Amid a swarm of Secret Service agents, golf carts, media reps and 1,500 invited guests, the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte was dedicated on Thursday, May 31—a day also marked by the appearance of a blue moon. All three living ex-presidents—George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton—were in attendance, together with Billy, his son Franklin, more than 80 other family members and the two surviving members of Billy’s original crusade team, Cliff Barrows and Beverly Shea.
During the ceremony, Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory and Gov. Mike Easley praised Graham and the developers of the $26 million facility. “Billy Graham could call many places home, but we’re glad he pays taxes here,” noted Easley. Each of the ex-presidents offered highlights of his public and personal interactions with Graham. “When he prays with you, in the Oval Office or the upstairs at the White House, you feel he’s praying for you—not the president,” said Clinton, who, like Carter, lauded Graham for promoting desegregation in the South. At one point during his remarks, former President Bush broke into tears.
“I feel like I’m attending my own funeral, listening to all these speeches” Graham said at the outset of a brief address, eliciting laughter. Though he relies on a walker, he seemed hale as he spoke about his hopes for the facility. “My main concern is that this building not glorify one man or one organization or be a monument or shrine,” he said.
Not a library in the usual sense of the word, the facility, like many presidential libraries, at times feels more like a theme park. Passing beneath a multistory glass cross, guests enter a barn-shaped structure and meet Bessie, a robotic dairy cow who delivers a story about Billy’s farm roots. After a video presentation of homely testimonials by country folk who’ve been saved, visitors view an inspirational film about Billy’s ministry and then move into the museum proper. Banners, archival film, homespun artifacts and dozens of photos line the way until one exits through a dizzying set of crosses cut through layers of plexiglas. The penultimate exhibit features dozens of TVs running identical images of Billy Graham crusades.
“This library is about the cross,” Franklin asserted during the ceremony. But Billy himself said he’d told his son, “There’s too much Billy Graham here.”
Visitors can decide for themselves. The library opened to the public on Tuesday, June 5; admission is free. Call (704) 401-3200 or visit www.billygraham.org/BGLibrary_Index.asp for details.