Ring in the New, Accession the Old


Accession 19-31. A portion of the Elisabeth Elliot Gren papers, which were donated in 2019 by her husband, Lars Gren, with assistance from Kathy and David Reeg.

As the Billy Graham Center Archives greets New Year 2020, we remember with thanks the accessions of 2019. Every profession has its own special terminology, rarely used by those outside it. Architects have muntin. Archivists have accession. We share the word with libraries, museums, and some monarchs. As a verb (in archival usage), to accession or accessioning means logging a new item into our collections. As a noun, it refers to an individual addition, which might be a single photograph or hundreds of boxes of correspondence. Archivists accept diverse material from a wide variety of sources and are much more inclined to collect than divest materials (although in recent years deaccessioning has become more of a priority among institutions). For the BGC Archives, 2019 will always be remembered as the year when the records from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association that had been deposited in the Archives were returned to the BGEA at its request. But it was also a year that brought a variety of significant, unusual, and wonderful additions.


Accession 19-34. Undated photo of the staff of the American Sunday School Union. An example of the many individual items sent to us unsolicited by kind donors.

Every once in a while, acquisitions in a given year seem to follow a specific theme. In 2018 we received several large collections of private papers by prominent figures in evangelistic ministry, including Merrill Dunlop, Luis Palau, Merv Rosell, and George Beverly Shea. On the other hand, 2019 was the year of the authors. Individuals who had written significant books on evangelism and /or evangelical history contributed their research files, which included boxes and boxes of letters, transcripts, audio recordings, photos, and more that they had gathered. For example, Valarie Elliot Shepard donated the letters her parents had written to each other during their courtship, which formed the basis of her book, Devoted: The Personal Letters and Love Story of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot (2019) The gift also included Jim Elliot’s papers from his days as a Wheaton College student. The Elliots were best known for their involvement in evangelism among the Waorani people of Ecuador. The Waorani had never heard the Christian gospel, and Jim and five other men formed a project to reach them. On January 6, 1956 after an initial friendly contact, all five men were killed by members of the tribe. In October 1958, Elisabeth, along with Rachael Saint, the sister of one of the five, and three-year old Valerie traveled into the jungle to live among the Waorani and begin the work that was to bring many of them to faith in Jesus Christ.


Accession 19-29. Beginning of a December 1949 letter from Jim Elliot to Elisabeth Howard.

The men’s death and the decision of the two women to live among them received global coverage in both secular and the religious press and made a deep impression on American Evangelicals. In Ecuador, the growth of a Christian community among the Waorani occurred alongside of the tribe’s increasing and often painful integration into the modern world. Dr. Kathryn Long spent decades researching the story, exploring more than just the deaths of the five men or the biographies of Elisabeth Elliot and Rachael Saint. Dr. Long also wrote about the impact the Waorani had on the world, as well as the impact of the world on the Waorani. Her book, God in the Rain Forest: A Tale of Martyrdom and Redemption in the Amazonian Ecuador was also published in 2019. After its release, she donated her manuscript, research files, interview tapes, and more to the BGC Archives, where they complement and greatly augment our other collections related to the so-called “Auca Incident,” Waorani Christianity, and western missions in Ecuador.


Accession 19-15. Sample of materials Dr. Long gathered in her research. Top is a carbon copy of a letter from Catherine Peeke, 1971.  Beneath it is a photocopy, with Long’s annotations.  Catherine Peeke also lived among the Waorani and was the chief translator for most of the Waraoni New Testament.


Accession 19-24. Digitizing Larry Eskridge’s interview tapes

On a completely different note, in 2013 Dr. Larry Eskridge published his award-winning book, God’s Forever Family: The Jesus People Movement in America, probably the most insightful work  published on this Christian tradition, its history, music, and significance. Among his research activities for the book were interviews with dozens of people who had been leaders in the movement or involved in some other way. Dr. Eskridge allowed the BGC Archives to make digital copies of more than a hundred of these valuable resources that tell this story from late 20th century America.

Another author, Dr. Richard Gehman, was a missionary with Africa Inland Mission and professor at Scott Theological College in Kenya for many years. After his retirement, he made multiple visits to the Archives’ Reading Room researching our African mission collections. His book, From Death to Life: The Birth of the Africa Inland Church in Kenya, 1895-1945 and The Spreading Vineyard: The Growth of the Africa Inland Church, Kenya from 1945 Onward were published in 2014 and 2015 respectively and will likely be the standard works of the subject for many years to come. Dr. Gehman had previously given the Archives multiple boxes of his notes, research files, and rare documents on African Christianity. In 2019, he donated more manuscripts and materials, including the handwritten journal from AIM’s Kangundo station in Kenya.


Accession 19-19. Title page and first entry from the Kangundo station logbook, ca. 1903.

This was also an excellent year for Elisabeth Elliot materials. Besides the Jim and Elisabeth Elliot letters mentioned above, the Bible Broadcasting Network generously sent us digital copies of Gateway to Joy, her radio program that aired from 1988 to 2001. Late in the year we received a donation of many more boxes of letters, lecture notes, manuscripts, photos, scrapbooks, audio recordings, films, and videos that document not only her time as a Bible translator and missionary in Ecuador, but also her ministry after she returned to the United States to become an influential author, lecturer, professor, and broadcaster.


Accession 19-31. Photos from Elisabeth Elliot’s scrapbook of her Wheaton College years, 1946-1947


Accession 19-14. Undated portrait of Robert E. Coleman

This past year was also a significant one for oral histories. Recording and preserving interviews with people involved in sharing the gospel has always an important part of the BGC Archives’ collecting strategy. This year we recorded interviews with indigenous Christian workers from Ethiopia, Egypt, Kenya, Uganda and India, in which they described topics as diverse as the AIDs epidemic, African theologian Abeneazer Gezahegn Urga, the church’s response to child marriages in Ethiopia, work among refugees in Greece, Christian social work among the rural poor in India, and college and university ministry in Uganda. We have also recorded many hours of interviews in the past with Robert Coleman, evangelist and professor of evangelism. We recorded another this year, in which he describes his involvement in the Lausanne Movement and his memories of, among others, Billy Graham, Bob Pierce, Paul Cedar, and Franklin Graham, as well as the impact of his book, The Master Plan of Evangelism.


Accession 19-27. Lantern slides, a Chinese New Testament, and notebooks of training lectures for missionaries from the papers of Robert Glover.

The history of Evangelical, nondenominational, global missions has always been an important priority in our collecting. This year we received two particularly significant additions. One was the files from Africa Inland Mission’s TIMO program to give American seminary and university students long-term (up to two years) experience in cross-cultural service in different parts of Africa. The other was the papers of Robert Glover—longtime leader of China Inland Mission—and digital copies of the Chefoo Schools alumni newsletter. Chefoo is the name given to the schools for missionary children in China and later throughout East and Southeast Asia.

We even collected some interesting Billy Graham materials in 2019. Douglas Yeo gave us a copy of his interview with Cliff Barrows, Graham’s long term choir leader, for Yeo’s book on the history of the trombone. We also received a fine set of snapshots from the 1981 Billy Graham Baltimore Crusade from photographer Joel Fetzer, and the testimony of a woman who had been converted at a Youth for Christ meeting Graham held in Wales in 1946.


Accession 19-25. Transcript of Myrtle James’s testimony, who was converted a 1946 Youth for Christ meeting in Wales led by Billy Graham.

At the very end of the year we received one more accession that was both an author collection and a missions collection. In 1944, Jane McNally, Wheaton class of ’39, sailed from America around the Cape of Good Hope to arrive in India, where she spent the next four decades as a TEAM (The Evangelical Alliance Mission) worker. Almost all of it was spent as the director of the Light of Light correspondence course, which taught Biblical knowledge to new Christians and eventually was available in 22 languages on the subcontinent. McNally also founded Light of Life magazine in 1957 and Good Shepard Academy in 1983. After retirement and return to the United States, she wrote The Abuse of Christian Women in India and Remedy in Twelve Biblical Studies on Equality of Man and Woman in 1997. Jane McNally passed away in 2013, and last month we received boxes of her correspondence, writings, and 1944 thesis, “The Place of Women in the New Testament,” written when she was the first woman student in Dr. Henry Thiessen’s theology department at Wheaton College.


Accession 19-37. Note to Jane McNally from one of the users of her correspondence course.

There are many more accessions we could brag about of equal importance and interest. But we hope this gives our researchers an idea of the riches we were entrusted with in 2019 and what we hope is a promise of what we will receive in 2020.

Getting Lost in the Archives: A Conversation with Dr. Amber Thomas Reynolds

Thomas HeadshotThis September, we sat down with Dr. Amber Thomas Reynolds—Wheaton College Grad School alumna and archives enthusiast—and plied her with questions about the challenges, joys, and adventures of archival research. A longtime patron of the BGC Archives, Dr. Reynolds relied heavily on our resources for both her MA thesis at Wheaton College and PhD dissertation at the University of Edinburgh. Currently serving as a guest assistant professor at Wheaton College, Dr. Reynolds can be found in the history department, where she is teaching World History Since 1500 and US Pop Culture Since 1900 this semester.

When and how were you first introduced to the BGC Archives?

I believe it was [Wheaton Professor Emerita] Edith Blumhofer’s Modern World Christianity course during my Wheaton MA that provided my first research experience, way back in 2008!  Our class came to the archives, Bob Shuster led the introduction and showed us documents, and then we were assigned to select a collection pertinent to missions/world Christianity. I can’t recall exactly which collection I chose but it included letters from missionaries stationed in 1970s Uganda, as the political situation worsened prior to Idi Amin [Collection 81: Records of Africa Inland Mission]. The material’s vividness and real-world relevance really surprised me.

What kinds of research projects have led you to the BGC Archives’ collections?

My Wheaton master’s thesis on former Christianity Today editor Harold Lindsell and the evangelical controversy over biblical inerrancy was my first major research project. There was sooo much correspondence! Since then, I’ve completed many proxy research jobs for non-resident scholars, covering a variety of collections such as the China Inland Mission and the Fellowship Foundation.

My Edinburgh PhD thesis research explored ideas popularized in major parachurch youth ministries organized after World War II, including Youth for Christ, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and Campus Crusade for Christ. The BGCA houses the main collections for the first two organizations and a smaller collection on the latter.

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Wheaton College students using a 1920s photo album during an instruction session.

I’ve also just finished a chapter for an edited volume on the Charismatic Renewal. My contribution argues that key neo-evangelicals, still very committed to the Keswick perspective on the spirit-filled life, supported belief in miracles, especially physical healing, and were more open to belief in the gift of tongues than has been acknowledged in the literature. For this chapter I’ve used archival material on V. Raymond Edman, President of Wheaton College (1941-65), and Robert Walker, Founder-Editor of Christian Life magazine (1948-86).

In my teaching for Wheaton’s history department, I have brought my students in a course I developed on twentieth-century US pop culture to the BGCA, as well. In addition to the major evangelical magazines (CT, Christian Life) available in Special Collections, Buswell Library, I assign issues of the Wheaton College student newspaper (The Record) from the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80, which are housed in the BGCA Reading Room. Students are fascinated by the ways evangelicals readily imbibed some pop-culture trends—consumerism, e.g.—while continuing to renounce others, like dancing.  In addition, they are able to put current socio-political debates into historical context: Change a few names and details, and many of the editorials from the ‘70s could be reprinted today.

What kinds of collections have you used most heavily and how were they applicable to your topic?

For my dissertation, the records of Youth for Christ; InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and new material from the Urbana Missions Conference; the papers of Herbert J. Taylor; the Fellowship Foundation; some material from the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association; and the Billy Graham pamphlet sermons.

Youth for Christ Poster

Poster advertising YFC’s 1946 International European Farewell Rally in Detroit, featuring the preaching talents of a young Billy Graham.

Youth for Christ and IVCF were particularly useful, as their highschool-and university-age constituencies were prime audiences for messages on discerning God’s plan for their education, work, spouses, and missionary service. Within these collections you will find conference addresses, promotional literature, organizational procedures, administrative correspondence, etc., awash with assumptions about God’s guidance. In addition, the philanthropist Herbert J. Taylor’s papers showcase the early beginnings of these organizations in the 1940s.

The Fellowship Foundation papers include copies of the monthly newsletter and material on Richard Halverson, who helped lead the prayer breakfast movement for political and business leaders in the 1950s—decades before he became Chaplain of the U.S Senate. Stressing God’s specific plan for the individual was prominent in Halverson’s ministry (influenced by Henrietta Mears) and his many publications.

As I revise the dissertation, I will be using more material from the Evangelical Foreign Mission Association’s records, as they will help clarify the state of missionary recruitment in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

What can be intimidating about archival research?

Many things! The sheer amount of materials contained in one collection—one box, even. The desire to go down rabbit trails and completely forget your main objectives. The choice of specific documents to cite out of 60,000 others.

Do you have a favorite collection or one that has yielded unexpected treasures?

Urbana Poster

1946 poster advertising the first Urbana Student Missions Conference, sponsored by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in Toronto.

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, especially the new material on the triennial missions conferences held at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign starting in 1948. This material captures postwar American evangelicalism’s growing intellectual respectability and engagement with mainstream culture and global Christianity. The administrative correspondence and conference-planning records from the 1960s and 1970s are especially fascinating, as they testify to evangelical university students’ contributions to the era’s protest movements (Civil Rights, Vietnam), theological crises, and backlash against American-led foreign missions to the non-Western world. It’s definitely one of the BGCA’s “hippest” collections!

In your experience, what is the best part of archival research?


Getting lost in history on a Friday afternoon at the start of a research project. Feeling like a detective when you unearth a document which really supports your argument! Or reading material that has nothing to do with your project but reveals an unexpectedly humorous side to a serious historical figure. More seriously, for the BGCA, I enjoy peering into the lives of missionaries and parachurch administrators who worked tirelessly for the Kingdom. Many of these, of course, are women who received none of the earthly glory of their male counterparts. They are an inspiration!

What project are you currently working on?

I am preparing a book manuscript based on my dissertation, which explored how the evangelical teaching on discerning God’s plan or will for one’s life changed after World War II, reflecting broader shifts in American culture.

Billy Graham and the Presidential Election of 1944

Biographers of Billy Graham and scholars of American evangelicalism have long been interested in Graham’s involvement in U.S. politics, particularly his relationship with every U.S. president dating back to Harry S. Truman. While whole books have been dedicated to examining these connections, Graham’s earliest foray into presidential politics has, to date, escaped notice. This July, the BGC Archives highlights Billy Graham’s brief, but fascinating, correspondence with presidential candidate Thomas Dewey during his 1944 election campaign against incumbent Franklin D. Roosevelt.

In August of 1944, the twenty-four year old Billy Graham was serving in his first and only pastorate, a small congregation in the Chicago suburbs. After graduating from Wheaton College the year before, Graham and his new wife Ruth accepted a call to Western Springs Baptist Church, where they ministered for the next two years. During his pastorate, Graham became increasingly involved with Youth for Christ, touring the upper Midwest and eventually coast to coast, preaching at youth rallies with Torrey Johnson and other rising YFC evangelists.

BG_Western Springs_1943.02

A rare image of Billy Graham as a young pastor, speaking at Western Springs Baptist Church in 1944.

Graham brought an evangelistic fervor to his pastorate at Western Springs, immediately establishing a vigorous outreach program, which included a Chicago-wide men’s fellowship group and a fund-raising drive to complete the church building. Most ambitiously, he launched a radio ministry, Songs in the Night, out of the church basement. The Sunday night program featured an evangelistic message from Graham and live music by soloist George Beverly Shea and the Carollers for Christ, a women’s quartet from Wheaton College. To promote the radio ministry and church programming, Graham started the church newsletter, also called Songs in Night, which featured original writing, sermon extracts, and news items.

Songs in the Night_1944

The August 1944 issue of the Songs in the Night newsletter, published a month after Billy Graham wrote to Thomas Dewey. Note that the issue commemorates the one year anniversary of Billy Graham’s pastorate.

A year into his pastorate at Western Springs, Billy Graham made his first recorded foray into presidential politics after reading a profile of Republican presidential candidate Thomas Dewey in the August 1944 issue of Reader’s Digest, one of the most popular general circulation magazines in the country. Whatever the exact contents of Stanley Walker’s article, “Snapshot of Tom Dewey,” his discussion of Dewey’s religious convictions caught Graham’s attention, and he mailed the following letter to Dewey’s New York residence, declaring his personal support and offering to galvanize evangelical votes by promoting Dewey’s campaign in Songs in the Night.

Graham to Dewey

A grainy photocopy of Billy Graham’s letter to presidential candidate Thomas Dewey.  While the original letter is found in the Western Springs Baptist Church Archives, a copy is held in BGC Archives Collection 74: Ephemera of Billy Graham, box 11, folder 2, along with original copies of the Songs in the Night newsletter.

In future presidential elections, many candidates would have given a great deal more than a brief personal statement in return for Billy Graham’s public support. However, Thomas Dewey likely never read Graham’s letter, and no endorsement of Dewey or even a reference to the election appeared in later issues of the church newsletter. Graham did receive a reply from Dewey’s office, dated August 24, 1944. Signed by Reuben B. Crispell, Acting Secretary, the letter did not provide the requested personal statement of faith or favorite Scripture passage Graham requested. Crispell did confirm that the Dewey children always observed nightly prayers at the governor’s mansion and underscored Dewey’s longstanding membership in the Episcopalian church, where he served on the vestry. Crispell even highlighted Dewey’s association with the Freemasons, listing his membership in at Kane Lodge Number 454, F. & A. M., NY; Aurora Grata Scottish Rite Consistory, Valley of Brooklyn; and Kismet Temple, Brooklyn, NY. The Crispell letter is located in recently-transferred Collection 580: Records of the Montreat Office, now held at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association headquarters in Charlotte, NC.

Graham’s hopes for a Dewey administration were disappointed in November, when Franklin Roosevelt was reelected to a fourth term. This brief letter, however, provides a glimpse into the young evangelist’s burgeoning interest in presidential politics, his concern for the spiritual convictions of political candidates and the religious climate of the nation, and his lifelong emphasis on family values. Most significantly, Graham’s letter reveals a shift in his own political allegiances, a transformation he credits, in part, to Thomas Dewey.

Billy Graham’s “Strange Things”

Last Thursday we marked the one year anniversary of Billy Graham’s passing, the culmination of a remarkable life and legacy. This March, the BGC Archives pauses to commemorate the beginnings of Rev. Graham’s evangelistic ministry as a fledgling undergraduate preacher at Wheaton College in 1941.

The BGC Archives holds thousands of Billy Graham’s sermons and talks, on paper, wire recordings, phonograph records, audio tapes, digital files, films and videos. He delivered these messages in a wide variety of locations and circumstances, both in the United States and abroad, from the Sports Stadium in Berlin where Hitler once orated, to the TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference in Monterey, CA, to the National Cathedral in Washington DC after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Of all the Billy Graham sermons the Archives contains, one of the most interesting as well as the earliest in the collection is “Strange Things.”

265-17-149 Strange Things combined

The entire sermon outline of “Strange Things,” dated November 5, 1941. Over its lifespan, the document has obviously been folded in half, stored in a three-ring binder, and taped down the middle to hold it open during preaching.

When Graham arrived on the Wheaton College campus as a twenty-one-year-old  freshman in 1941, he had already completed a thorough three-year course in Bible at Florida Bible Institute (now Trinity College). In addition to his coursework at FBI, Graham spent hundreds of hours preaching in churches across Florida and Georgia, held several multi-day evangelistic campaigns, and evangelized on street corners, over the radio, and from caravan to caravan in one of the country’s first trailer parks.

1941-09-13 Daily Journal

September 13, 1941 article from the Wheaton-based Daily Journal 

After matriculating at Wheaton, Graham continued to preach while a student, accepting invitations from churches across the upper Midwest. Before long, he was called to pastor his very own congregation—the United Gospel Tabernacle in Wheaton, IL. Dubbed “The Tab” by locals, the United Gospel Tabernacle started as a prayer and Bible study group before morphing into a nondenominational church, drawing congregants from both city and college.

In the fall of 1940, the Tab was pastored by V. Raymond Edman, a professor of history  and acting interim president of Wheaton College. When asked to assume the presidency permanently, Edman resigned his role at the Tab and recommended Graham as his replacement. Already familiar with his preaching style, the congregation ratified Graham as their new pastor. Between September 1941, when he became pastor, and June 1943, when he graduated from Wheaton College, Graham preached at the Tabernacle over a hundred times. The Tab was a popular service for Wheaton undergraduates to attend on Sunday evenings, and many who saw and heard him preach there agreed that Graham’s style in later years remained much as the same as his student days. While perhaps a little less vocally and physically enthusiastic, the sermons Graham preached at the Tabernacle were not significantly different from the messages he preached before packed stadiums over the next several decades of evangelistic ministry.

1941-10-03 Record

An advertisement for United Gospel Tabernacle services in The Record, the student newspaper of Wheaton College. August 19, 1942

During Graham’s tenure as pastor, the United Gospel Tabernacle met in the Wheaton Masonic Temple, a few blocks from the college campus.


The Masonic Temple in downtown Wheaton. Though devastated by fire in 1948, the Lodge was rebuilt nearly identical to the original structure.

The rented assembly hall featured a slightly raised platform with a simple pulpit and piano. Every Sunday, volunteers lined the hall with several hundred folding chairs before services commenced with hymns, prayers, and finally a sermon from Graham. His messages were always evangelism-oriented, calling listeners to respond to the call of Jesus Christ. Wheaton undergrad Ann-Lisa Madiera, a classmate of Graham’s and the Tab’s pianist, recalls the young preacher’s energy and conviction:

“He had something to say, and he said it so well, and . . . his whole control of his voice and the crescendos and decrescendos that all went with that message, you know, he was an enthusiastic preacher I would say. . . . He was enthusiastic about the message that he had to give and, well, the fact that the place was full every Sunday says something” (Oral History Interview with Ann-Lisa Madiera, Collection 74, T67.

Another student attendee remembers Graham’s budding talents as a communicator.

“Oh, he was tops. There was no question about it. And I think it was obvious that he was going to go places…. You could sense his heartbeat. That it was really coming from his heart. It wasn’t just knowledge that he picked up in college. I would say that’s the main thing. It came from his heart. You know, you can go to college and get a lot of knowledge, but it doesn’t always get down to the heart….  [His preaching style was] very plain. Very simple, very clear. You couldn’t mistake understanding what he was saying” (Lorraine Payne, Collection 74, T63).

Graham’s reputation as a preacher continued to grow during his undergrad days, and he often arranged for guest speakers at the Tab when he accepted weekend preaching invitations across the Midwest and especially throughout the summer vacation.

Record June 1, 1943

An advertisement from The Record, highlighting the end of the academic term and Billy Graham’s final weeks as the Tab’s pastor. Graham graduated from Wheaton the same month. June 1, 1943.

The BGC Archives holds thousands of sermons Graham preached over the course of his ministry, but only one from his days as the Tab’s pastor—”Strange Things” (Many records from the United Gospel Tabernacle were lost when the interior of the Masonic hall, including the church office, was gutted by fire in 1948). The typed outline below is annotated in what looks like Graham’s handwriting and dated November 5, 1941, only a few weeks after Graham became the pastor of the Tabernacle. November 5th was a Wednesday, so the message may be a Bible study Graham presented during the Wednesday evening prayer meeting, rather than a Sunday sermon. But it contains the same emphasis that his classmates remembered from his sermons—the power of Jesus to confound the world, forgive sins, and save souls.

265-17-149 Strange Things part1

This original manuscript is much worn, possibly reused for multiple preaching occasions, clearly previously folded and held together by clear tape. The number 850 at the top of the first page was one assigned by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association staff many years later, when they created an index of all Graham’s sermons.

265-17-149 Strange Things part2

The sermon outline describes the “strange things” of Jesus—how strange the Pharisees and Sadducees found this man who said such outrageous words, knew their thoughts, and performed miraculous deeds. Graham’s conclusion was a fitting introduction to the message he would continue to preach for the next sixty years: “That man is well saved who can glorify God in his own house. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, but until his sins are forgiven he has lost his chief end.”

A digital copy of “Strange Things” is available to view here on the Billy Graham Sermon Database, along with other sermon outlines and transcripts from the 1940s to the 2000s.

Reminiscences about Graham by his Wheaton College classmates, including his congregants at the United Gospel Tabernacle, are available in Collection 74: Ephemera of Billy Graham.