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Sister Aimee's Revivals



 These article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on August 14 and 21, 1993



Roz Young


            "The 30 revivals Sister Aimee conducted from mid-1919 until mid-1922," says Daniel Mark Epstein in his new biography of Aimee Semple McPherson, "had a mass appeal unequaled by any touring phenomenon of theater or politics in American history. Neither Houdini nor Teddy Roosevelt had such an audience, nor P.T. Barnum. Lasting from one to four weeks, these meetings invariably overflowed armories, opera houses, and convention halls rented to hold them. Aimee's voice created an excitement in the crowd bordering on hysteria."

            Minnie Kennedy, mother of the evangelist, booked Memorial Hall for two weeks in early May 1920. Arriving in Dayton before the revival was to begin, Mrs. Kennedy announced that she would interview volunteers for ushers and choir members.

            Mrs. McPherson's Pentecostal preaching, speaking in tongues and healing services were looked on by the more traditional churches as somewhat unorthodox, but the ministers of the Methodist, United Brethren and Christian Missionary Alliance churches welcomed her coming and volunteered help.

            Because our family name was McPherson, my mother had early become interested in Sister Aimee's career and had followed newspaper accounts of her spectacular preaching success. She volunteered to sing in the choir of 20 men and 20 women and was accepted. This meant she sang at all the services. She went on the streetcar to the daytime services, but at night my father drove her to Memorial Hall for the evening services and sat in a section reserved for families of the volunteers. I went along, too, but my mother required me to take my school books along. During the meeting, I studied and napped, looking up to see my mother, dressed all in white as were all the women choir members whenever the choir sang.

            Mrs. McPherson in 1920 was 30 years old. She was 5'6" tall and weighed about 150 pounds. Her thick auburn hair she wore in a great knot on the top of her head. She had a lively pink complexion and extremely large hazel eyes. On the platform she appeared in a long, white dress and carried a white leather Bible and a sheaf of red roses.

            The scene at Memorial Hall was jubilant and dramatic. All the seats were filled and people stood along the walls and sat in the aisles. On the stage sat the choir and numbers of local and visiting preachers in dark suits.

            Mrs. McPherson spoke in an extremely strong voice, which could be heard through the open doors by the crowd outside that could not get inside. In the first week she spoke to 20,000 and converted 500. The second week she announced healing services for the afflicted.

            The local newspapers ignored her appearance at Memorial Hall until the first healing service the afternoon of May 13, when reporters from three Dayton newspapers attended. The first report of the healing was printed in the morning edition of The Dayton Journal. The front page carried a photograph of Sister Aimee and the pictures of three Daytonians who had experienced healing. The editor prefaced the story with a cautioning statement: "The Journal herewith presents a report of a religious meeting held yesterday at Memorial Hall, together with interviews given by persons taking part. It neither questions nor vouches for any statements concerning illness or healing, confining itself strictly to a report of what transpired, by Journal reporters."


Next week: Miracles at Memorial Hall. The lame walk without a limp and a blind woman sees.




            The papers left by Aimee Semple McPherson is a manuscript titled "One Day at Memorial Hall, Dayton, Ohio." It describes her experience at the first healing service.

            She left her hotel about noon May 13, 1920, to drive to Memorial Hall. Two blocks away from the hall, her limousine was stopped by a traffic jam of streetcars, autos and ambulances. The sidewalks were crowded with pedestrians, all heading toward the hall. Children in arms, sick patients on cots, men and woman in wheelchairs were being carried or propelled into the building.

            Police and firemen were everywhere, directing traffic. When Aimee's limousine reached the side entrance, a horde of people surrounded the car. The doors of the hall were locked: not another person could squeeze in. Hundreds remained outside, sick, lame and blind, appealing to the evangelist for help. Six policemen held back the crowd to make a path for her to enter the side door. As the door closed behind her, she could hear the disappointed cries of those left outside.

            The choir of 80 men and women took their seats on one side of the stage. Nineteen ushers wearing red sashes moved among the men, women and children in the area roped off for those wishing to be healed. Each person had filled out a card with name and disease and had been given a number. On the stage was a blackboard for the numbers to be chalked.

            Sister Aimee entered and the crowd rose. She led the singing of hymns and then prayed for the sufferings of the many assembled in the hall. The prayer was long and powerful. At its close the crowd of 4,000 breathed as one, eager for what was to come.

            Volunteers placed seven chairs on the stage. A man wrote the first seven numbers on the blackboard. As soon as the seven chairs were filled, Aimee walked to the first suppliant. She asked the person's name and the ailment.

            "I cannot heal these people," she explained to the audience. "It is Jesus Christ in me who alone has the power of healing the sick as well as saving souls. You must have faith in Jesus Christ, and you must believe that he will heal you immediately in some instances. His power is revealed to us in miracles, in which case immediate transformations will be seen. In other cases it is merely a healing process that will manifest itself by a gradual disappearance of the affliction immediately following the utterance of prayer."

            Then she turned to the person before her and with hands warm with a healing oil from a flask, anointed the head of the patient and prayed for healing.

            Mrs. J.J. Fraga, 125 Park St., crippled from birth, was among the first. After Mrs. McPherson rubbed oil on her forehead, placed her hands on her head and prayed to Jesus to heal her, for the first time in her life, Mrs. Fraga was able to walk without a limp. She rose from her chair and walked back and forth across the stage, weeping with joy.

            Mrs. Bessie Mills, 231 Dover St., blind for three years with cataracts, was able to distinguish light from dark before she left the stage and told a reporter later she knew that Jesus would restore her sight. Mrs. Mary Overholzer, St. Marys Street, had been blind for many years because of cataracts. After Aimee prayed and anointed her, she said, "My eyes are growing stronger and objects are becoming clear to me."

            Nine-year-old Robert Gauvey was healed of heart-valve weakness that had prevented him from playing normally with his classmates at McKinley School. Mrs. Catherine Chaplin of Oakwood, who had a broken arm, threw her sling away after the healing and could move her arm and fingers of the broken arm as well as the unbroken one. Mrs. Rachel Richards, 721 Randolph St., confined to a wheelchair for 15 year, rose and walked off the stage unassisted. Marjorie Wallace, so weak from tuberculosis that she had to be brought to Memorial Hall on a cot, rose from the cot, sat on a chair a few minutes and then was able to walk out of the hall unassisted. Mrs. Georgia Miller, 33 Weller St,. unable to lift her arm because of a cancerous tumor, walked about the platform shouting for joy because she could lift both arms and swing them back and forth at will.

            Mrs. J.R. Driver of Covington was healed of pernicious anemia. Mrs. Cynthia Ripsch, 133 Hawthorn St., was cured of rheumatism she had suffered for 10 years. Mrs. Joseph Becker, 808 Wayne Ave., deaf since the 1913 flood, recovered her hearing. Other healings were performed for J.R. Boyers, 45 Daniel St. back pain; Herman Horn, 227 St. Clair St. paralysis; Frank Kesler, 92 Jones St., paralysis; Grace Fultz, Farmersville, crippled since childhood; Mrs. Amanda Young, Centerville, migraine headaches.

            At the end of two weeks, the evangelist left for a revival in Alberta, Canada. While she was here, she had preached to more than 100,000 people, converted more than 1,000 and held anointings for more than 5,000. Memorial Hall has never seen such another busy two weeks.

            At our house, life, which had been hectic when Mother was gone for the larger part of every day to sing in Sister Aimee's choir, returned to its comfortable normality. Afterwards she said very little about the experience and if she had any further interest in Mrs. McPherson's colorful career in her later years, she never mentioned it.