The Rev. Billy Graham once said the devil should be run out of Boston.
On New Year’s Eve in December 1949, as crowds packed into hotels and nightclubs across The Hub to usher in the new year and new decade, Graham denounced such celebrations as “wild, unrestrained drinking mixed in a cocktail of sex.”
The Boston Globe reported that more than 5,000 people filled every seat in the Mechanics Building in Back Bay that night to hear the popular Southern preacher speak out against the “wickedness, licentiousness and debauchery” that threatened modern society.
“But the Devil can be run out of Boston,” Graham told the enthralled crowd. “Your gangsters can be converted. Your places of iniquity can be closed up. Your politics can be cleaned up. And when that is done, this city could enter the greatest year of its history!”
In Boston, Graham pleaded with his audience to “make a new start” for the new year.
“Tonight there are millions enjoying the pleasures of sin, but only for a season,” he said, according to the story. “The time will come when they regret this night of debauchery, because they stand on the verge of destruction, judgment and hell.”
“But America could tonight repent of her sins, receive Christ as the Saviour and the Prince of Peace and be spared the coming Armageddon, toward which we are madly rushing.”
“Thousands tonight in this city are disillusioned, dissatisfied, at the end of their rope. They are afraid of the unknown future, remorseful and filled with regret for the sins of the past.”
“Take it from me,” he said. “Jesus Christ can solve all your problems. He can lift your burdens, bring peace to your heart. Christ can transform your life so that you can begin the new year as a new person.”
Graham told the audience at the Mechanics Hall there was hope for a better day (“It isn’t impossible,” he said), but his prospects for the long term sounded rather dim.
“I doubt that mankind will ever see the year 2000,” he said. “Our wild, sinful way of living in this country must be a stench in the holy nostrils of God!”
It would not be Graham’s last visit to Boston. He came back years later to host revival meetings in 1964 and 1982, and returned to Boston again in 1989 to celebrate the founding of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.Jeremiah Manion of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Emily Sweeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.