Bessie the talking robot cow.
Bessie the talking robot cow.

Billy Graham Library: Talking Robot Cow

Field review by the editors.

Charlotte, North Carolina

"Well, hello there. My name is Bessie," says the talking robot cow at the entrance to the Billy Graham Library. Bessie is the bovine greeter for this attraction dedicated to William Franklin "Billy" Graham Jr (1918-2018), perhaps the all-time superstar of American Old Time Religion. According to exhibits in the Library, Billy preached to 215 million people in over 185 countries.

Billy makes a biblical point in the Friendship With World Leaders gallery.
Billy makes a biblical point in the Friendship With World Leaders gallery.

"Some people called him God's ambassador, the pastor to presidents, the leading evangelist in the world," said Bessie.

The Billy Graham Library is shaped like a dairy barn -- and has a talking cow -- because Billy began life on a North Carolina dairy farm. "When Billy left this old farm for Bible school, I sure did miss him," said Bessie. "But we heard through the barnyard chatter that God was using him in a mighty way."

In another unusual twist, the Billy Graham Library is not a library. Billy's 3,702 books -- the number given by the attraction -- are just decoration for the gift shop, where books are sold, not free (Authors for sale include members of the Graham family, Sarah Palin, and the cast of Duck Dynasty). Visitors may wonder what Billy was reading all his long life, but his books are displayed behind glass, and so high on the walls that you can't see the titles.

Visitors enter the Billy Graham Library through a replica dairy barn.
Visitors enter the Billy Graham Library through a replica dairy barn.

The real attraction at the Billy Graham Library is the Journey of Faith, a multimedia tour through six exhibits, two theaters, and four galleries of Billy's career. It was built with the help of Disney consultants. One of its earliest artifacts is 15-year-old Billy's signed "Decision for Christ" card, confirming his conversion to evangelism.

The
The "Hour of Decision" radio studio shows the hours in various English-speaking cities.

Fifteen years later, Billy was hosting his own wildly successful revival in Los Angeles. Visitors walk into a replica Billy Graham circus tent to watch the young man in action on a video monitor. He had a megaphone for a voice, and spiced his preaching with dramatic facial expressions, body thrusts, waving arms, and pointing fingers -- all appreciated by mass audiences in the days before the Jumbotron.

Many of the Library's artifacts are from Billy's "Ministry Through Media," of which he was a master. There are scrapbooks with some of Billy's early yellowed press clippings, the telex machine from his office, and his entire Hour of Decision radio studio. One gallery recreates a 1960s appliance storefront window, with multiple televisions playing all Billy, all the time. Photos show him chatting with TV hosts from Johnny Carson to Larry King. There are bumper stickers from his visits to Australia and Japan, and an entire showcase devoted to souvenirs from the Billy Graham Pavilion at the 1964-65 NY World's Fair, including the stereo LP soundtrack from his Pavilion film, "Man in the 5th Dimension." A photo from Billy's 1972 revival at the Charlotte Coliseum shows that he was followed by professional wrestling, ice hockey, and Elvis.

Gift golf clubs from Richard Nixon.
Gift golf clubs from Richard Nixon.

Godless communism was always a good foil for a Billy Graham show. One display features the boots he wore in Korea in 1952, along with his follow-up book, "I Saw Your Sons at WAR: the Korean Diary of Billy Graham." An entire gallery features a replica Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie, recalling Billy's 1982 revival tour of East Germany. The Library proudly displays a Russian typewriter that it says was used to secretly copy the Bible, page by page, during the decades of Soviet suppression.

Billy hobnobbed with every U.S. President from 1950 until his death in 2018, although he got along better with some Chief Executives than others (Billy had secretly worked to defeat JFK, who was Catholic). A notable relic on display is Billy's custom REV G license plate from Ronald Reagan's 1981 inauguration. One photo in the "Friendship with World Leaders" gallery shows him being pushed in a wheelchair to shake hands with Trump -- who was invited to the Library several months later for Billy's funeral. Among Billy's favorite Presidents was Richard Nixon, who flew into Charlotte in 1971 to dedicate a monument that still stands, several miles away, at Billy's birthplace. Nixon's gifts to Billy, showcased in the Library, include a set of golf clubs and a donation check for five dollars.

Ruth and Billy Graham graves. Ruth was buried only 12 days after the attraction opened in 2007.
Ruth and Billy Graham graves. Ruth was buried only 12 days after the attraction opened in 2007.


"Rev G" custom license plate used by Billy during the Reagan Inauguration.

Billy went on preaching tours -- 419 of them --- that he named "Crusades," a word with odious historical connotations in some parts of the world. The Library itself is a posthumous Billy Graham Crusade. Helpful volunteers are everywhere, and unlike the docents at typical museums, they not only answer questions but direct visitors to the Prayer Room and hand them their own Decision Cards. "If you have made a spiritual decision today, we would love to know."

The Library and its grounds offer several opportunities to "go through the cross," a metaphor familiar to evangelicals. Visitors enter the Library through a giant glass cross; the Journey of Faith concludes with visitors walking though a series of LED-outline crosses; and Billy is buried at the foot of a cross-shaped brick walkway. Yes, Billy Graham is buried at his own attraction -- an honor usually reserved for Presidents and eccentrics -- and along with him are his wife, his MC and radio show director, and several other long-time loyalists. Private burials are rare enough, but we can't recall any other attraction that has its own private cemetery (Except, perhaps, the Flavor Graveyard).

Exiting the Library, visitors find Bessie is still chatting away. "One day every living thing, including cows, will praise the Lord. Won't that be a miracle?" she asks. "Now get mooovin'!"

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Billy Graham Library: Talking Robot Cow

Address:
4330 Westmont Drive, Charlotte, NC
Directions:
I-77 exit 6B. Drive west on Billy Graham Pkwy for 1.5 miles. Turn right into the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association entrance, then right again to get to the Library.
Hours:
M-Sa 9:30-5 (Call to verify)
Phone:
704-401-3270
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
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November 22, 2019

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