||William Ashley (Billy) Sunday was born on
his grandparents' farm just south of Ames, Iowa, on November 19, 1862.
Martin and Mary Ann Cory settled there in 1852 on land now occupied by
the Highway 30 and Duff Avenue interchange, and the old sewage treatment
plant. The Cory family cemetery is still located on that site.
In the picture on the left are (left to right) Billy Sunday, his aunt Rosetta Simmons (who was with Billy's mother at the time of his birth), and his older brother H. E. (Ed) Sunday. They are standing in front of the log home which was Billy's birthplace. This structure, no longer in existence, stood near what was later to be Ames Municipal Airport. The photo is from William T. Ellis' book, Billy Sunday - the Man and His Message, published in 1914.
Billy Sunday and his two brothers were orphaned when their father became an early Civil War casualty, and life for the family was a struggle despite Mary Jane Sunday's remarriage in 1864. The boys attended a one-room school (Clearview School) just west of the farm where their teacher, C.G. McCarthy, first instilled a love of baseball. Mary Jane offered her sons love and nurturing, but after her second marriage ended in divorce, and a third union to an itinerant carpenter provided little family support, the two younger boys, Billy and Ed, were placed in orphanages. Billy returned to the Cory farm when he was fourteen, but differed with his grandfather to the extent that he chose to live on his own. He moved to nearby Nevada, Iowa, where he became acquainted with Colonel John Scott, a leading citizen and the state's Lieutenant Governor.
|Billy Sunday attended Nevada High School, also working as a janitor and doing chores for Colonel Scott, who provided him with room and board. He continued to play noteworthy baseball in Nevada, and in Marshalltown where he moved to take a job in a furniture shop. In Marshalltown he was discovered on the city team by Adrian Anson, captain of the Chicago baseball team then known as the White Stockings (today known as the Cubs). Billy rose to the major leagues in 1883 after trying out for the team. He remained a professional baseball player from 1883 to 1890 for Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia. He even held the National League record for running bases in fourteen seconds. His record of ninety-six stolen bases in one season was exceeded only by Ty Cobb's mark of ninety-eight.|
In 1903 he was ordained into the mainline Presbyterian denomination of his day. He became known as the Baseball Evangelist, using his baseball background, slangy language, flamboyant manners, and highly developed promotional methods to become the most popular evangelist of his time. It won't save your soul if your wife is a Christian. You have got to be something more than a brother-in-law to the Church.
Bible toting Billy Sunday and his wife
Sunday lived at a time when American society was in the mood for the idealism Sunday expounded. He was supported and sought after by U.S. presidents and community leaders throughout the country. His trademarks were pointed, sometimes earthy and always quotable one-liners, and theatrical antics at the podium. I know there is a devil for two reasons; first, the Bible declares it; and second, I have done business with him.
Billy Sunday urged his audiences to become active in the church and he believed the church should be active in social issues. I don't believe that God wants any man to be a hermit. Jesus Christ did not wear a hair shirt and sleep upon a bed of spikes. He went among the people and preached the Gospel.
|Postcard images depicting Billy Sunday's preaching poses|
Image from the postcard containing the following quote:
6.06 - On Apr. 28.06 was begun the greatest campaign for righteousness ever known in this city; for five long weeks it raged in a tabernacle with seating capacity for 6,000; a choir of 4 to 500 voices under Fred Fisher. Wonderful in every detail. Closing on June 2 with 1365 converts. Rev. Sunday rec. $3,064.38 as a voluntary offering. Rev. Sunday wears no glasses, delivered his farewell on Monday night to a large audience in spite of a heavy rain storm. A powerful sermon. 73 converts. Ebbie.