Consider it Billy Graham's last crusade, one that will draw the faithful long after America's most famous religious figure is gone.
On a wooded site in his hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina just off Billy Graham Parkway, no less the Billy Graham Library will be dedicated May 31 at a private ceremony expected to feature former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Former President Jimmy Carter also is likely to attend.
The ex-presidents are likely to be upstaged, though, by the guest of honor. The 88-year-old evangelist is scheduled to come down from his mountain home in Montreat, N.C., for a rare public appearance to address the crowd of 1,500 invited guests and assorted national media.
If his fragile health allows him to make the trip he can barely hear or walk and his vision is poor Graham's message will echo the one his ministry hopes visitors take from the library: The glory should go to God rather than the lanky farm boy who preached the gospel to hundreds of millions of people around the world.
And yet, once visitors get a look at the old photos and crusade footage that fill the 40,000-square-foot library, it might be a tough sermon to sell. Even for Billy Graham.
"He doesn't want attention to go to him," said Graham's younger sister, Jean Ford, of Charlotte. "And yet it just does."
When the library opens free of charge to the public June 5, state tourism officials hope it and the planned NASCAR Hall of Fame nearby (scheduled to open in 2010) will draw visitors to the area.
The Graham organization estimates that 200,000 visitors a year will tour the library and restored Graham boyhood home, both beside headquarters of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The ministry, now run ...1