Billy Sunday and the Mary Powell
In 1917 the steamboat Mary Powell took one of her last excursions. The above advertisement, published in June, 1917, gives Hudson Valley residents the opportunity to travel down to New York City to see Billy Sunday's Tabernacle.
Sunday was a former baseball star turned evangelical Christian and had been known for his fiery revivals. But although he once said Prohibition was a greater cause than the First World War, when the U.S. entered the war in April of 1917, he turned to his pulpit to decry Germany and Kaiser Wilhelm as tools of the Devil.
He arrived in New York City to enormous crowds just days after the U.S. entrance into the war. Thousands met him at Penn Station, where he required a police escort. Thousands more thronged into his custom-built Tabernacle where he preached fiery revivals with a patriotic tinge. The tabernacle included 16,000 seats. He gave revivals multiple times a week in New York City for over ten weeks.
Without amplification, Sunday used enormous gestures, a gregarious personality, and special acoustics along with music to make his points.
While in New York City in 1917, Sunday purportedly converted nearly 100,000 people to his brand of Christianity and was in the pages of the New York Times constantly during the ten weeks of the revival.
But like the Mary Powell, Billy Sunday's career waned after 1917, especially after the end of the First World War and the onset of Prohibition - his cause celebre - in 1920. He continued to preach the revival circuit, albeit to smaller and smaller crowds, until his death in 1935. The Mary Powell's 1917 season was her last. She was out of service in 1918, sidelined due to coal shortages thanks to the First World War, and sold in 1919 for scrap.
To learn more about the Mary Powell and her long career, visit our online exhibit, "Mary Powell: Queen of the Hudson."
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This blog is written by Hudson River Maritime Museum staff, volunteers and guest contributors.
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