STILLPOINT Archive: last updated 11/04/2008

ARTICLE | Billy Graham Takes Boston--and Gordon--by Storm

by Pauline Kolodinski Brown '50

Pauline Kolodinski Brown '50 recalls the Billy Graham Crusade in Boston that began on New Year's Eve, 1949, and continued for weeks afterward. This is her story of the Crusade's effect on the Gordon community, and of its powerful after effects.  

Cleaning out my file drawer recently, I came across an envelope of yellowed newspaper clippings. Why had I saved them? Removing the contents carefully, I saw headlines from Billy Graham's 1950 crusade in Boston--a faded photo of Mechanics Hall on New Year's Eve 1949, packed with people; and I was there. The memories came flooding back. The end of an old year and the beginning of a new one, and also the beginning of the last half of my senior year at Gordon. I went out on my first date with Ralph Brown '50 that night. We went to the Ice Capades at Boston Garden and then to Boston Garden to hear Billy Graham preach. I had hoped for this date for months and wasn't disappointed. The midnight service and Billy Graham also lived up to our expectations.

In November we students at Gordon (the campus was in Boston back then) had been thrilled to hear how a young evangelist had taken Los Angeles by storm. That crusade made headlines all over the country. Marion (Johnson '53) Allaby remembers the girls praying in the dorm for Billy Graham and his crusade on the West Coast. As we heard more of the way God was working, the news galvanized the College.    

Then we heard that Billy Graham was coming to Boston. In advance the local newspapers published articles about him, questioning the reception he would receive here. The Evangelistic Association of New England (now Vision New England) and Dr. Harold Ockenga of Park Street Church had invited him to speak at the New Year's Eve Service, followed by a weeklong crusade at the church. The newspapers put Billy Graham on the front pages. They were skeptical at first, evidenced by the headline in the Boston Herald reading "Evangelist Here to Vie with New Year's Fun." The article described Billy Graham as "a youthful evangelist who thinks he can outrival the convivial lures of New Year's Eve with a Mechanics Building religious rally."

But the crusade was a huge success, and for two nights after that, Park Street Church was full with hundreds more standing outside. Dr. Ockenga and the evangelistic team decided to move the meetings back to Mechanics Hall. With a packed house every night, the campaign was extended beyond the original one week. When the hall was no longer available, the crusade moved to the Opera House. The climax came on January 17 when nearly 16,000 attended the final meeting at Boston Garden with an estimated 5,000 turned away. Nothing like that had happened in living memory in Boston. Had revival come to New England? The Lord had certainly begun something quite remarkable. My faded clippings tell the story, and they bring back so many memories.   

What did that crusade mean to us who were Gordon students? For those 17 days in January 1950 we talked of little else. We held prayer meetings. We volunteered as personal workers and to sing in the choir. Yes, we still had to go to classes--I don't remember our professors lightening the load of assignments. But the whole campus was focused on the Billy Graham meetings. The kitchen served our main meal at noon and prepared bag suppers for those going downtown. People were turned away every night so we had to get there early. Going back on the subway, whole cars filled with people singing praises to God--in Boston!

Among my clippings is a faded picture of Tolbert "Tal" McNutt '50, president of Boston Youth For Christ, with Billy Graham. Tal has spent his life as an evangelist, ministering all over New England and beyond. He still carries on an active ministry with his wife Evelyn (Bearse) '52. Alan Johnson '50 recalls the father of classmate Elmer "Doc" Murdoch '50, standing outside the building handing out tracts and greeting people. A Congregational minister, Pastor Murdoch wore a clerical collar and people were mistaking him for a Roman Catholic priest. Many stopped and asked, "Is it all right to go in, Father?" Pastor Murdoch's reply: "By all means--you need to hear this message."

The crusade impacted many of us in significant ways. Billy Graham's messages, straight from the Bible, clearly pointed people to Jesus Christ as the answer to their deepest problems, and they responded by the thousands. Stan Allaby '53 led an individual to Christ and has never forgotten the thrill of that experience. Many of us, previously reticent in sharing our faith, became much bolder. We had seen God at work right here in Boston. The experience inspired us to hope for even greater things in the future, both in New England and in our own lives.

The Billy Graham Crusade that began on New Year's Eve didn't end on January 17. On March 27 Graham began three weeks of meetings in 15 cities all over New England. Hundreds more made commitments to Christ during those crusades. Billy Graham received invitations to speak at colleges and universities in Boston and elsewhere. He did not change his message to impress academics and found that everywhere students gave him a respectful hearing. This spring campaign culminated in a massive rally on Boston Common in April. When I got up that Sunday morning, though, it was pouring! Could the rally go on? Billy Graham wrote in his autobiography, Just as I Am, "I have never been quite sure who controls the weather." When reporters phoned to inquire, he assured them he would be preaching as scheduled.

And the weather did not deter the thousands determined to attend the rally. Buses came from all over New England. At 2 p.m., during the singing of the first hymn, the rain stopped, umbrellas came down, and by three o'clock when Billy Graham got up to preach, the sun broke through the clouds, a sign of God's blessing. Present in that crowd, estimated to be 100,000, were many from Gordon. I for one will never forget that day.

Pauline "Polly" Kolodinski Brown holds an A.B. in theology from Gordon College. She did graduate work at the Summer Institute of Linguistics in Norman, Oklahoma; the Kennedy School of Missions in Connecticut; and Wheaton Graduate School in Wheaton, Illinois. With her husband, Ralph, she served in Pakistan from 1954 to 1988. She coauthored Functional Sindh, a grammar of the Sindhi language. The Browns have five children and 17 grandchildren. She has recently published a memoir of their missionary years, Jars of Clay: Ordinary Christians on an Extraordinary Mission in Southern Pakistan.


Billy Graham
Pauline Kolodinski