Chapter 5: The Glory Barn
The city may be said to have lost its appetite for revivals sometime between 1910 and 1915. Previous to that time such affairs flourished handsomely. It was a poor year indeed that lacked the appearance of a theological Barnum on the local scene – a poor year that failed to see a least a month devoted to a frantic campaign against the Devil.
Possibly the increasing gorgeousness and lasciviousness of the movies sated the public taste for emotional exhibitionism. Certainly the clergy organized against the evil practice of allowing itinerant shepherds to shear their flocks and depart with the fleece. Even the Reverend Sunday encountered strong clerical opposition to his four-week appearance a few years ago; and the wooden arena erected for his finish fight with sin showed a deplorable of empty seats almost from the sounding of the gong for the first round. Again, in 1927, the city provided a mere two-night stand for Aimee Semple McPherson; and it was felt that large numbers of the customers may have attended more in the idea upon passing upon Mr. Ormiston’s taste in feminine pulchritude than with a yearning for salvation.
In 1929, however, the racket was revived with what were, at least from the showman’s point of view, highly satisfactory results.
One of the older and more conservative congregations had been contemplating for some time the erection of a new temple of worship. The old one was located in a section which was rapidly becoming popular, as a residential district, with the colored brethren. Perhaps the white folks felt that their ascending prayers might get mixed with those of the dusky denizens of the neighborhood, and that there might be a similar confusion in delivery when the resultant blessings were showered down. Anyway, there was some talk of needing a larger church; and all hands were agreed that they needed a new one. There had been three years of conversation about it, all of which had boiled down time after time into the apparently unanswerable question of where they were going to get the money.
There appeared a Moses to lead the faithful out of the financial wilderness. He arrived in a high-powered motor car, shell-rimmed pince-nez and a pair of dove-colored gloves. His impressive figure, resounding voice and hearty yet pious mien suggested a happy combination of the personalities of J. Rufus Wallingford and Elmer Gantry.
He announced that the congregation could build a brand new hundred-and-fifty thousand- dollar church without any money at all. The figure made them gasp, but it intrigued a horde of eager listeners. He wooed and won them. He built the Glory Barn. He chaperoned it through its brief but hectic career. And he departed, as all great artists do, at the psychological moment.
Mr. Wallingford-Gantry’s plan was a very simple one. They would build the Glory Barn. In it they would conduct a six-week revival campaign which would be open to the whole town. The attendance of all the two hundred thousand sinners of the city would be assured by the announcement that no collections would be taken up. Salvation, for once, would be free.
There would be a magnificent array of pulpit talent. Instead of having some ham-and-egg performer to dispense the Word for the entire period of the campaign, he would arrange for the consecutive appearances of the most potent soul-savers of the land.
At the end of the six-week furore the cumulative effect of these barrages would have the public lathered up to such an extent that raising money would be like taking candy from the baby. They would hold two or three extra meetings which the two hundred thousand sinners would be permitted to unbelt. Those who were unable to fight their way through the crush to the collection table- and there might be several hundred such – would be called upon by the congregational committees. But even this would be child’s play because the committees would be captained by his own imported and hand-picked corps of eighteen high-pressure solicitors. Finally, he personally would collect a basketful of five-thousand-dollar contributions from the factories and chain stores; big orders like that were his meat.
The campaign, he said, would produce at lease one hundred thousand dollars; the remaining fifty thousand could, of course be borrowed at the bank.
It all sounded too good to be true. Indeed there were a few hard-headed business men among the elders of the congregation who wanted to ask a few questions.
How did he know he could perform as outlined? His answer that he had already so performed for fifty-two other congregations located all the way from the Atlantic to the Pacific. He even gave them the names of a few of them and urged that doubters of his prowess write for confirmation.
Where were they going to get the money to build the Glory Barn and pay the expenses of the campaign? He would provide it – he had financial backing up to two hundred thousand dollars. He would ask, however, that at the Sunday night meetings the customers be permitted to come through with a modest “free will offering” just to help out with the campaign expenses. If this wasn’t sufficient to meet the cost of erecting the Glory Barn, itself, the hiring of the pulpit talent, the vocal celebrities and the like, it would be his look-out and not the congregation’s.
Finally, they asked, was he doing this for his health, or in the hope of a brighter halo, or what? Well, of course, even earnest laborers in the vineyard had to live, but all he would ask for doing the whole job was a paltry ten thousand dollars, payable only when, as and if the campaign was brought to a successful conclusion and all the money raised. He would, however, ask that the congregation advance thirty-five hundred of this sum, merely as evidence of its good faith; but he would even show them how to produce that amount without putting their hands into their pockets.
One thing more. He wanted distinctly understood that any arrangement entered into would be in the form of a written agreement, placing upon him the entire responsibility for the success of the campaign, and assuring the congregation of being on the receiving end when the shekels began to roll in.
What more could anyone ask? They took him on, under a contract which was approved by a considerable array of clerical and legal talent. They even went so far as to write to several of his church references. All of the replies were favorable except one which stated that the information as to the whereabouts of Mr. Wallingford-Gantry would be welcomed by the sheriff of a distant city. When they showed him this one he laughed heartily, saying that the writer, a great friend of his, was one of the world’s leading practical jokers.
Things began to hum. True to his word, he showed them how to raise the thirty-five hundred dollars earnest money without taking up a subscription. He simply went to the neighborhood where the old church was and proceeded to sell that edifice to the colored worshipers of the Resurrection Baptist Church.
Two or three whirlwind meetings of the black congregation did the job. Wallingford-Gantry’ imposing figure and booming voice filled the whole church. He whooped it up in elegant style. Above the din of the “Amens” and “Hallelujahs of the colored folks he shouted to them to come forward and cover the Good Book – a large “Pulpit” edition – with their subscriptions.
And they came. When the smoke of the last meeting cleared away it was discovered that two thousand dollars had been raised. This acted as a first payment on the thirty-thousand dollar price of the building. Having performed this miracle, it was easy for him to persuade the white congregation to raise the rest of his thirty-five hundred by increasing the small loan already on the old church building.
Next he produced a set of architect’s plans for the new hundred-and-fifty thousand-dollar temple. It was an astounding edifice. It had a pseudo-Gothic nave and a three-story secular wing which resembled the larger portion of a metropolitan hospital. In accordance with current ecclesiastical design it provided five times as much floor space for Sunday school work and social activities as it did for the actual worship of the Lord. The main social hall was larger than the auditorium itself. There were kitchens, ladies’ parlors, studies, secretarial offices and thirty-two classrooms, many of which were quite spacious. Everyone was delighted with the plans, and especially with the perspective sketch in color, which presented in full the imposing proportions of the contemplated cathedral.
Meanwhile he had organized the entire congregation, if only on paper, into thirty committees – executive, flying squadron, cottage prayer, special gifts, conference, ushers, and the like. The blue-printed committee chart, with its maze of interconnecting lines, was a truly an awesome thing.
By this time they were ready to build the Glory Barn. It was to be a temporary wooden structure of the sort usually employed in big-time revivals. The seating capacity was only a thousand, as it was felt that it would be better to turn away a few of the frantic penitents from time to time, and thus whet their appetites for salvation. The site was on ground already owned by the congregation. It developed, however, that the plot on which these lots were located was restricted to temporary buildings; and the neighbors, facing the prospect of six weeks of boisterous soul-saving, announced their intention of seeing that this restriction was observed. So the congregation took a two-month lease on some nearby ground.
Unfortunately, it was discovered that the lumber dealers did not regard Mr. Wallingford-Gantry’s credit with the serene confidence felt by the congregation. By that time, enthusiasm was at such a high pitch that the trustees of the church were willing to go on the dotted line for thirty-three hundred dollars’ worth of expensive lumber. A carpenter contractor, engaged by Wallingford-Gantry, appeared with his gang of workmen and whisked the Glory Barn up in nothing flat.
“Come – Have A Glad Time With Us!” This cheery slogan, in forty-two-point type, streamed across the bottoms of large newspaper advertisements for two or three days before the Glory Barn opened its doors. And the press, with juicy business already on the books and more promised, opened its news columns to elaborate free publicity.
A five-column layout pictured the Glory Barn, Wallingford-Gantry, the pastor of the congregation, and nine of the pulpit-thumpers who were expected to harangue the multitudes during the six-week roundup of sinners. Foremost among these was S. Parkes Cadman, the messiah of the microphone. In his case, unfortunately, the sinners were forced to content themselves with his rather dour visage as pictured in the public prints; he never appeared in person. But there were Sergeant York and the Reverend Robert A. Elwood, the latter a one-time Chautauqua associate of the sainted Bryan, and later pastor of the Boardwalk Church in Atlantic City. Of these two, more later. There followed six distinctly lesser luminaries, drafted largely from the pulpits and national boards of the denomination itself.
Committees bustled through final arrangements. Three-color broadsides were circulated. Programs were printed. Tickets, artfully designed to resemble those one presents at a theatre, were widely distributed. The Glory Barn Special, a four-page weekly publication, made its appearance. It contained, along with news of forthcoming events, “The Roadside Pulpit,” a column of pious thoughts from the distinguished pen of Wallingford-Gantry himself. His genius even became lyric in a four-stanza verse which concluded:
“I’ll sing His praise, I’ll ever sing,
I’ll even make the echo ring;
For Christ turned me away from sin,
And made me free and pure within.”
The gala evening opening of the Glory Barn was a wow. They packed them in. Perhaps the “no collection” feature helped, making the heretics feel that if they could be saved at no cost to themselves it might be well to have a whirl at it. The exterior of the Glory Barn was brightly floodlighted, and a single searchlight pointed heavenward, advising Jehovah of the precise point at which the Devil was taking a beating. Passing motorists, accustomed as they were to the glare of filling stations, stopped to stare, parked their cars and entered.
There was preaching, of course, but the glory of the evening was the music. The walls bulged outward under the blast of four pianos and a large chorus choir led by Wallingford-Gantry himself. In fact, throughout the campaign – when he wasn’t giving “pep” talks, booming cheery greetings and slapping the customers on the backs – Wallingford-Gantry gave himself to uproarious hymnody. On one occasion he presented the two hundred members of the Resurrection Baptist Church as a special choir. Each one was given a lighted candle and the rest of the lights extinguished. With only the flickering, spectral candlelight on their gleaming black faces and rolling eyes, they sang “Holy Spirit, Shine on Me.” It knocked the white folks cold.
Thrice on Sundays and once each week night except Mondays, the imported clergy went after sin with hammer and tongs. Time after time the Devil was flayed. The increasing glory of the Kingdom, and the reasons why it should increase if it wasn’t doing so, were expounded at great length. Most of the performers had good houses, though the anticipated rioting at the entrances did not materialize.
There were all kinds of special rallies. One was a young people’s barbecue for which the opulent Wallingford-Gantry provided a whole side of beef, a large covey of baked hams, and several bushels of trimmings. Unfortunately only thirty thirty-five of the wayward younger generation showed up; and it took even the colored cooks and their large families to dispose of the remaining provender.
The clouds did not begin to gather until near the end of the Glory Barn campaign. The first to appear on the horizon involved an indemnity bond which Wallingford-Gantry was to have posted as part of his agreement with the congregation. There had been some delay about this. Then it developed that the two bonding companies had turned him down flat and a third was awaiting the approval of its New York office. Simultaneously there arose a rumor of charges of “mismanagement” brought by another congregation which, it seemed, had enjoyed Wallingford-Gantry’s services. Getting wind of this, the last bonding company promptly withdrew from the picture. Next it appeared that the newspapers had not been paid for the advertising or free publicity. This naturally reduced the nightly swarms of candidates for salvation.
Then new rumors were heard, this time involving a charge of embezzlement filed by a church in another state. Finally it was discovered that Wallingford-Gentry had taken from members of the colored congregation a new note in place of the hastily executed sales agreement, had succeeded in persuading several substantial members of the white congregation to endorse it, and was apparently on the point of discounting it. The church’s attorney hastily notified the banks of the city and of surrounding towns to lay off that particular piece of paper.
It was evident to the elders that matters had come to a pretty pass. Yet they wished to avoid scandalous publicity. The revival was just then at an end, so a congregational meeting was held in the Glory Barn. By this time rumors that everything was not on the up and up had permeated the entire congregation, and consequently there was a hundred per cent turnout. Wallingford-Gantry was the first speaker. He congratulated himself at great length upon the success of the campaign, and announced that the time had come to begin harvesting the building fund. He wished to say, however, that he intended to handle the building of the new church himself, and that he expected the congregation to pay him an extra fifteen thousand dollars for the job.
It was at this point that the meeting exploded. Questions, charges, impassioned denials and alibis filled the air. The out-of-town architect who had planned the new church arose and announced that it had been designed to cost not more than one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars, and that if the congregation entered into a contract with Wallingford-Gantry or anyone else to build it for one hundred and fifty thousand, the congregation would be crazy. When the uproar had reached hurricane proportions, the pastor took the floor, and after calming his flock with the greatest difficulty, persuaded all to go home and think it over for a day or so.
When they reconvened the smiling face of Wallingford-Gantry was nowhere to be seen. With the keen discernment which had characterized all of his operations, he had chosen the brief interval of calm as the ideal time for his departure. The principal business of the meeting was the passing of a motion which severed any and all connections between the congregation and Brother Wallingford-Gantry.
Troubles arrived like the locusts. The lessor of the ground on which the Glory Barn stood refused to extend the lease and demanded immediate removal. The carpenter contractor blocked this move by slapping on a lien for an unpaid labor bill of eighteen hundred dollars. A compromise was reached, the Glory Barn was torn down, and the lumber was moved onto the ground owned by the church.
They were unable to persuade the contractor to accept part of the lumber in lieu of cash for his bill. As a consequence, in the months that followed, neighboring householders for blocks around had a convenient and economical supply of material for odd jobs of carpentering; and small boys, during the following winter, warmed their toes at the glowing embers provided by good oak flooring.
Investigation of Wallingford-Gantry’s affairs revealed the fact that his had been a very simple financial philosophy. It was his practice to get his hands on as much money as possible. He was supposed to pay all the costs of the campaign out of his own pocket. Instead, orders for labor, materials, equipment, supplies and al all the activities of the campaign were signed by him as executive secretary of the congregation. He did not, so far as could be discovered, pay out a single dime on any of these obligations. There were thousands of dollars worth of unpaid bills for lumber, plumbing, lighting, printing, newspaper advertising, hotel accommodations, badges, stoves and food.
The Reverend Elwood of Atlantic City had been engaged, at a fee of eight hundred dollars, to deliver sermons on two successive Sundays and the intervening week days. When the last of the sermons had been delivered Brother Wallingford-Gantry sped the Reverend on his way by driving him to a neighboring city, regaling him with a lavish dinner at a swell hotel and with even more lavish conversation. The check for eight hundred dollars, which he presented to the Reverend as he boosted him on board the train for Atlantic City, was not honored by the banking fraternity. A hotel bill for ninety-eight dollars and fifty cents, covering the entertainment of the Reverend while in the city, was among those that the congregation still had to pay.
In fact, the only person who seems to have separated Wallingford-Gantry from any money was America’s greatest war hero, Sergeant York. This worthy was engaged to deliver three sermons on a Sunday near the end of the campaign. In exchange for this load of salvation he was to receive one thousand at the very best – and to receive it in advance. Wallingford-Gantry presented the secretary of York’s speaking bureau with his personal check for that amount. She apparently smelled a rat, because the next morning she announced that she would be just as well satisfied with cash as with the check.
She must have displayed a well-buttressed preference, because she got the cash. Yet even this wasn’t Wallingford-Gantry’s own money. Four hundred and seventy of it came from monthly payments which he had collected from the colored congregation. Two hundred and twenty-five more came from the sale of two of the unpaid-for heaters in the Glory Barn. The balance Wallingford-Gantry obtained from the general secretary of the national church organization, giving that dignitary a rubber check in exchange.
Other visiting speakers were left holding Wallingford-Gantry’s paper, none of it being regarded as readily negotiable. And large numbers of tradesmen looked to the congregation for the payment of obligations contracted by that gentleman. Some of these obligations were met; others were budgeted for the more or less distant future.
It was many months before the storm subsided. The congregation was no larger than it had been before, though it seemed to be much more closely knit. Having sold its old church, it enjoyed for a while the hospitality of a Jewish synagogue. Creedal differences involving the sabbatical calendar provided a happy protection against confusion
They were still determined to have a new church when they had disposed of their recently acquired financial load. It was felt that the new edifice would probably not be as gaudy as the one proposed by Wallingford-Gantry; but then it would cost far less. And there seemed to be good reason to believe that when the time came for the building campaign, the congregation would aim to get along without outside promotional effort.
Needless to say, the local scene has not been garnished since by the resplendent person of Wallingford-Gantry. The last unconfirmed report was to the effect that he had accepted a position as cook in a home for the aged, conducted by a church of another denomination and located at some distance from the city. It seems plausible, as the sanctified atmosphere of such an institution would doubtless appeal to him. Probably he found, too, that the quiet association with old folks was distinctly restful after the hurly-burly of his recently terminated career. Even the old folks were sitting safe and pretty. It’s true that they, too, hadn’t any money with which to build a new church; but at their ages they probably didn’t want to build a new church anyway.