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Interview with Catherine Graham McElroy

McElroy, Catherine Graham
Kratt, Mary
Date of Interview: 
Billy Graham Crusades, Charlotte, Dairy farming
Catherine McElroy discusses her experiences growing up on a dairy farm and going to school at Sharon Elementary. She talks about religion in Charlotte and the influences on her brother Billy Graham`s, evangelism. She remembers church life in Charlotte and travelling evangelists.
Charlotte, 1920-1996
Interview Setting: 
The home of Mr. and Mrs. S. J. McElroy
Levine Museum of the New South, Billy Graham Series
Collection Description: 
Mary Kratt interviewed a variety of people associated with Billy Graham for an exhibit on him at the Levine Museum of the New South.
Interview Audio: 
MK (Mary Kratt): This is Mary Kratt on June the sixth, 1996 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Interviewing the sister of Billy Graham. One of his two sisters Catherine Graham McElroy on the subject of their childhood on Park Road and other related incidents in Charlotte, North Carolina. Okay, all right can you talk, can you, let`s hear you talk a little. Tell me, tell me the year that you were born? And if you can--.
CM (Catherine McElroy): All right. [Laughter]
MK: You`re like me I grew up in Charlotte too, and went to high school here and I just, not much way to get around it.
CM: [Laugh]
MK: This is just for the record, it won`t be on the, on the, on the display. How about that?
CM: Oh, I don`t care. In 1920.
MK: Okay, you were born in `20 and Melvin was born in--?
CM: `24.
MK: `24?
CM: Um-hum.
MK: And Billy was born in?
CM: Let`s--. `17, `18. I`m not sure `19.
MK: `18.
CM: `18. I think.
MK: And then Jeannie was born in `32, she said.
CM: I believe. Um-hum.
MK: Okay, all right. So that`s what, we`ve got that four--.
CM: Billy is, of course, the oldest.
MK: Okay.
CM: I`m next, Melvin`s four years younger and followed me every step I made until he was about twelve. And then Jean came along when I was twelve.
MK: Uh-huh.
CM: So it`s a big age difference.
MK: Yes. So there were only the four of you.
CM: Yes. My mother had one before Billy but she just lived about a day I think.
MK: Uh-huh.
CM: But Mother spoke of her off and on throughout her life.
MK: Really.
CM: Um-hum.
MK: What was her name?
CM: Elizabeth.
MK: Uh-huh.
CM: Which I thought was unusual.
MK: Was that a name, a family name?
CM: Not that I know of.
MK: That`s not?
CM: No.
MK: When you were growing up out on Park Road, which was, of these was the house that you were born in? That`s a Xerox picture just for identification.
CM: You know, I never did, I didn`t know until not too long ago that there were two houses there.
MK: Um-hum.
CM: The only one I remember is that one.
MK: Um-hum. The one that`s pictured--.
CM: Yes.
MK: In your picture in the den.
CM: Yeah, that`s where we lived.
MK: Right. That`s probably the one where all the people are.
CM: I guess so.
MK: That`s the newer one.
CM: Yes. Well, that`s it I guess.
MK: Uh-huh.
CM: Without the trees and so forth.
MK: With the, with the wing off the back.
CM: Um-hum.
MK: Yeah. Now Melvin said that this other one was, was your daddy`s house, the earlier house.
CM: That`s probably true. I didn`t, I didn`t know that there was another house there.
MK: And that it came, they used it a while and then they, they came down.
CM: All I remember on this side of the house were pear trees. And I just don`t remember that house.
MK: Um-hum.
CM: I think Melvin has heard others speak of it probably. Pardon me, but could I turn the air-conditioning on?
MK: Sure. Let`s make this pause. [Tape stops and then begins again.] Okay. Now we were talking about the farm.
CM: Um-hum.
MK: And Park Road and you were telling me that beside your house there were some pear trees.
CM: Right.
MK: So they would have born pears and you would, did you can them and pick them?
CM: No we didn`t can them. There weren`t that many there and they weren`t real good. [Laugh]
MK: I know the ( ) pear. They`re good to--.
CM: The children, uh-huh. The children like we did but Mother didn`t care for them.
MK: They`re good for target practice.
CM: Yeah, that`s right. [Laugh]
MK: Did, what else is in the yard that you remember?
CM: Well right in that, and of course over to the left, there is a shed where they kept all the farm machinery. And then they had an anvil there when we were real small. They had this big Afro-American man that worked for Daddy and he would help, help shoe the horses.
MK: Um-hum.
CM: And we loved watching him do that.
MK: He was a blacksmith?
CM: Yes.
MK: What was it? Do you remember his name?
CM: Reece, Reece Brown.
MK: R-E-E-S-E?
CM: No, R-E-C-E
MK: R-E-E-C-E.
CM: Brown. ( ).
MK: Uh-huh. So did he live there?
CM: Yes, he lived on the farm, uh-huh.
MK: So he shoed the horses.
CM: Yeah, uh-huh. And we loved to watch him take that big anvil over to the hot fire in the summer time, you know, and hit it. In fact, I have a lovely letter from his, I guess it would be, his niece. His sister had her hundredth birthday about five years ago and they wrote us and let us know about it. So, I wrote back and sent a gift, and she wrote the nicest thank you note.
MK: Good.
CM: One of the nicest I`ve ever received.
MK: Did, did, did he repair, like, the farm implements--?
CM: Yes, uh-huh.
MK: And things like that?
CM: He, he did everything like that and then he moved to New York. Then there were others on the farm that did that. Melvin probably told you all about that.
MK: No he never, nobody has ever mentioned the black staff.
CM: Oh really?
MK: [Negative sound is heard.]
CM: Well he`s the one that sort of stuck out in my memory. The one we would stand around and watch. And he was just so strong, you know, big muscles, and we really admired him so much because he could--. Have you ever seen one?
MK: Oh yeah, they`re noisy.
CM: Yeah, uh-huh.
MK: And lots of smoke--.
CM: Yeah.
MK: And sizzling and--.
CM: And he could get the horseshoe real thin or whatever need to be done to it. And then we had a barn over to the left when I was real young. It was a hay barn, and we used to have fun in that.
MK: What did you do in the hay barn?
CM: Just run and play like kids do, you know nothing exciting. [Laugh]
MK: Climb up and down the ladder.
CM: Yeah, but that`s what I remember.
MK: Slide in the hay.
CM: And then there`s another one back at the house, way out where the diary was, by the silos. [Clears throat] And I remember, well Billy Frank was always the one that led the way. He could do anything so we thought we could too. And there was a big loft and I thought it`s a big pile of hay there, it looked like it, so I jumped off just like he did and hit the ground really. And I still remember how that hurt. [Laugh]
MK: There wasn`t as much hay there as you thought.
CM: No, there wasn`t any hay. I mean just so apparently.
MK: Was he very daring?
CM: Oh yes, uh-huh. He thought he was Tarzan, most of the time. [Laugh] And he`d swing from the trees and keep that Tarzan, yell.
MK: Oh yeah.
CM: He rode--.
MK: What, what was that yell?
CM: I couldn`t do it, but he did. [Laughter]
MK: Did you go see Tarzan movies at the movie theatre in town?
CM: Mother and Daddy would never let us go to movies. They were, that`s, they were so strict. He probably, I don`t know whether he ever went or not, I didn`t, to see the Tarzan movies. I don`t know whether they had them way back then or not, I guess they did, but they had the books and he was copying what he read in the books.
MK: What else do you remember about the, what was on the farm? The animals, the crops, the work?
CM: Well I didn`t have to work. [Laugh]
MK: Oh, you didn`t?
CM: No. No we, Mother never did want anybody in the kitchen with her except you know the one she had in there to help her that lived on the farm.
MK: Susie was--.
CM: Uh-huh.
MK: Do you know Susie`s last name? Can you remember Susie`s last name?
CM: No, I don`t know, ask her.
MK: Uh-huh, uh-huh. Was she there, when, in, in your memory?
CM: Oh yes. You can`t tell anything about our family without Susie because she helped raise us when we were growing up. I remember one night,Mother and Daddy had to go to a meeting and I had a friend over visiting, and Mother left, I think, two cans of pork and beans. Well, Billy Frank loved pork and beans, he still does, just eat them out of a can. And we started fighting over those pork and beans with my friend there, and we were just in our early teens, and Susie stood over us wringing her hands, saying, "Please, Mr. Billy, please Mr. Melvin, please Miss Catherine, please don`t kill each other." [Laugh] And so, that`s the kind of family we were.
MK: And you were the, just about in the middle?
CM: Yeah. I was the middle between two boys for twelve years.
MK: And they fought, the two boys particularly got into a lot of conflicts.
CM: Well it`s, it`s just normal I think. Don`t you?
MK: Yeah. Arguing--.
CM: If you grow up in a family.
MK: Arguing over who goes first--.
CM: Yeah.
MK: Or gets to do something.
CM: Yeah, uh-huh, yeah, that`s right. And then we had, then Mother and Daddy had close friends, Dr. and Mrs. Boston and their daughter was Principal Rachel Mason. You remember her? Principal at Chantilly--.
MK: I`ve heard of her.
CM: And Huntington Farms Elementary.
MK: Uh-huh.
CM: But anyway, they would come over visiting and Dr. Boston would say, "Melvin, why don`t you and Billy Frank get down on the floor and fight, just a good old fight." And they`d get down on the floor and get in a fight. And that`s the way things were on the farm with kids.
MK: Did, you say you didn`t have to work. Did they not have to work?
CM: Yeah, they did.
MK: Billy and Melvin. What did they do?
CM: They milked cows. Didn`t they tell you that?
MK: Well Melvin did.
CM: Yeah, Billy Frank milked too but he didn`t, he didn`t like it. He said after the, he saw a cow put its foot in the bucket, he decided he didn`t like milk any more. [Laughter]
MK: Jean was telling me that it, that Billy Frank delivered the milk early in the morning. Do, do you remember those deliveries?
CM: He maybe did, helped the driver. I don`t think he ever drove, you know, the milk truck.
MK: Um-hum.
CM: If he did I don`t remember that part of it.
CM: Was, it was a motorized milk truck that your family owned?
MK: Um-hum, yeah, um-huh. Was there a name for your farm? I mean like--?
CM: Yeah, Graham Brothers. Graham Brothers Diary.
MK: Was it on the milk bottle?
CM: Yes, uh-huh, and on the milk statement. Didn`t Melvin tell you his picture was on the milk statement? With his long blonde curls. He was beautiful baby and they had him in a high chair drinking his bottle of milk.
MK: No he didn`t tell me that.
CM: He didn`t tell you that. I wish we had a copy of that milk statement. He was so pretty.
MK: Graham Brothers Dairy?
CM: Um-hum. And then Mr. Ashcraft, right up on Park Road, you know about the Ashcraft`s?
MK: Jean mentioned him.
CM: Um-hum.
MK: But do, do you know his first name? Mr. Ashcraft?
CM: Hugh.
MK: Hugh.
CM: Mr. Hugh Ashcraft.
MK: Okay.
CM: Uh-huh. And then Mr. Hunter had a, and they still have Hunter Diaries, of course. That`s Mr. Harvey B. Hunter, and then his son Charles took over. Charlie Hunter.
MK: Well do you, do you remember what year your father started the diary? Was it--?
CM: No, I don`t. He, it was there when I was; my earliest memory was the dairy farm. And that house was not underpinned when we lived there as children. So on rainy days, Billy Frank, and Melvin and I would go under the house and play with the geese and chickens. And Billy Frank would always--. He said, "Let`s play diary," but he`d always be Daddy, the boss, you know, and we had to be whoever else was around. [Laugh] Yeah you could tell then he was going to be a leader someday.
MK: Did he ever get into trouble?
CM: No. [negative verbal response] Not just, except knew what you`ve read. It was not trouble, just like setting a wastebasket on fire at Sharon in the schoolroom or something like that. [Laugh]
MK: What did--?
CM: But then that was not trouble.
MK: Do you remember what happened to him, as the result of that?
CM: I don`t know that anything did. They put it out.
MK: This was Sharon School?
CM: Yes, uh-huh.
MK: The one over on Sharon Road across from Fairview shopping--.
CM: Yes, uh-huh.
MK: Center is now?
CM: Yes, uh-huh. Sharon High School, it was elementary at first and then we went to Woodlawn.
MK: For elementary school.
CM: Yeah. And then in the eighth grade, I think we moved back to Sharon as a high school, through the eleventh grade. And Melvin and I went to the twelfth grade there.
MK: I remember that school, it`s between Alan Tate Realty and Sharon, Sharon Church.
CM: Right. They have a--.
MK: Long low red brick building.
CM: Um-hum. They have a real good picture of it in the Sharon Elementary now. If you want a picture of it, it`s a real good picture.
MK: Good, in the, in the, on the wall?
CM: Um-hum.
MK: Mounted on the wall at Sharon School?
CM: When I went to enroll our grandson in first grade. [Pause]
MK: Where is that school?
CM: It`s right back with where Jean and Leighton live. You saw the brick wall?
MK: Uh-huh. And there, there`s a ball field.
CM: Yes, well that`s Sharon Elementary School. You don`t hear much about it, it`s more like a little, real small elementary school. More like a neighborhood school. But they had real good picture of it then, now I don`t whether they still have it or not? But I`m sure they would. And it looks just exactly like it did.
MK: Did, how did you get there? Did you--?
CM: Bus.
MK: Bus came, came out and got you.
CM: Um-hum.
MK: What do you remember about Park Road and the--? What was it like?
CM: Well just like you`ve heard. It was just a one-lane road. And I used to ride, daddy always had a real good riding horse, and I used to ride the horse down Park Road to my cousin`s that lived, well he owned where Eastern Airlines and all the big buildings are across from South Park. That`s his dairy. Black Dairy.
MK: Oh yeah.
CM: Uh-huh.
MK: Yeah.
CM: Uncle Tom Black. Well Laura his daughter was one of my closest friends, also my first cousin.
MK: Um-hum.
CM: So I would ride down and the horse would stand there while we visited and then I`d ride back up Park Road. Imagine doing that today. [Laugh]
MK: You could have done that on Sardis Road when I was growing up?
CM: Oh could you?
MK: Uh-huh. This was in the 50s.
CM: Yeah.
MK: And a car would come by and then four or five minutes later a car would come by.
CM: I know it. But we didn`t even have that many cars then.
MK: Um-hum.
CM: In fact, when we moved over here, my friend across the street, Mary Long, would call me and said, "Did you see that car going down the street? I wonder who that one belongs to." [Laugh] That`s how few we had around here.
MK: Where there many other families out there? You say your cousin was, was a part of a mile down the road. Were you--?
CM: Yes. Then probably a couple of miles then, I don`t know. How far was South Park? Yes, there`s a family--. Billy Frank played with one of the boys across from us in a white house, and that`s Bill O`Neal. But they later moved away, I don`t know what happened to them. And then a little bit, where you know where the Clemmer Gym is, and the brick house there? Well, in the earlier years when we were in the farmhouse, a family Wilson`s lived there. And Catherine Wilson was my age, we played together and R. E. Wilson is Billy`s age and they played together. Then they moved away and another family moved in, Ketchie.
MK: Where your house is today is on the property that your dad owned recently, you talked, do you talk a little bit more like you were when I came in about, what used to be on this land where you are now? You`re just off Montford Drive on across--.
CM: Um-hum.
MK: On the other side, on south side of Park Road.
CM: Well all of Park Road, I guess from what we call, what is now Woodlawn, we called the "Sand Clay Road" because it`s just a gravel road. And it was "Sand Clay Road" from there on down it was just cornfields. And, I think there`s some sugar cane back in here somewhere too. But all of this was just woods and pastureland. And we`d cross the creek and come over here and play paper trails. The neighborhood children, even up until we were in our teens, somebody would take a paper, you know, put it down all through the woods--.
MK: Little bits and pieces of paper.
CM: Yeah, and then we had to, they would hide, and we`d have to follow that trail and find them. That would bore kids to death today, [laugh] but that`s all we had to do. [Laughter]
MK: Did you ever travel anywhere or was there ever a vacation?
CM: Oh yes. Mother saw to it that--. She thought that children should travel so we went to Asheville, and [laugh] Blowing Rock and we went to Washington and to the monument and--. Yes, we traveled some. In those days nobody traveled, so we really thought we were going places. [Laugh] And then we`d go to Charleston and Myrtle Beach. And, then one big trip, I think Melvin told you about it, was to Oklahoma to see my Uncle Tom Graham.
MK: Yeah.
CM: And that`s when all the roads were just rock, gravel and in Arkansas at night, we had five flat tires. And someone came along and said that there were bandits all through there. Daddy And of course, we were frightened to death but had to fix all those flat tires before we could go. [Laugh] And then Laura and I, well Melvin, Melvin sang, [he] was just five years old I think, he sang Carolina Moon all the way across the Mississippi River. [Laugh]
MK: Jean said that a lot of times that you had cousins come live in your house?
CM: Oh yes, that was, uh-huh, highlight of our lives.
MK: They`d just, they would, they would come and stay a month or two?
CM: Oh no, no.
MK: Visit.
CM: Just like Sunday after church they`d come. There were two first cousins about my age and they would come out and spend the night some. It didn`t, I always had friends out there visiting. Mother was real good about letting us have friends come and visit and spend the night.
MK: If you wanted to go to town what did you have to do?
CM: Just get in the car and go.
MK: Get somebody to drive you, get--?
CM: I started driving when I was fourteen and Mother never did learn to drive. Daddy tried to teach her and she ran into a telephone pole so that was the end of that. She never did learn to drive. So after he was gone I, I was the one mostly that chauffeured her. She loved going to Ivey`s, you know, and go to Tulip Terrace and so forth.
MK: Tulip Terrace was that wonderful restaurant--.
CM: Right.
MK: Up on that top floor--.
CM: Yeah.
MK: That looked down over the--.
CM: Church.
MK: Oak trees and the First Presbyterian Church.
CM: Um-hum. We, and it was always a nice place to take people that came into town.
MK: Did--? Jean mentioned that you often had ministers visiting.
CM: That`s right. In later, I mean when we were, when I was in my teens.
MK: Who were these ministers?
CM: Jimmie Johnson, Reverend Jimmie Johnson and Fred Brown, John Gamble.
MK: Were they friends of the family or, or what--?
CM: They were just what they called "preacher boys." They were just starting out. And Reverend Jimmy Johnson`s the one that Billy Frank wanted to be like. He could draw crowds and he was a handsome young man. And they would stay there in our house, I know mother`s in the hospital a couple of weeks at one time, and they would be there every night for dinner and we had to be the hostess. But Susie would cook the best meals, you know, and every night. I think we had the same thing, steak and mashed potatoes and her hot biscuits. That`s what I remember about that.
MK: Would he stay there when he was preaching in Charlotte?
CM: Um-hum, yeah.
MK: So--.
CM: He stayed with us or another family. Mr. and Mrs. Vernon Patterson.
MK: Um-hum.
CM: And we still keep in touch. I still keep in touch with their daughter, Kathryn. Mrs. Patterson is a hundred and five years old and lives, lives in Spartanburg in a nursing home. But they, they were Mother and Daddy`s closest friends, I think, some of the closest.
MK: Well, were these "preacher boys" in the denomination that your mother and daddy were in?
CM: They were just evangelist, and I don`t know what denomination they were.
MK: How did Billy Frank get to know them? Or your father?
CM: I don`t really know how that came about. I just know that, if they had a meeting in town, they were at our house or at the Patterson`s. And we always enjoyed them. They were older than Billy. Jimmie, I think, was about ten years older. They were older than me.
MK: Is that J-O-H-N-S-T-O-N?
CM: Um-hum.
MK: Jimmie Johnston.
CM: No, I don`t think it had the "T" in it.
MK: J-O-H-N-S-O-N.
CM: Um-hum. And he still lives, Fuquay Springs, I believe.
MK: Uh-huh.
CM: And then did they tell you about the McMakin family? That lived in the farmhouse after we moved out? Well, they played baseball with Billy Frank so much out where NCNB is now, Nations Bank is now.
MK: That branch bank on the corner of Abbey and Park Road.
CM: Yeah, that was our alfalfa field and it`s beautiful. And then when they put the bank there, they dug it out. But that`s where they played baseball so much of the time. They had two boys about, well a little older than Billy, but they always liked to play ball out there.
MK: How do you spell that last name?
CM: M-C- Capital M-A-K-I-N. And Albert was a big influence on Billy Frank. In fact, I think he was one of the ones that got him to go to Ham-Ramsay meeting. And, also the one that got him his first job with Fuller Brush Company. And we`ve been close friends all through the years.
MK: What is, what is your recollection about that, that revival? The, the Ham, Mordecai Ham that night?
CM: I`m sorry to tell you, I don`t remember a whole lot about it. I remember he went down that night. But I just don`t remember too much about that one. I remember the first time I heard him preach, at Central Methodist Church here in Charlotte.
MK: How old were you? Do you remember about it?
CM: Well it was before I was married so I was probably, I don`t know, maybe seventeen or eighteen, but I went with Catherine Patterson. And he preached, and it was just a small crowd, small church, small group. And he preached so loud so when we came out and he asked me what I thought about it and I said, "Well, you preached a good sermon, but you preached so loud, you preach as if you`re preaching to ten thousand people." And he said, "Maybe I will some day." And Catherine and I just giggled, you know, we thought that was impossibility. [Laugh] Never knowing what would take place later.
MK: Do you ever remember his preaching, practicing preaching?
CM: [Negative verbal response]
MK: Or preaching on, in, in, on, like on a street corner in Charlotte or anything like it when he was in school?
CM: No. [negative verbal response] I don`t know that he did. Did he?
MK: Melvin told me one time that he did.
CM: You know, maybe he did. I don`t remember that. I know he said he would practice in Florida when he was in school down there. My husband went to school there too--.
MK: Oh, he did?
CM: When Billy did, first year and then transferred to Davidson.
MK: What, what do you remember about that first crusade that was here in Charlotte; I believe it was `47?
CM: `47. At First Baptist Church wasn`t it?
MK: Now, I don`t know.
CM: Uh-huh. It was, and that`s where we attend now.
MK: Well didn`t they have to move it; they had so many people come? One of them, they had to move it to a larger place.
CM: I don`t remember that at that particular time but it could be true. I don`t remember everything about it these things.
MK: So you recall, it starting out at the First Baptist Church down on North Tryon Street?
CM: Um-hum.
MK: That`s where you went?
CM: That`s where he preached. Now we belonged to Calvary of course. He never did but we joined with Mother and Daddy. I was a teenager--.
MK: The one that`s beside--? When Calvary was beside Presbyterian Hospital.
CM: Yes, on Fourth Street. Yes I`m a charter member of that.
MK: Um-hum.
CM: But when we left about ten years ago, Calvary when we went to First Baptist downtown.
MK: Um-hum, um-hum.
CM: But I can`t remember an awful lot about anything specific about the farm. We had a good time. I remember the beautiful woods back of the house. We would be sitting in church in the summertime--we went to Chalmers ARP on South Boulevard as children, that`s where Mother`s sisters and our cousins went--and it would be real hot and I sat there and I couldn`t think of a thing except of getting home, eating lunch--Mother always had a big Sunday dinner like most people did then--and getting out in the woods where it was cool. And if you`d go down to the creek and there`s a huge rock in the shape of a chair where you could just sit by the, as I started to say river, by the creek and read. I loved to read and so I`d take a book down there and be so cool by the creek.
MK: What, what creek is that?
CM: The one that still runs there, back of the--.
MK: Is it Briar Creek that--.
CM: It`s Briar Creek or Sugar Creek. I don`t know which.
MK: I think, I think its Briar Creek but Briar Creek is the one that comes down by Myers Park High School, I believe. And so that would be same creek--.
CM: It probably would.
MK: It might--.
CM: What`s the one that goes down by Sel, -you know by Selwyn?
MK: Um-hum, um-hum. It might join up with Sugar Creek over there behind the shopping center. Did you all own the land that the Park Road Shopping Center is on now?
CM: No, no Daddy didn`t own quite that far up.
MK: But you owned across Park Road over in this area?
CM: Yeah, all this and down on this side to Selwyn, almost to Selwyn. He owned a lot of that property but I don`t know how much, because you know where the Goodyear, no you wouldn`t remember that, Selwyn Village is down there? That was his property. He sold that to Goodyear and those houses were built right after the World War II.
MK: And that`s on the other side of the Creek.
CM: It`s on this side.
MK: Oh it is? Okay.
CM: Selwyn Park, not Selywn Village.
MK: Oh, it`s Selwyn Park, not Selwyn Village, because Selwyn Village is on the other side of the creek.
CM: Right, yeah.
MK: So your, the creek was really like the line for your dad`s property? Probably.
CM: I don`t know where the, I don`t think it went quite as far as Giant Genie.
MK: Um-hum.
CM: But it was all those houses back in there. He sold Goodyear about.
MK: Did he ever raise cotton or was it mostly wheat--?
CM: No. [Negative verbal response] Sweet corn.
MK: Corn?
CM: Um-hum.
MK: Alfalfa-wheat?
CM: Yeah, alfalfa. I don`t remember wheat, but maybe he did. [Laugh]
MK: Did you all do a lot of canning vegetables and--?
CM: Mother did when we were growing up,Mother and Susie.
MK: Putting out jellies and jams.
CM: Yes, she loved to put out plum jelly. And then I, one thing I did have to do, when peaches were in season, I had to sit out on the back porch and help peel all the peaches. [Laugh] But, I--.
MK: And she canned the peaches?
CM: Put them up in jars. Um-hum.
MK: So you all must--? Did you have peach trees?
CM: No,Daddy would buy peaches by the bushel, I guess.
MK: From like down to South Carolina.
CM: Yeah, uh-huh, yeah. He`d go to Pageland, South Carolina somewhere out there.
MK: Well, you all really on the road. I mean you, there were, you were on one of the main farm roads.
CM: Yeah, we were, um-hum, and it was really country. I have a lot of old pictures that show, and I haven`t had time to look them up.
MK: All right, so you would have a picture, probably, of what old Park Road would have looked like?
CM: Well I have pictures of, a picture taken in the side yard of where we used to live on Park Road all the way up just nothing. Just empty. I had pictures like that somewhere, and then the barn and the silo. I had a lot of those. I think Melvin does too, doesn`t he?
MK: I, I don`t know whether Jean has asked him, Jean Johnson--.
CM: Um-hum.
MK: Who works for the Museum, was, is going to ask him about that.
CM: Yeah.
MK: I`ll ask if, if he does.
CM: I have a--.
MK: Some people keep things and some people don`t.
CM: Yeah. I had quite a few of the old pictures like that.
MK: You said to me on the telephone something I just loved about if you`d known, that you might have a kept a journal. What was that you said to me?
CM: I said when we were growing up, if I had known he was going to be so famous, I would have remembered a lot of these little things and kept a lot of things. Kept a, I would love to have a milk bottle with Graham Brothers on it and I can`t find one anywhere. We didn`t keep anything like that. I wish we had.
MK: What color, what colors was the, were the letters? Do you remember?
CM: The same as the, it was just crystal and then the letters were raised.
MK: Were they black letters or red?
CM: No, just plain.
MK: Uh-huh.
CM: As well as I remember.
MK: Uh-huh. I found an old Morrocroft Farm.
CM: Oh, did you?
MK: And my mother-in-law kept everything and found a Morrocroft Farm bottle and a Foremost Dairy [bottle]. Of course that`s much more recent--.
CM: Yeah, um-hum.
MK: And bigger.
CM: It is.
MK: That would be if I ever find one--.
CM: Um-hum.
MK: I`ll tell you.
CM: Well do, because I`d love to have it. I`ve never seen one. Melvin may have one, I don`t know. But, Melvin wasn`t much to keep things like that. Boys just aren`t. It doesn`t mean that much to them.
MK: Did you go to all three of the crusades here in Charlotte?
CM: Oh yes. Uh-huh.
MK: Do you recall, how were they different from each other?
CM: [Pause] I don`t really know how they were different. To me, to go to one now, it`s similar to the way it used to be except there`re much bigger crowds.
MK: So there`s always been a, a lot of singing?
CM: Oh yes, very special numbers. It`s pretty much the same. They changing it now, you know, with Franklin. I mean, I think it`s being changed to draw, attract younger people. But, as far back as I can remember, it`s always pretty much the same format. They`d have special numbers and the choir, Cliff Barrows leading the choir and Bev Shea singing, then a testimony or two, and the dignitaries, the governor, mayor of the town, and then Billy would preach and always ends the same way: Just As I Am. I`ll never hear that as long as I live without thinking of the crusade.
MK: Growing up in the ARP church and then the, and Calvary--.
CM: Um-hum.
MK: Did they have an altar call, those churches, at the end of the service?
CM: Calvary did. No, I never heard one in the ARP Church.
MK: I, I grew up in that church and I don`t remember one either.
CM: Which one did you grow up in?
MK: I grew up at Sardis.
CM: Oh yeah, and at one time it was ARP wasn`t it.
MK: Oh yeah, it was an ARP church until the 50s.
CM: Well then you know the ones that I used to ride my bicycles with on Park Road, Murray Ketchie. Well he was the little boy that lived in the Clemmer Place, that`s were they lived. And I was, we were just crazy about each other as friends, he`s two or three years younger than I am. But, we and the boy that lived next door to him; I was always riding bicycles with those two. And that`s the way we spent our--. And Billy Frank rode his bicycle a lot with his goat and his dog back of him. We spent an awful lot of time on bicycles. [Laugh]
MK: Billy had, Billy Frank had dog and a goat.
CM: Um-hum.
MK: He was fond of animals?
CM: Oh yeah, we always had animals on the farm. He had two or three goats. He had a white, cute little white one with black on it, and then he had the great big brown one. And every time I came out the back door, the brown would make a beeline to me to butt me. [Laugh] They liked everybody else.
MK: Did it ever get in the house?
CM: Oh no, not if Mother knew it. [Laugh] If Mother was not there, he`d sneak the white one in once in a while. And we had cats, you know. Did you meet all of Peggy and Melvin's cats? [Laugh]
MK: One of them marched across my tape recorder because I was on his table. [Laughter] I met two of them.
CM: Did you?
MK: Beautiful cats.
CM: They just have nine living in the house with them.
MK: Nine?
CM: Nine. [Laugh]
MK: I did not realize how many. Do you recall the radio?
CM: Yes, uh-huh.
MK: Or the, being on at home--?
CM: Uh-huh.
MK: And what you`d listen to--?
CM: Uh-huh.
MK: In the barn and so forth?
CM: I remember the first we ever, we were able to get Billy Frank`s program from Hensdale, Illinois. "Songs in the Night" was his first program. And with our Philco radio, we worked and worked with it and finally heard him come through and hollering upstairs, "Mommy, Daddy we can hear Billy Frank." So they`d come rushing down. We could just barely hear him through all the static but we got him. [Laugh]
MK: Can you, can you imagine what year that was?
CM: No, it was before, all I know it was before I was married. I was married in--. We were married in `42. We`ve had our fifty-fourth anniversary. [Laugh] So it was--.
MK: When he was--?
CM: I was probably about eighteen, nineteen; something like that.
MK: If it were in Illinois he, would he, it would have been during the time possibly he was at Wheaton--?
CM: I guess.
MK: Or shortly thereafter.
CM: Uh-hum yeah. That`s his first program. It was such a thrill you know, and I remember the first time his picture appeared on the front page of the Observer. Oh, that`s the most exciting day you ever saw at home. He`d really arrived, you know, to have his picture on the front page.
MK: Can you imagine when that could, would have been?
CM: Oh, that was when I, it was all before `42. And that`s about all I can remember. Probably when I was in my late teens and he would have been in his early twenties.
MK: Were you really, were you surprised that, that he became a--?
CM: Well all of us were. [Laugh]
MK: It`s not at all what you expected?
CM: Well I guess we never gave much thought then to what each of us would do, not like probably kids do today. No, I never did think of him being a preacher.
MK: Really?
CM: No, I thought he`d be a leader though of some kind, because he was real good at telling us what to do and we did it. [Laugh] You know, a bunch of kids playing well he was the leader.
MK: Um-hum. Several of, of people have said that, that, that Mordecai Ham revival; it changed your family`s life. Your mother and father, it affected them as well. And the family prayers and things like that that they would do. And moving to the other church. It was a very religious household is that correct?
CM: Yes it was. And after Mother became interested in the Brethren, it seemed more so. Pardon. [Mrs. McElroy coughs and excuses herself. Tape is stopped and then turned on again.]
MK: Okay--.
CM: My mother`s sister and husband went to the Brethren Church, and it is not an organized church, just a group of people that got together to study the Gospel. And mother became very much more, should I say, devout I guess and, and she went to their Bible studies and so forth. And then, we always had devotions at night, at home, when we were children. You probably heard.
MK: Um-hum.
CM: And Mother would read the Bible and Daddy would pray or had some of us had sentence prayers, is what we called them.
MK: Did you use a book like a little devotional book or just read through--?
CM: No, she read, usually read from the Bible.
MK: Her interest in the Brethren, was that in the late 20s?
CM: No, it`s later than that.
MK: Like the, sometimes in the 30s?
CM: In the, I imagine either probably late 30s, early 40s.
MK: Do you remember anything--? What, what do remember about the Christian Men`s Club that your father belonged to, group of Christian men`s club in Charlotte?
CM: Well, that was like Mr. and Mrs. Patterson I`ve already mentioned, Mr. Patterson and Daddy, and I could name a few other men, and they would get together and pray for the Lord to raise up a, a preacher or evangelist. And so, and I think the meetings held pretty much in this area. We used to have our Sunday school picnics over here about where I`m living, and from Calvary. And I think it was over in here that they met and prayed a lot, or in this vicinity.
MK: Out one of these pretty creeks or under these big oak trees.
CM: Yeah, uh-hum where it was quiet.
MK: Um-hum. I had read in one book about Billy Graham that this group met day after day after day--,
CM: Um-hum.
MK: And prayed as you were just describing--,
CM: Um-hum.
MK: Precisely as you were describing.
CM: Um-hum. And I`m sure Daddy didn`t realize it`d be his own son some day.
MK: What do you think he would, would say? Do you remember when, was he alive when all this was happening in the 40s and 50s and 60s with Billy?
CM: Oh yes, daddy died in `62. Yes he remembered.
MK: So he got to see two of the, the big crusades that were here.
CM: Oh yes.
MK: `47 and fifty-`58?
CM: Yeah, `58, um-hum. And, and then after that its not--. When was the S and W built? When was the Park Road Shopping Center built? Daddy was at the S and W practically every day and as everybody would walk, not everybody, but when people would walk in he`d shake hands with them, "I`m Billy Graham`s daddy." [Laugh]
MK: This was the S and W that was built--.
CM: Yes. At Park Road.
MK: When, at the Park Road Shopping Center, which is where it was--. Goodness, it`s been five or six restaurants, Mexican restaurants, I`ve forgotten, I`ve forgotten what it is now. But he would eat lunch there everyday.
CM: Yeah, uh-huh. And at night, too, he would go up there awhile. But I know when they built it he said he just could not imagine anybody building a shopping center that far out in the country, nobody would ever come. [Laugh]
MK: Do you remember much about, or what, what do you remember about having tea with the Nixon`s that time?
CM: Oh, it was lovely. Mrs. Nixon was just as charming as she could be. And it was just our family and Norma Zimmer and her family. Her, do you know of Norma Zimmer?
MK: Norma Zimmer is the, was the singer?
CM: Laurence Welk.
MK: She, she sang--,
CM: Yes.
MK: With him.
CM: And she sang that morning at, at the prayer breakfast.
MK: At the White House.
CM: Yeah.
MK: How did that tea come about?
CM: Mr. Nixon--. They were here you know, over at Mother`s.
MK: When he was campaigning for president.
CM: Yeah, that`s right. And I think when he got ready to leave, he just said, "Now, I want you to come back to visit me, to visit me sometime." [Mrs. McElroy coughs] Excuse me. So later they invited us to come.
MK: Where were the Nixons? Where was he when he said this to your family?
CM: In Mother`s living room over on Park Road.
MK: Uh-huh. In the brick house--?
CM: Yeah.
MK: That is now out--.
CM: Yeah.
MK: Down at Fort Mill.
CM: Yeah, yeah.
MK: Did you think you all would, that would come about and that you would go?
CM: No, we just thought he was saying, "Well, come to see us, ", like people do. It was an exciting event. I remember reading--. [Tape ends.] START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B
CM: I remember reading Norma Zimmer`s book and she said she stayed awake for, I think every night for a week, so excited she couldn`t sleep. Well we did the same thing, but I didn`t think that she would be like that because she`s so accustomed to being before the public so much. She was real attractive.
MK: I, I remember.
CM: Easy. Yeah, easy to talk with.
MK: So you all went together--.
CM: Um-hum.
MK: To the White House then, the Oval Room of the White House and had, had tea. Do you remember what year that was?
CM: I believe it was about `73, `72 or 3. It would probably be on the back of that picture I had.
MK: Okay.
CM: I don`t know, but it was in the early 70`s.
MK: Just one other thing, you and I were talking on the phone about how you have to really behave yourself if you`re a member of the, if you`re Billy Graham`s family.
CM: Well, you feel like you do. [Laugh]
MK: Do you feel like as, as, as a, as a member of the family?
CM: Well now, I don`t think Jean feels that way, I do. Mother was so, she was very, well she was a Southern lady, very aristocatic, aristocratic, and I`m not like that. I was a tomboy. Mother wanted us to play with dolls, you know, and Jean and I were such tomboys on the farm, climbing trees, riding bikes, and playing animals and all. And Mother wanted me to be a perfect lady, well, that`s the hardest thing in the world for me to [laugh] imitate her. And I can`t do it. But I think people compare us and expect me to more like Mother.
MK: As the oldest daughter?
CM: Yeah.
MK: What did her father do?
CM: He was a farmer.
MK: Where?
CM: In Steel Creek, Steele Creek Community.
MK: In a--?
CM: Do you know where Eagle Lake is?
MK: No, but I know where the Steel Creek Community is. It`s in western Mecklenburg County.
CM: Yeah, Big Steele Creek Church. And that`s where Mama and Daddy are buried.
MK: That`s the, that`s an ARP Church too. An old--.
CM: No.
MK: Was it not? It was a Presbyterian Church?
CM: It`s Presbyterian.
MK: Yeah.
CM: Maybe it was ARP years ago.
MK: Very, it`s a very--. No, no. It`s a, I`m, I`m mistaken--.
CM: Um-hum.
MK: It was, it`s a very old--.
CM: Um-hum.
MK: It`s one of the earliest--.
CM: That`s right.
MK: Presbyterian churches here.
CM: Um-hum. And the little house is still there where she was born, by, just as you turn to go to Eagle Lake it`s right there. But he was wounded at Gettysburg, her daddy. And lost an eye and a leg. Came back and married her mother and they had three daughters. And Mother was the youngest.
MK: Can you think of anything else that I haven`t asked you that you`d like to, that I`ve forgotten to ask you or that you`d like to say?
CM: I`m just so sorry that I haven`t had the time to think things through more. I`ve had so much on my mind with my husband sick. I probably can think of a million things after you leave.
MK: Well, I`ll leave you my card and you can call me up and tell me anything you want to.
CM: We just had a real good time playing on the farm. And, and I`m real thankful for, that we did grow up on a farm. And I`m glad that our children did, because we lived here and our son started milking cows at seven years old.
CM: So you had a farm your--?
MK: No, we just lived here, and we`d cross over to Daddy`s farm.
MK: Uh-huh.
CM: And our son started milking cows for Melvin at seven, when he was seven, and loved it. He never did seem to object having to go milk the cows after school every day. And our children appreciate the fact that they lived near the grandparents and had that experience. So many children today don`t have that. And I think that`s what has made our family so close because we`ve just always been together.
MK: Do, does the whole family get together very often?
CM: Not now, but we did for years and years up in the last, until the last two or three years. Our son and his wife, up until this year, had been having a cookout for the entire family every spring for the last four or five years, but this year we didn`t because of the Washington affair.
MK: That`s right, but you got to go to that. I mean you; you`re the only one who didn`t get to go to that.
CM: Right.
MK: Because your husband had--.
CM: Fell right before that. [Laugh] And then, that was a big disappointment.
MK: Did, was there a videotape? Did anybody, it was on television, wasn`t it?
CM: Yes, I watched it that afternoon on television.
MK: When he got the congressional--.
CM: Uh-hum, medal, gold medal. Have you seen what they, each of them got?
MK: No.
CM: Well, I have one back there I`ll show it to you--.
MK: Oh, good.
CM: As a favor.
MK: Good.
CM: And then we have a lot of pictures. Our son, our son-in-law took a lot of pictures.
MK: Oh, good. Well, I think that`s plenty for the interview.
CM: [Laugh]
MK: And I appreciate this very, very much.