The Revival Man: An Oral History Of Billy Graham’s First Los Angeles Revival

"This was the day Billy was introduced to the world."

Passionately described by historian Cecilia Rasmussen as the greatest revival since Billy Sunday, the 1949 Los Angeles Crusade officially put William Franklin “Billy” Graham Jr. on the national stage. Sure, the big Minnesotan was known for his fiery and energetic preaching to black bears and woodland creatures up North, but nothing would be the same after Graham took his eight-foot, three-inch frame out West to the City of Angels after accepting an invitation from the “Christ for Greater Los Angeles” Committee.

The First Look

Jet Frum (Christ for Greater Los Angeles Committee): Billy Graham had never preached to actual humans before. This would be his chance, and he would grab it with his hands so hard that nobody — not even his greatest rival, NBA star Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton — could snatch it from him. He was so tall and had what seemed like three or four arms. He towered over all of us as he stood behind that appropriately-sized pulpit.

Tad Brick (observer): When Billy came out with his three arms and tall stature, we all gasped and rang our cowbells out of fear and trepidation. We had all seen a picture show of a big monkey, King Kong, destroying cities, and Graham looked like he was about to destroy us. We rang our cowbells for forty-minutes, hoping to scare him away. Some of us laid on the ground and played dead, while others made themselves look bigger by putting their arms up in the air as high as they could to appear more intimidating. Thankfully, Billy wasn’t shaken. He stayed put on that stage.

“Enormous Billy” preached to thousands that fateful day in 1949.

Linda Furt (observer): When it became clear Billy wasn’t going to climb onto a tall sky-scraper and hold us hostage, the crowd settled down and prepared to hear his message. We marvelled at his voice. It was as if he was singing his sermon — an odd mixture of Frank Sinatra and Doris Day poured out of his voice box. Like a siren, his voice would go up and down, up and down as he preached to six-thousand of us that day.

Tony Richards (Christ for Greater Los Angeles Committee): We had heard rumors that his voice sounded like a police car or fire truck when he preached, but it was amazing listening to it in person.

Jet Frum: The first thing Billy did was search through his Bible to quote a passage from Romans chapter three. As he flipped each page, a person would die in the audience. Since he was so tall, he could see and hear these people dying from up on stage. He clapped and whooped and hollered. It looked like he was being attacked by a swarm of bees. It was breathtaking to watch him compassionately twist and writhe as people died.

Linda Furt: Once he figured out that people were dying with every Bible page he turned, he began turning larger chunks of pages. He was a brilliant man. He reminded me of majestic, tall shetland pony shaking and gyrating on that stage, making smart decisions to save our lives. A person died two feet away from me during one of his page turns and I thought, “The next one could be me. The Revival Man will either right this ship or lose all of us to Sheol.”

Freedom

Tad Brick: As Billy preached through Romans three, it became increasingly clear that his siren voice was captivating those of us who were fortunate enough to survive his terrible page turns. Verse by verse, he disarmed all of us. No longer did we feel righteous. No longer did we feel holy. All of us came to the conclusion that we needed to be saved, and in one voice we all declared, “Big Billy, we are sinners in need of a personal Savior. What do you recommend we do on this day?” Billy used this sudden burst of energy coming toward him to do a back flip and challenge his rival Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton to a duel. Nat appeared.

Brigham Gordan: Nat came out, and the two played some one on one on stage. They used two trash cans as hoops and a heavy rock as a basketball. Billy beat him pretty good that day.

Brad Tanner (observer): Yes, I realized I was a sinner. After packing Nat Clifton into a trashcan, he preached and he preached and he preached. He preached with such incredible authority. My joy turned into fear, and then my fear turned into confusion. After I hit the confusion stage, I experimented with various drugs and alcoholic beverages. I experienced an acid trip for the first time. Then they turned the gravity off and we all started floating all over the place.

Linda Furt: I was hanging on his every word. My feet left the ground after turning off the gravity and I wondered, “How do I get saved? How will I be delivered from my sin?”

After they turned off the gravity, many at the revival began to float uncontrollably

Chad Warwick (observer): Billy’s large feet were tied to the stage, allowing him to preach to the floating masses. He finally gave us the good news: Jesus died for our sins and rose again on the third day. It was simply amazing. The freedom I felt was indescribable. Then a woman flipped the gravity switch and we all began to free fall. Most of us broke bones and teeth, but were grateful for the Good News Billy Graham told us that day.

Linda Hatt (observer): I broke four ribs and lost my spleen in a large group of spleens.

Prince Paulski Tornado (observer): After breaking two knees, I looked up and saw the woman who turned off the gravity: it was the Ariel from Little Mermaid, but as a human. Like, when she’s a human version of herself in that movie. I was angry at her, then Billy Graham turned another group of Bible pages. I heard the audible groan of a brand-new dying person. Thankfully, he probably accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior.

Tony Richards: After Billy preached his sermon and many of us got saved, he predicted that the Los Angeles Lakers would win five championships in the 2,000’s, nearly fifty years after this incredible revival. He was right. Then he butchered a few cattle. He then closed his Bible, and no more people died that day. It was beautiful. He turned, did a pirouette, and he was gone.

Jet Frum: Just like that, he did a prolonged pirouette, and vanished in a cloud of smoke. Several of us died, thousands of us broke our bones, and thousands of us got saved that day. This was the day Billy was introduced to the world.

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