Finding fun and free things to do can be hard. The Mint is free on Wednesday, The Wells Fargo Museum is free all the time, but what if you’re a thrifty museum patron wanting something outside of uptown, somewhere your friends probably have not gone?
Enter the Billy Graham Library. Don’t laugh.
Founded in 2007 near where Graham grew up, the museum may not be a go-to stop for many young people, but I decided to drive over, gas light on the whole way, and see for myself.
First, despite Franklin Graham’s opposition to gun control, the museum asks patrons to leave guns at home. Also — and this may be the reason most young people do not go — no alcohol is served on the grounds. Jesus may have turned the water into wine, but you won’t find any of it here.
As you enter the big barn “at the foot of the cross,” two volunteers will hold the door open for you and direct you to the information booth.
It is not hard to learn a lot here, as I knew very few specific facts about Graham’s life, and I am a history major.
The tour begins with a talking cow, representing Graham’s favorite childhood cow. The cow tells you that cows were created 6,000 years ago, were the first two animals on the Ark and will be in heaven, too. From the start, as is probably expected, the museum is carrying on Graham’s message of the gospel.
Graham’s wife Ruth has an entire room dedicated to their marriage. She was an American from China, he was a small town farm boy – the museum video said God willed it.
The museum features the many types of media that Graham used to spread his messages. Including Graham’s personal radio equipment. It also features clips of Graham on famous talk shows, like Woody Allen’s show. (Who knew somebody gave Woody Allen a TV show and then allowed Graham to be a guest?)
One bit of information some may not know going into the museum is that Graham was outspoken against apartheid in South Africa and was instrumental in the Berlin Wall being knocked down. The museum features pieces of the wall.
At the end people ask if they can pray for you, which one can respectively decline. The tour finishes up in the bookstore, which I swiftly exited. I don’t foresee myself relaxing in a coffee shop reading a copy of “Approaching Hoofbeats” by Billy Graham.
There is also a small cafeteria that serves some of Graham’s favorite foods, like barbecue and various dairy products.
Supporters of Billy Graham probably do not need an article to tell them why they should go, but others may not see any reason to ever visit. While the religious undertones are clear, it is interesting to see modern American — and, to a lesser extent, global — history play out from a different perspective than what is usually presented.
Religion was a real power in the later half of the century, and Graham was a leader of it. His crusades impacted many in this country, and he gave counsel to many American leaders. The museum highlights Graham’s achievements in an understandably biased way, which should be made clear and understood.
Don’t come expecting the Museum of Modern Art or Smithsonian, but if you want to learn something new, maybe a free museum about an American public figure would be a good way to kill a few hours.
Billy Graham Library, 4330 Westmont Drive, Charlotte. Open Monday-Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.
Photos: Todd Sumlin/Charlotte Observer; Tyler Fleming; AP Photo