Crusade at the Golden Gate

(The story of Billy Graham's San Francisco Crusade at the Cow Palace in 1958)

© 1959  Sherwood Eliot Wirt

Harper & Brothers, New York, NY


1. Graham, Billy, 1918- 2. Revivals — California — San Francisco
BV3785.G69 W5 || Dewey: 269 W745c || LCCN: 59007163 || OCLC #315040039 || 176p.

Crusade at the Golden Gate is presently held by 174 libraries including Stanford University and Boston College.

Table of Contents

Foreword ... 9

Preface ... 11

I. The Place ... 15

II. The Man ... 30

III. The Work and the Workers ... 56

IV. The People ... 65

1. A Story That Never Made the Church Page ... 65

2. Across the Street to Heaven ... 72

3. Parallel Lines Meet at Infinity ... 81

4. Shirley Moves to Daly City ... 88

5. The Man Who Caught Himself ... 97

6. Willie Kirkland Gets a Coach ... 109

7. The Lord and the Count ... 115

8. The Profession That Became a Vocation ... 120

9. The Bullet That God Deflected ... 126

10. Dr. Warrington Comes Back ... 132

V. The Results ... 146

VI. The Message : Keynote Sermon of Dr. Graham in the Cow Palace ... 167


In the main this report on the San Francisco Crusade deals with that which is of greatest importance in any evangelistic campaign : the spiritual impact upon human lives.

   I have always contended that the capacity crowds, the array of statistics, and the smoothness of organization are of little import unless men and women have an effective and lasting encounter with Jesus Christ.

   Sherwood Wirt has captured the heartbeat of the Crusades by bringing to the witness stand those who can say, "We believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard

Page 10

Him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world."

   In a world that has become discouraged at its own efforts to redeem itself, it is good to know that "there hath not failed one word


The preparing of these pages has been an inspiring and rewarding experience. To see the full scope of a Billy Graham Crusade in action is to realize its uniqueness in the spiritual life of our time. To watch Dr. Graham and his team and staff at work, and to talk with those whose lives have been touched by the Crusade's message, is a privilege for which I shall ever be grateful to God.

   Only God knows the full story of what happened in the San Francisco Bay Area during the momentous days between April 27 and June 22, 1958. What has been caught in this report is a mere fragment. It would be better perhaps

Page 12

not to speak of a report at all, for while I have sought to be objective, it is hard for a minister to be dispassionate when God is obviously and tremendously at work. More appropriately this book could be called an American testimony of praise and thanksgiving, or a few bars from from the Hallelujah Chorus, sung robustly and with the barest suggestion of western rhythm.

   The story of such a Crusade must reflect the opinions of many people, and it would be hard to name all those whose enthusiasms, sympathy, and critical interest have helped to shape the chapters. I must, however, thank a few persons for their special help. Dr. Graham's gracious introduction and his warm support from the beginning of the undertaking are gladly acknowledged. Among his associates I wish particularly to thank for their kind offices Dr. Walter H. Smyth, Walter F. Bennett, Fred Dienert, Miss Sarah Jepson, Miss Patricia Campion, Dr. Charles Farah, Charles Riggs, Russ Reed, Miss Muriel Bergstrom, and other members of the San Francisco staff. Fellow pastors who gave valued advice included Dr. Robert B. Munger, Dr. Carl G. Howie, Rev. Donald F. Lehmann, Rev. Ernest L. Hastings, Rev. Ross F. Hidy, Rev. Hugh David Burcham, Rev. Robert Murphy, and Rev. John Lucas. To brother pastors who lent encouragement and prayer support I shall always be grateful. I am indebted to the libraries of the Oakland Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the San Francisco Call-Bulletin, among others, and particularly to the Rev. Bill Rose, church editor of the Tribune, for helpful assistance.

   For permission to use special material I am obligated to the above-mentioned newspapers and to the magazine Christianity Today, for which I served as Crusade correspondent; to Dr. Graham, to the Rev. Leighton Ford, and

Page 13

to those whose stories appear (altered to avoid identification) in Chapter 4. For additional assistance I wish to thank Mrs. Harold Gudnason, Mrs. Lewis H. Monk, Mrs. C. Henry Johnson, Miss Carolyn Loos, Miss Helen McCain, Mrs. David M. Jolliffe, and Clifford A. Amaral. The use of the Plemmons family cottage at Paradise Park for the task of writing proved a real blessing.

   My deep appreciation goes to my wife, Helen Winola, whose loving help is evident on every page and whose prayers kept me going; and to our son, Alexander, who cheerfully gave up a summer's vacation to the task. Finally I would acknowledge the indulgence of the good people of Hillside Presbyterian Church, many of whom were with me at the Cow Palace night after night. What the Crusade did for our East Oakland parish in a few short months is a story by itself. I am only one of many pastors in the Bay Area today whose vision seems clearer and whose task feels lighter.


The Manse
Oakland, California
January, 1959

Chapter I | The Place

San Francisco, the lovely, carefree Girl of the Golden West — who can describe her? "One of the world's most unusual cities," attempts Herb Caen, "gleaming like a jewel on the western shore of America ... a compact, teeming metropolis of 800,000 people compressed into 44 square miles at the tip of a peninsula, surrounded on two sides by the greatest landlocked harbor in the world and on the third by the boundless Pacific."1

   Unusual? Yes, because it is a city of paradoxes with a "schizoid personality." Not only is there the matter of the

   1. New Guide to San Francisco, New York, Doubleday, 1957.

Page 16

weather — warm and cool, sunny and foggy at the same time. It is also "at once incredibly ugly and incredibly beautiful, as American as Mark Twain yet as international as Hong Kong; as western as its redwoods yet the greatest melting pot in America."2 The better one knows it, the more its contradictions multiply. "It is an unreasonable city .... It loves the good as well as the evil. It is unfaithful to both. It makes enemies of everybody and it loves everybody."3

   Today the clanging, Disneylandish cable cars battle for the right-of-way with sleek Cadillacs prowling up Powell Street. Tarnished gingerbread houses look ghostly and venerable alongside the audacious new architecture. San Francisco is not an old city, but so tempestuous and so romantic have been her hundred years of history that every block seems to be steeped in lore, while an old-world flavor clings inescapably to the whole. It has been said that there are really only two cities in the United States : New York and San Francisco. Will Irwin called it "the gayest, most light-hearted city in the western hemisphere." William Howard Taft called it "the city that knows how."

   The people of San Francisco are easily distinguished along the western slope. To the traditional hospitality and friendliness of the coast they add a touch of urbanity, of unconventional conventionality, of tasteful dress and sophisticated air. It may be the gloves they wear, or the hour they retire. It may be their trace of "south-of-the-slot" accent. In one way or another San Franciscans manage to differ from the southern Californians, from the Valley people, even from the folks across the Bay — and have done so for a century. In their own way they seem to resemble more the Londoners and the Parisians. "What is supremely important to San Franciscans


   2. A. Valentine, Vigilante Justice, New York, Reynal, 1956.

   3. William Saroyan, intro. to San Francisco, New York, Longmans, 1939.

Page 17

is that they be let alone to think and act as they please."4 They are also a proud people, proud of their bridges and their breath-taking vistas, proud of their salty and flamboyant past, proud that their city gave birth to the United Nations.

Spell-checked to here 1/13/18

   It has been said that San Francisco will be whatever a person himself wishes it to be. Within its small compass are housed many diverse cultures, the Chinese world of Chinatown, the Italian world of the North Beach, the Russian world of Potrero Hill, the Negro world around Sutter and Fillmore, plus a healthy dispersion of Irish, Japanese, German, Scandinavian, Mexican, French and other peoples. Says William Saroyan, "San Francisco is the whole world recreated as a single work of art: a painting, a work of sculpture, a poem, a symphony, a story. It is the whole world brought together for the eye of man to behold and the heart to understand."5

   What has made San Francisco so charming in some eyes, however, has been a matter of continued concern and dismay in other eyes, including the eyes of Christians. The sins of the world, the flesh and the devil have afflicted the City by the Golden Gate from its birth far more violently than any other metropolis of modern history. Twice the corruption in government and general disrespect for law and order forced the decednt citizenry to by-pass thier elected officials and to form Vigilance Committees for the protection of the city and the re-establishment of justice.

   Not only did the city grow too fast -- from 50 or 60 inhabitants in the summer of 1846 to 50,0000 some five years later -- it grew with the wrong kind of constituents: unscrupulous


   4. San Francisco (Federal Writers' Project), New York, Hastings House, 1947, p. 94.

   5. Op. cit.

Page 18

politicians from New York's Tammany district, convicts from Australia, gamblers from all over the world who flocked to San Francisco to feast off the pay of the Forty-Niners. Murder and dueling in the city streets became common; the indifference of authorities to the flourishing vice and narcotics trade made San Francisco known to some at least as "the wickedest city in the world."

   Against the unhealthy forces at work down the years there has been a group of earnest, devoted citizens who have banded together in a sustained effort to five their city good government. Carrying on where the Vigilantes left off, yet without stepping outside the existing legal processes, these men and women time after time have pushed through reforms in civic administration, and have forced the cleaning up of disorderly spots. Further, they have given to the city an international reputation as a place of culture and beauty. They have improved its schools, its libraries and its parks. They rebuilt the city after earthquake and fire, attracted industry and commerce, and staged two world's fairs. To them goes the palm for having made of San Francisco a city that people would rather visit than any other in the world.

   Yet something is missing. Nearly every other sizable city in America has been born out of a strong Christian witness which has helped to shape the city's character. One thinks of John Cotton in early Boston, William Penn in Philadelphia, Peter Frelinghuysen in New York, Lord Baltimore in Baltimore, Dwight L. Moody in Chicago -- to name only a few. No matter how perverse the elements that later crept in, our American cities by and large have never been able completely to shake off their heritage. A godly principle still exercises a conservative restraint over the atmosphere of the municipality.

   But San Francisco has never known that kind of ordered Christian conscience. The city's earliest beginnings are

Page 19

steeped in sacred tradition as the Mission Dolores was founded by Father Junipero Serra and the Franciscans in 1776. However, by the time the miners arrived the Mexican government had long since confiscated the mission lands and the buildings had fallen into neglect. Far from exerting influence for good on the mushrooming city, the mission had become a popular scene of Sunday bear and bull fights. Roman Catholics who came west with the gold rush had to build their work from scratch like the rest, until in 1857 the mission buildings were restored to the Church. Thus St. Francis gave his name, but never his spirit, to the brawling young city. Likewise the Mormons who sailed around the Horn and settled in Yerba Buena (later San Francisco) in 1846 were overwhelmed and scattered within three years by the influx of gold-seekers, and their leader, Sam Brannan, defected from the rule of Brigham Young. By 1850 the Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists, Unitarians and Jews had all established footholds in the city, but they were tiny pockets difficult to find in the general hubbub, and even more difficult to be heard.

   What, in the absence of a strong Christian environment, did serve to shape the city? Already we have spoken of the deep desire of many people to work for and to establish social order. For the rest of the easygoing citizenry there are Josiah Royce's contemptuous words -- "irresponsibility, insufferable laziness, detestable good nature and carelessly criminal tolerance." Most of those who came west were more interested in building quick fortunes than in rearing enduring cities. Even good men winked at shocking conditions, and many a Christian shook his head when he should have raised his voice. If a member of the "Hounds" (who tormented the nonwhite populace in 1849) was elected sheriff, what was anyone expected to do about it? If a man made his living contracting to cut off people's noses, how

Page 20

could you stop a thing like that?

   There were three voices that were raised for righteousness in early San Francisco, loudly enough to be heard above the noice of the gaming tables. One belonged to "Father" William Taylor, the stronghearted Methodist street-preacher of the early fifties whose fearless proclamation of the Gospel always commanded a hearing, and whose passion to win men to Jesus Christ stands like a rock in a weary land. Another was James King "of William," the crusading founder-editor of the Bulletin, who thundered for justice in his columns, and who exposed criminal elements in government so mercilessly that he was shot by one fo the city's supervisors, thereby bringing about the formation of the second Vigilance Committee. The third was the Rev. Thomas Starr King, the Unitarian minister whose silver tongue and flaming spirit led in securing the state's loyalty to the Union during the Civil War years.

   Eliminate these voices from the city's history, and how curiously mute the Church seems to have been! Not that the local congregations have been inactive; on the contrary, from earliest time they have preached the Word, administered the sacraments and have done an effective work as they were given light and were able. San Francisco's pastors have been well described as "faithful, intelligent, laborious and devout." It is not criticism but historical statement to say that the churches have not significantly affected the City by the Golden Gate. The Vigilance Committee of 1856, for example, was Church-endorsed but not Church-led. It drew its motivation not from the sword of the Spirit and the prophetic message of Scripture, but simply from a situation which decent men had found to be intolerable. The Church has not been ranged on the side of the Gospel against its environment; too often it has been quietly absorbed

Page 21

by its environment. Thus one honest present-day minister of a large city church has suggested that what the pastors have done for San Francisco may not be as significant as what San Francisco has done to the pastors.

   In 1856 W.P. Strickland observed, "Numerous as have been the works published in relation to California, its religious history has not been written." Another hundred years have passed and that history still has not been written -- a significant fact in itself. Meanwhile the spate of books published about California has grown to a figure hard to estimate. Who has written those books? Not the Church! The typical book about San Francisco could not be ascribed to a Christian hand by any stretch of the imagination. Almost without exception the chroniclers have skirted the moral issues; they have smirked at the city's "colorful" past and shed nostalgic tears over the passing of such "landmarks" as the Barbary Coast, and have concluded their sudies by setting forth what they consider to be the principles of proper conduct for a San Franciscan: equability; holding one's liquor well; tolerance; not slapping people on the back; good taste and form; and get the job done. "This do," they tell us, "and thou shalt live."

   It is disturbing to learn that the whole task of interpreting the spirit and purpose of San Francisco has been taken over by "intellectuals" who are at heart romanticists, hedonists and epicures, while the God-fearing men and women burrow ever more deeply in the life of their particular church programs as if to say, "The situation is out of control." The present irruption of the "Beat Generation" illustrates the point. San Francisco has long had its art and literary colony, fairly unrelated to the things of Christ. Today many tourists "doing the city" will not so much as cast a glance at an historic church, but they would not miss seeing "The Place"

Page 22

where the "beatniks" gather for anything.

   What is a "beatnik"? Being beat, we are told,

is leaning on the dusty bar of a bistro and saying softly, 'I don't believe in God or in Billy Graham either. Today's messiahs are all in the loony bins ... ' It is getting high at marijuana parties or deliriously intoxicated with a sharpened awareness of sights and sounds and smells.6

What is the philosophy of a "beatnik"? It is, "I'm here and I wish I weren't and to hell with it." Or, if a "loner" who is "aware" is asked what life is all about, we are told that he will reply, "I don't know, I don't care, and it doesn't make any difference."

   Yet to all this the Church says nothing -- is hardly aware the problem exists. If "Father" Taylor were alive today he would not be preaching from the pulpit of the wealthy downtown church; he would be in front of "The Place" singing up a meeting, and confronting the nihilism of the "beat" ones with a gospel of redemption and hope through the Lord Jesus Christ. There is in fact a cruous modernity about Taylor's lament over the spiritual state of the primitive city in his classic, Seven Years' Street Preaching in San Francisco.7

   This city, it is true, can exhibit as many as many church edifices at a greater cost than any other city of its age in the world. The people of California are justly proverbial for their liberality in giving for charitable and religious purposes. They also treat a man's religious opinions, professions and efforts with more respect, probably, than any other new country; and a minister of the Gospel can preach in the open streets of any city or town in California, day or night,

   6. Allen Brown in the San Francisco Chronicle, June 15, 1958.

   7. New York, Carlton & Porter, 1856, 342.

Page 23

without any fear of serious disturbance. Everybody, to be sure, will not stop and listen, but nobody will stop to interfere with him. But, with all these admissions in favor of California in general, and of San Francisco in particular, I believe nevertheless that it is as yet the hardest country in this world in which to get sinners converted to God.

More recently William Saroyan has unconsciously disclosed how San Francisco "patronizes" its churches and their message. In his advice to tourists he recommends:

   There are no end of ways of enduring time [!] in San Francisco, pleasantly, beautifully, and with the romance of living in everything. Eat any kind of dish the races of the world know how to prepare. Drink any kind of wine you like. Play an game you care to play. Go to the opera. The symphony. The concert. Go to a movie or a stage play. Loaf around in the high-toned bars, or in the honky-tonks. Sail in the bay. Go down to Bay Meadows or Tanforan and bet the horses. Go to church.8

But lest anyone think that San Francisco is a city of churches, George West hastens to reassure that "nowhere in America is there less in evidence the cold theological eye [!], the cautious hand withheld, the lifted eyebrow, the distrust of playfulness ..."9

   What are the reasons for the difficulty of the field from a Christian point of view? Taylor in his early work mentions some of them: the isolated condition of society, the migratory character of the population, and the basic attraction of material gain. Just one hundred and one years later, in December, 1957, a study of the problem was made by the Rev. Leighton Ford, associate evangelist with the Billy Graham team, in preparation for the 1958 San Francisco Bay Cities Crusade.


8. Op. cit., vii. (Italics added.)

9. San Francisco, op, cit., 93.

Page 24

Mr. Ford's survey, while wider in scope, bears an interesting resemblance to the remarks of the pioneer street-preacher. Because of its relevance to the purposes of this book, I am quoting from Mr. Ford's study at some length:

   What are some of the major problems faced by church groups in the Bay Area?

   1. Mobility. In the next twelve months there will be one change of address for every two families. A telephone executive estimates that only one out of three phones will be connected to the same address for a full year. There is a tremendous desire to move, an unsettled feeling. The pastor faces people who give this excuse: "No, I won't find a church home now, because I expect to move in several months," even though eventually they may never move.

   2. Money. New churches are needed to reach the 8,200 new people coming in every month. The land alone for a new church costs $40,000. People who have moving in the back of their minds won't invest in land for a church they soon expect to leave.

   3. Lapsed Members. There is a saying among church leaders, ""That's not snow on the Sierras. Those are church letters people threw out the window as they drove into California." One official estimates that 60 to 80 per cent of people coming to California are church members where they came from, but that only 15 per cent join here. It indicates perhaps that to many of them church membership was a traditional part of the pattern of their community life, and did not involve a personal commitment to Christ.

   4. Pagan Background. The pagan spirit of '49 still dominates. Much of the rest of the country was settled by people looking for a way of life which included family and church. But California was settled by people who were seeking for only one thing -- money. Stores and mines,

Page 25

but not churches, were at the center of the towns. San Francisco has never had a great influential church. The city has no religious heritage of any significance.

   5. No Community. There is no community spirit out here as in the Midwest. It is pioneer and independent in spirit. People from other parts of teh country came from towns where there was a community tradition, including church, but all the ties have been broken as they are uprooted to the West Coast. San Francisco has always been a city, but not a community; with masses, but not individuals. There ahs been little neighborly spirit -- the neighborly spirit of the other communities is bought and sold here. There is an indifference to need such as in New York, where a person can fall into the ghutte or on the street and no one stops to help -- and no one cares about the indifference. Here is a splendid open door for the Church to provide a community that cares.

   6. Ignorance of Christ. There are many people, non-whites and foreign-born whites, in the San Francisco area who are ignorant of the Christian message. There are aslo many American-born people who have been here a long time and as a result have never had the slightest Christian training. These people are either indifferent or hostile to the Church. They are lost and bewildered, they try to escape their problems by dope, drink, money, pleasure or combinations thereof, but it never occurs to them that Christ might have the answer.

   One is inevitably reminded in considering San Francisco of Laodicea. That was a great city which stood at the crossroads of communication and transportation. It thought itself to be rich and in need of nothing. But Jesus said that Laodicea, although it was a banking center was poor, although it was noted for its manufacture of cloth was naked, and although it was the home of the famous medical school, was blind.10 He counseled the city to get from


   10. Rev. 2:17-18.

Page 26

God gold tried in the fire, a robe of righteousness, and spiritual eye-salve. The great sin of laodicea like that of San Francisco was indifference. They couldn't care less. The same Jesus Christ says to San Francisco today as He did to Laodicea then, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock ... "11 Jesus Christ has been left standing too long on Mount Davidson. He wants to be received into the heart of the people and of the city.

   The present-day statistics of San Francisco's social habits accentuate


From the Back Cover

All rights reserved. Used by permission. No portion of this online edition of the book may be reproduced in any form or by any means, except for brief quotations for the purpose of review, comment, or scholarship, without written permission from the author.

Crusade at the Golden Gate is hosted online by

christian books online books