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by William H. Benson

May 15, 2008

     Billy Graham and his team conducted only a single evangelistic crusade for the entire year of 1957, but it lasted for three and a half months: from May 15 until September 2 in New York City.

     The city frightened this son of a North Carolina dairy farmer, but it need not have. Already, during the past nine years, his team had conducted a series of successful evangelistic crusades in a number of the nation’s and world’s major cities, including Los Angeles, Boston, Washington D.C., London, and Bombay.

     On the eve of his departure, he labeled New York City, “our Jerusalem. It is the center of art, culture, and entertainment. The world watches New York, how it eats, drinks, dresses, looks. We face the city in fear and trembling. I’m prepared to go to New York to be crucified by my critics, if necessary. When I leave New York, every engagement we have in the world might be canceled. It may mean that I’ll be crucified—but I’m going.”

     His marketing team—composed of Willis Haymaker, Charlie Riggs, Jerry Beavan, Leighton Ford, and members of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association—had implemented a failure-proof crusade machine, a symphonic operation guaranteed to bring in the people. They first had organized a massive worldwide prayer campaign.

     Then, their media blitz included 650 billboards, 40,000 plastic rings that slipped over a telephone’s dial, 35,000 window posters, 40,000 bumper stickers, 1,000,000 letterheads, 2,500,000 envelope stuffers, 250,000 crusade songbooks, and 100,000 Gospels of John. All was geared to keep Billy’s name and face in the public’s eye.

     On Friday, May 10, Walter Cronkite interviewed Billy on CBS news. On Sunday evening, May 12, Billy appeared on The Steve Allen Show, along with Dean Jones, Milton Berle, Tallulah Bankhead, and Pearl Bailey. On Wednesday morning, May 15, Billy again was on television, this time with Dave Garroway on The Today Show.

     That first night a crowd of 18,000 flocked into Madison Square Garden on 30th Street, a block west of Broadway, to see and hear Cliff Barrows’s 1500-member choir, to listen to the mellifluous George Beverly Shea sing a favored hymn, but mainly to hear Billy.

     Said to look like a Norse god, with his wavy straw-colored hair and jutting features, his voice boomed across the arena and laid bare people’s sins with such standard phrases as, “My Bible says . . . ,” and “the ground is level at the foot of the cross,” and “Christ may never pass this way again,” and “tonight you may know peace with God.”

     Night after night Billy preached, and the crowds overfilled the Garden. On Saturday night, June 1, ABC Television broadcast Billy and the entire crusade, opposite The Jackie Gleason Show and The Perry Como Show, and for the next sixteen Saturday nights, Billy preached into people’s living rooms, via television.

     Supposed to end on June 30, the crusade was extended to Saturday, July 20 for a final service, to be held in Yankee Stadium. Even though the temperature reached to more than 105 degrees, more than a hundred thousand people assembled. Vice President Richard Nixon spoke for ten minutes, and then Billy preached and announced that the crusade would continue for several more weeks.

     The final service was held in Times Square on Saturday, September 2, Labor Day, when an estimated 75,000 stood and stared up at Billy, perched high on a platform.

     The fundamentalists had criticized him because he had associated with the mainline churches, and the liberals were dismayed at his simplistic theology and slick marketing techniques. Yet, Billy stood firm on the middle ground as a New Evangelical, and the people in and around New York City had for that summer of 1957 flocked to the Garden to witness a phenomenon—a young and ever-popular evangelist present his claims.


     He would preach around the world for another four decades, before he preached his final crusade, in 2005, and also in New York City.