained a chicken to walk backwards and made the news.  She said, "Everything since [the chicken experience] has been an anticlimax."

The house has copies of the books she wrote on display, as well as books she read as a child, complete with her notations.  This one on the left has the inscription: "Not a very good book," followed by her initials.
The O'Connors were devout Catholics, and Flannery attended a private Catholic school.  It looks like her worst subject was spelling.  She was baptized in the Catholic Cathedral where Bob and I had attended mass earlier in the day.

That same Catholic church was visible from Flannery's bedroom window, a constant reminder of a God she either loved and loathed, depending on her mood.
Although this table, doll, and tea set were part of the house, our guide informed us that it was unlikely that Flannery ever played with them. She had a disdain for the usual little girl toys.

Her parents' room was next to hers on the upper level and included this rather creepy dressing gown spread out on the bed in a way that for some reason reminded me of Faulkner's short story "A Rose for Miss Emily."
This "crib" is an interesting albeit claustrophobic way to keep disease-bearing bugs away from the baby:

My favorite room was the upstairs bathroom, complete with reading books in the bathtub and on the back of the toilet:
I am happy to have been born into a time with appliances much more modern than these, although I think the Electrolux vacuum cleaner my mom had was a lot like the one in the bottom right corner of this picture:

I had no idea Flannery O'Connor ever wrote poetry, but she did when she was the student editor of the literary journal at Georgia State College for Women in 1944-1945.  I really liked this one that was framed and hung on the wall. I am sure some of my students would shout a resounding "Hear! Hear!"
 The house also has a good supply of the many newspaper and magazine articles about O'Connor:

I'm glad that we ended up having a little extra time in Savannah, and that we just happened on the O'Connor House.  It was definitely worth the visit for me, and Bob tolerated it quite well.

Another famous citizen of Savannah was Johnny Mercer (1909-1976), lyricist, composer, businessman, and philanthropist.  His most famous work is the song he wrote with Henry Mancini, "Moon River," the theme song of the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's and winner of the 1962 Academy Award for Best Original Song. In all he was nominated for nineteen Oscars and won four. He also co-founded Capitol Records, the label that signed The Beatles. He was such a nice fellow to run into on our afternoon stroll.

One more very important person has connections to Savannah: John Wesley.

"Wait!" you might say. "Wasn't he British?" Well, yes, he was.  I was stunned to learn that Wesley actually journeyed to Savannah in 1736 at the invitation of Governor Oglethorpe. While there he established a Methodist congregation, but then he ran into all kinds of problems.  First, his mission to the Indians proved to be a complete flop. Then a shipboard romance that had developed between Wesley and a woman named Sophia Hopkey on the journey to the Colonies turned sour when Wesley broke off the relationship on the advice of another minister, leading to a nasty legal battle that ended in a mistrial.  It was the stuff reality TV is made of. (Good thing they didn't have it back then.)  Disgraced and depressed, Wesley returned to England some time in 1737, never fully recovering his self-confidence.  In spite of his ignominious departure, the Georgian Methodists obviously hold him in great esteem.  His statue stands in a beautiful park:

. . . just across the street from the "Mother Church of Savannah Methodism":

Next: From the Queen of Ridicule (Flannery O'Connor) 
to the King of the Sublime (Billy Graham)