This week several Billy Sunday artifacts from Grace College’s Winona History Center went on display at the Minnesota Historical Society in a new exhibit spotlighting the years surrounding America’s entry into World War I. The exhibit is featuring a host of items from museums around the country, including the nation’s first draft bowl, which the exhibit is borrowing from Northeast Indiana’s Trine University. The Sunday items even made the “Anxious Bench” blog thanks to Bethel University historian, Chris Gehrz, who told us he got a special members-only preview of the World War I exhibit. See his post here. Winona Lake locals know that on a bluff overlooking the lake, the Sunday Historic Home is full of original artifacts from the Sunday family’s life, but Brian Horrigan, exhibit curator for the Minnesota Historical Society, was looking for just a few that would help highlight Sunday’s role in the war effort as well as prohibition. He contacted Jared Burkholder at the History Center several months ago about possible items they could borrow and the conversation landed on several items. The first is a mock baseball that was given to Billy after his buffalo, New York campaign in 1917.
The second is a framed piece of folk art, also from the New York campaigns, depicting Sunday as a “life saver” against an American flag. The third is an unopened bottle of Poland Mineral Water, which was the spring water of choice for Sunday and represented an alternative to alcohol. Sunday was an ardent supporter of the American war effort in 1917 and promoted war bonds during his campaigns. His tabernacles featured American flags and Sunday railed against the German Kaiser. Sunday’s song leader, Homer Rodeheaver, led patriotic songs for campaign goers and his publishing company cranked out sheet music and song books with themes of Christian patriotism.
This isn’t the first time Sunday items have gone on the road. Bottles of Sunday’s Poland Mineral Water as well as “loving cups” (also gifts to the Sundays) have been lent to other museums, such as the Indiana State Museum. In fact, the National Constitution Center is currently featuring Sunday’s personal copy of his famous “booze sermon” called “Get on the Water Wagon” in their American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition exhibit. Begun back in 2013, the exhibit has since gone on the road and will continue to travel through 2018. It’s a privilege for the Winona History Center to be able share these items with a larger audience far beyond the small town of Winona Lake.