Baltimore Evening Sun (26 March 1914): 6.
Now that the ballot-box has been scientifically stuffed and the coming of the Rev. Dr. Billy Sunday is assured, the most important thing before the moral element is the selection of a suitable site for his tabernacle. The Fifth Regiment Armory would meet his needs admirably, but it is highly unlikely that public sentiment would permit its use for such clowning. Beside, Bill would require it for at least six weeks, and during that time the members of the regiment would have no place to play cards. No other hall in the city would answer the purpose. Bill needs a very large space, not only for his actual tabernacle, but also for the sideshows that accompany him. The lemonade stands alone, so I hear, take up 5,000 square feet, and the tents for the Swiss bell-ringers, two-headed boys and hot dog dealers need as much more. Finally, there must be room for a hospital of 100 beds to take care of the sinners who are thrown into fits by the rev. gent’s terrible bouts with the devil.
Is there such a lot in the city proper? I doubt it. Year by year the circus has been compelled to go farther into the suburbs, until now it is halfway to Back River. I therefore propose that the Rev. Dr. Sunday imitate it, and what is more, that he go it one better. That is to say, I propose that he raise his tabernacle at Back River itself. There he will find room and to spare--and there he will find sin. The groves on both banks swarm with the benighted, the unsanctified, the merry. They have been going there for years and years; they are slaves to the habit; they like the place. Why not go down among them and save them? A doctor, seeking clinical material, goes to a hospital, a house given ever wholly to the sick. Why shouldn’t an evangelist go to a region given over wholly to the sinful?
That the folks who seek recreation at Back River, particularly on Sunday, are all sinners is something that goes without saying. The Rev. Dr. W. W. Davis has told the sad tale in every Sunday-school in the city. To go down there on Sunday afternoon in summer is to get a taste of the vanished glories of Nineveh and Gomorrah. There one finds 25,000 of the unsaved at their babylonish debaucheries. The popping of champagne corks is as the rattle of musketry. The thunder of the mallet on the beer bung is an endless roar. Every eight minutes, by the clock, a man is killed and his carcass thrown overboard. Working girls by the thousand are kidnapped and sold into slavery by organized posses of scoundrels, all armed with hypodermic needles. Fifty warring bands play turkey-trots. Two hundred hoochie-coochie dancers wriggle shamelessly in the sunlight. The feeders and branches of the estuary run blood and bock beer. Above the scene there rests a dense fog of powder smoke, hair, teeth, oyster shells, horse radish and parts of speech.
It is here that the Rev. Dr. Sunday is needed and here that he should go. Let him carry his exhortations to the ultimate consumer. If he sets up his tabernacle in Walbrook, or in Waverly, or in Calverton, he will have to import his clinical material from afar; the average sinner will have a two-mile walk to get to him. Even in Westport or Roland Park he will soon run out of stock. But if he goes to Back River he will be in the central mldst of things. The habits of a lifetime, if nothing more, will attract all the worst sinners to his vicinage. Let him key up his voice to fortissimo and 25,000 will hear him, whether they want to or not. And hearing him, they will be lured from their deviltries and into the paths of righteousness. He will make a killing.
Many other considerations argue eloquently for Back River, beside this obvious one. For one thing, the transportation facilities are excellent. The moral United Railways, traditionally consecrated to the uplift, has long maintained an excellent car service from Back River to Baltimore, its purpose being to give every aid to sinners who repent, throw up the sponge and yearn to escape. But this service, of course, has necessitated the return of the empty cars to Back River, and so the company has turned a thrifty penny by allowing the unregenerate to ride upon them. Thus the sublime law of compensation operates, and the uplift sheds its usufructs.
Again, it must be obvious that Back River, far better than any urban neighborhood, will give Dr. Sunday that acoustical elbow-room which his great eloquence demands. He is no sobber, no whisperer, no dealer in Boston Symphony pianissimos. Detesting the devil with all his heart, he roars his unfavorable opinion in a voice of brass, and at the same time he gallops up and down the platform, stamping, rataplanning and shaking the old deacons out of their chairs. The result is an ear-splitting din, a cacophonous eruption. Anywhere in the city it would terrify the aged, cause horses to run away, and break the peace of the whole population. But at Back River it would fall upon ears already attuned to the harsh music of caroussels, union orchestras, vaudevillains, waiters, murderers, crab-cake venders, switchbacks, shooting galleries and bibuli, and so it would cause no distress.
Finally, there is the consideration that Dr. Sunday’s tabernacle, once he had vacated it, would make a capital arena for the Drip Coffe Chautauqua. The plan to establish it in Anne Arundel county is without merit: Anne Arundel is already virtuous enough. But to set it up at Back River would be carrying the war into Africa. There, indeed, the great benefits of a moral chautauqua are sorely needed. Beside, Baltimore needs it too. Our people suffer from a famine of mirth; they get too few chances to laugh. (The Hon. D. Harry will never run for the Vice-Presidency again! The Hon. Sunday-school Field and the Rev. Dr. John Roach Straton will never come back!) A moral chautauqua would fill the bill. With the Hon. Champ Clark telling the story of his wrongs in one ring, and the Swiss bell-ringers performing in another, and a congress of six-legged calves exhibiting in a third, their midriffs would be pleasantly and salubriously tickled, and for a space, at least, they would forget the sorrows of the world.
Warning to the Rev. Dr. Don S. Colt: I am the original Billy Sunday man, and stand ready to maintain my rights in the courts. Witness: the Hon. William H. Anderson.
Whitewashing the trees at Back River! Painting the drinking benches! Testing the beer pumps under steam! Getting ready for the spring raids!
Two weeks more, and then the grand escape! Munich on May 1. After all, wily repine?
Meanwhile, it is comforting to reflect that Dr. Sunday can never excoriate the worst of us more than the Rev. Dr. Jon Roach Straton excoriated Pontius Pilate.