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In Rare Form

A Pictorial History of Baseball Evangelist Billy Sunday

W. A. Firstenberger

Publication Year: 2005

From 1896 to 1935, the flamboyant and controversial Billy Sunday preached his version of the gospel to millions of people across the nation. In this nontraditional biography of the man regarded by his enthralled fans as God's unconventional messenger to a sinful world, the curator of the Billy Sunday Historic Site Museum recreates Sunday's life through a material culture lens. W. A. Firstenberger views the photographic record and the print record as well as the landscape, structure, and contents of the Sunday home in Winona Lake, Indiana, to give us an intimate view of Sunday and his family. Through an organizational scheme that incorporates memorabilia from childhood (samplers, Civil War badges), baseball (Billy's 1891 Philadelphia contract, scorecards), evangelism (cartoons, books such as Monkeys and Missing Links), social issues (KKK ads endorsing Sunday, his Women's Christian Temperance life membership certificate), life style (Arts and Crafts decorative pieces, extensive photos of the family's Mount Hood bungalow), and family relations (his personal possessions and those of his wife, Nell, and their children), In Rare Form brings together the inconsistencies between Sunday's material world and his spiritual world. Since Sunday might have objected to a materialistic analysis of his life, Firstenberger has allowed him a say: each section of the book begins with an apt quote from Sunday's sermons and writings. Firstenberger also includes appendixes providing detailed information on Sunday's revivals and speaking appearances, his 870,075 documented converts, the members of his evangelistic team, the overall structure of his family, and an extensive bibliography. Acknowledging Sunday's faults and contradictions alongside his heroic accomplishments, the author presents a wryly insightful and innovative perspective on this larger-than-life figure.

Published by: University of Iowa Press


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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. vii-x

The photograph facing this page is an extraordinary image. Billy Sunday is poised to deliver a dramatic blow to the chin of Satan. Sunday used this pose and other active postures regularly in his promotional materials and sermons to illustrate the spiritual combat all individuals fight against sin. Rare among early prints, this photograph is date...

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pp. xi-xiii

In Rare Form. The phrase seems well suited to Billy Sunday. It was, and still is in certain circles, a colloquial phrase related both to athletes and public speakers being at the top of their game, the peak of their level of performance; therefore it applies directly to Sunday’s baseball career and his expressive preaching style. The rarity of the images in this book...

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1. Homespun and Cashmere

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pp. 1-10

Few artifacts survive that deal either directly or indirectly with Billy Sunday’s childhood. Such a paucity is most certainly predictable considering the impoverished setting in which he was raised. The written facts surrounding his childhood tell of a long chain of broken familial bonds, and the absence of material culture representing this part of his life may...

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2. Caught on the Fly

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pp. 11-23

For all of the positive benefits inherent in material culture interpretations, there are also drawbacks. First, not all artifacts survive the test of time. Typically weak interpretive areas in material culture include food, everyday clothing, work methods, social interaction habits, and language patterns. One author has gone so far as to assert that spoken...

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3. Revival Machine

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pp. 24-54

Much of the evidence about Billy Sunday’s life that exists as material culture takes the form of books in the Sunday library. Of course, recorded accounts are artifacts in their own right, and such artifacts exist in a variety of forms. Paper items containing written or visual documentation such as ticket stubs, billing receipts, contracts, photographs, and...

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4. For the Love of a Nation

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pp. 55-75

To understand the unique perspective that a material culture approach offers this investigation, it is worthwhile to briefly contrast the methods of such an approach with those of a conventional historical analysis. The historical interpretation of people, places, and events has traditionally been based upon research in written documents or oral...

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5. At Home in Winona Lake

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pp. 76-103

The central tenet of the material culture approach is that past human behavior is directly embedded into physical objects that survive over time. An artifact carries with it the thoughts and ideas of its maker through its shape, texture, color, and composition. These characteristics are material representations of the maker’s mental constructs and, as...

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pp. 104-109

Billy Sunday died of a heart attack at his brother-in-law’s home in Chicago on November 6, 1935, just two weeks short of his seventy-third birthday. His last moments were tempered with the comfort of Nell’s love, as she treated him to a bowl of Rice Krispies in milk and snuggled a hot water bottle at his feet (fig. 48). Only ten days prior to his...

Appendix A. Revivals and Appearances

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pp. 111-119

Appendix B. Conversions

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pp. 120-123

Appendix C. Evangelistic Team Members

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pp. 124-126

Appendix D. Family Genealogy

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pp. 127-137


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pp. 139-141


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pp. 143-148


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pp. 149-154

E-ISBN-13: 9781587296444
E-ISBN-10: 1587296446
Print-ISBN-13: 9780877459590
Print-ISBN-10: 0877459592

Page Count: 168
Publication Year: 2005

OCLC Number: 181548632
MUSE Marc Record: Download for In Rare Form

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Subject Headings

  • Sunday, Billy, 1862-1935 -- Homes and haunts.
  • Sunday, Billy, 1862-1935.
  • Evangelists -- United States -- Biography.
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