Christian evangelist Billy Graham delivers sermon to 20,000 fairgoers during Century 21 Exposition on July 8, 1962.

  • By Paula Becker
  • Posted 11/15/2011
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 9964
On Sunday, July 8, 1962, Christian evangelist Billy Graham (b.1918) preaches to a crowd of nearly 20,000 fairgoers at Seattle's World's Fair.  Although Graham's revival meetings usually stretch over many days or weeks, the 3:00 p.m. event is his only sermon at the fair. Seats at the revival meeting are free, but all of those attending have paid $2 for admission to the fair.

Graham's Religious Revival

Seattle businessman Albert G. Howell chaired the "crusade," as Graham's revivals were commonly called. Howell and other planners expressed concern that the ticket purchase requirement might reduce the number of attendees.  Fair management agreed to broadcast Graham's sermon in the Plaza of the States on the fairgrounds, but not to televise it.

Ordained as a minister by the Southern Baptist Convention in 1939, Billy Graham led his first religious revival in Los Angeles in 1949.  Word of Graham's ability to inspire religious conviction in the hundreds of thousands of people who attended that revival (which lasted more than six weeks) spread nationwide.  An Associated Press report printed in The Seattle Times on November 2, 1949, stated, "The crowds come to hear a dynamic, handsome young college president named Billy Graham. Churchmen say he's started the greatest religious revival in the history of Southern California" (p. 25).  At the time, Graham was president of Northwestern Bible College in Minneapolis.

Seattleites had their first look at Graham on February 26, 1950, when Canvas Cathedral, a motion picture documenting the Los Angeles revival meetings, was screened in the Civic Auditorium (later remodeled into the Opera House for the 1962 Seattle World's Fair). Calvary Temple (whose pastor was Reverend Watson Argue), sponsored the event. Music was provided by Hiding Halvarson and Youth For Christ.

First Seattle Visit

Graham visited Seattle in August 1950 to lay plans for a 1951 revival.  The atom bomb was "the only thing that has kept Russia from attacking us," Graham told The Seattle Times.  "Right now the Christian world is fighting for its life against an unholy enemy, Soviet Russia.  Communism is supernaturally inspired.  An equally inspired Christianity is the only answer to it" (August 18, 1950, p. 16).

The 1951 revival was sponsored by 300 Pacific Northwest churches and Christian organizations. Washington Governor Arthur Langlie (1900-1966) and Seattle Mayor William F. Devin (1898-1982) were honorary chairs. The revival was held from July 29 to September 2, 1951 -- five weeks of daily revival meetings -- in Memorial Stadium.  The stadium's seating capacity, The Seattle Times reported, was expanded to accommodate more than 18,500 people.  Opening night drew 14,500.

Even the expanded capacity did not suffice on the revival's final night.  The Seattle Times stated: "More than 30,000 persons, who filled every seat in the High School Memorial Stadium, sat in stairways and stood along railings, heard the young revivalist wind up his campaign with another sermon urging repentance. Hundreds of other persons were turned away to conform with fire department safety regulations" (September 3, 1951, p. 13).  Total attendance over the entire campaign was 443,500. Graham's World's Fair revival, in contrast, was a one-shot opportunity. 

See You In Seattle At The Fair

Graham's 14-year-old daughter Anne (b.1948), her friend Bonnie Barrow, and Bonnie's father Cliff (Graham's song leader) came along to enjoy the fair.  Anne was the second of Graham and his wife Ruth's (1920-2007) five children.

Graham, who was staying at the Seattle Hilton, began his official visit Saturday morning at the Olympic Hotel with 3,000 members of Seattle's business community.  The group was gathered for a Full Gospel Businessmen's Fellowship breakfast.  The crowd filled the Olympic Grand Ballroom, with the overflow listening to Graham's remarks on loudspeaker in the Georgian Room.  Graham's party then proceeded to the fairgrounds.

Graham and his party were escorted through the fairgrounds by Seattle World's Fair Special Events Director Louis V. Larsen.  "Mr. Graham was honored and readily recognized wherever he went on his guided tour," reported The Seattle Times (July 6, 1962, p. 1). The group toured the United States Science Pavilion, the Christian Witness Pavilion, and the Sermons From Science exhibit. The latter two (along with the Christian Science Pavilion, which Graham chose not to visit) comprised the Seattle Christian community's World's Fair presence, and were a response to the stress of living in an age where imminent annihilation via atomic warfare was a real possibility.

The evangelist, reported The Seattle Times, "pledged to do as much fair-going as his fast-paced schedule here will allow" (July 6, 1962, p. 1). The paper quoted Graham's impression of the Science Pavilion: "I don't see any competition here with the Christian Witness or Sermons From Science exhibits.  I think it is going to send people to the religious exhibits to find answers to what their minds are left with at the science exhibits" (July 8, 1962, p. 74). In addition to the Science Pavilion and the religious exhibits, Graham visited Library 21 in the Washington State Coliseum, some of the foreign exhibits, and had lunch atop the Space Needle.  A press conference at the Playhouse was Graham's final stop.

Reflecting on Graham's Saturday visit to the fair, The Seattle Times stated, "There may be an epidemic of sore necks this morning among fairgoers who did double takes when they realized that the tall, handsome man on a conducted tour of the fairgrounds was the famous evangelist ... . Kindergarteners and grandmothers ran to him" (July 8, 1962, p. 74).

After leaving the fairgrounds, Graham and his party proceeded to Shilshole Marina, where they boarded a chartered vessel bound for Blake Island. He met up with the 50-odd members of his crusade team and employees from crusade headquarters who, with their families, were in Seattle to assist with the revival event and sample the fair. The group enjoyed a salmon dinner and performance at Tillicum Village.

Sunday Revival Meeting

Graham's theme was "Prospects For Century 21."  As 3:00 neared, one in three of the 58,179 people on the fairgrounds made their way to Memorial Stadium, hoping to find a seat for Graham's sermon.  Early birds were seated, and the overflow listened in the Flag Pavilion.  Of those gathered, The Seattle Times reported that 609 came forward at the alter call to make what Billy Graham called "a decision for Christ" (July 9, 1962, p. 2).

Graham's spokesman said that all of those who came forward to answer Billy Graham's call would be assigned to a church.  Graham told the crowd, "Neither America or Russia will rule the world of tomorrow.  God will" (The Seattle Times, July 9, 1962, p.2).


Sources: "Tent Preacher Starts Great Religious Revival in L.A.," The Seattle Times, November 2, 1949, p. 25; "Billy Graham Film To Be Shown Here," Ibid., February 18, 1950, p. 3; "A-Bomb, Unity Are Guarantees of Freedom, Says Evangelist," Ibid., August 18, 1950, p. 16; Graham Revival Meetings Will Begin July 29," Ibid., July 21, 1951, p. 5; John Bigelow, "Billy Graham, Who Has Preached To Millions, Opens Here Today," Ibid., July 29, 1951, p. 1; Lane Smith, "Billy Graham Draws 14,500 For Opening Revival Talk," Ibid., July 30, 1951, p. 3; Lane Smith, "30,000 Overflow Stadium As Billy Graham Ends Campaign," Ibid., September 3, 1951, p. 13; "Graham Rally Here Seen As Challenge," Ibid., July 4, 1962, p. 2; Julie Emery, "Billy Graham Will Tour Fair, Lunch At Needle," Ibid., July 5, 1962, p. 1; "Seattle Mission: 3000 Hear Billy Graham At Breakfast," Ibid., July 6, 1962, p. 2; "Christ-Centered Future Urged," Ibid., July 6, 1962, p. 2; "Evangelist 'Converted': Fair Enchants Billy Graham," Ibid., July 6, 1962, p.1; Lane Smith, "Billy Graham Tours Fair, But Can't Escape Admirers," Ibid., July 7, 1962, p. 1; Lane Smith, "Mutual Admiration: Graham, Crowd Trade 'Likes'," Ibid., July 8, 1962, p. 74; Lane Smith, "Urgent Evangelist: Billy Graham Still Preaches Repentance," Ibid., July 8, 1962, p. 87; Lane Smith, "Decision For Christ: Graham Draws Record Sunday Crowd To Fair,"  Ibid., July 9, 1962, p. 2; " Billy Graham," Biography.com website accessed November 12, 2011 (http://www.biography.com/people/billy-graham-9317669); Paula Becker and Alan J. Stein, The Future Remembered: The 1962 Seattle World's Fair And Its Legacy (Seattle: Seattle Center Foundation, 2011), 133.

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