From the Diary of Starling Thompson (1876-1929)
by Mark Sean Orr-2008
August 17, 1890
PART ONE:THE REVIVAL
There we sat in the stifling shade of the tent...not so much as a stir of a breeze.
Women were fanning themselves with the pamphlets the Morris girls at the entrance of the tent were
passing out. Each program displayed a crudely drawn lighthouse on the cover of it's two page entirety.
Big bold letters on the program's front and signs outside the tent proclaimed this sermon to be
"The Lighthouse-Beacon in the Storm Revival...., CADIZ, INDIANA, August 13-19 in the year of our Lord
Inside the pamphlet, the masses were invited to "Come sing the praises of God and fight the
treachery of Satan ". Pop somehow managed to get us the last 7 folding chairs left empty in the sweltering
makeshift tent-church in the Showalter's meadow. As I looked down at my Sunday shoes, I thought, this
grass will never grow back and this is only the 5th day of Reverend Morris's 7 day revival. Two more days
of this and there'll be nothing but dried up dirt and dust. I reckon passing by Showalters Meadow for the
rest of the summer will be a reminder of how thankful we are that the summer revival had come and gone.
Not that I'm agin' God or revivals mind you.....it's just the heat and the crowd that gets to me....and
the shouting and repenting ... mostly the shouting and repenting. It's so hot this year...hotter than most
August days and that's saying something. "Dog day's" my grandma calls em. "Not fit for man nor beast".
It's so hot this year I'm not sure even God will show up for the Reverend Morris's annual revival.
I'm not sure what transpires at these revivals, but they tend to make normal people act peculiar .
Must be something about the atmosphere and the knowing of the past history of heated and fiery
sermons. A mix of anxiousness, obligation and terror prevail during and prior to the 7 day event each
year. Part of the Reverend's followers arrived in each town a week before to erect the tent and get the
locals riled up. . These revivals are attended en-masse with people coming from surrounding counties
and some as far away as Ohio, Kentucky and Illinois. Throughout Henry County, there are few who are at
home or elsewhere during revival meetings. Homes and businesses are deserted and all other activities
cease during each meeting.
So here we sit...awaiting the unknown. What will happen this year is anyone's guess, but no one is
expecting anything less than a deeply religious experience.
"Brothers and sisters of Cadiz,Indiana.....I give you the Reverend Alvin Morris" shouted Robert
Morris...Reverend Alvin Morris's oldest child and only son. Large Mrs. Tucker sitting in front of me shifted
her big backside in her seat wearing her yellow and green flowered cotton dress (almost making the tiny
foldin' chair disappear), and settled in for a long sermon. Behind me Mr. Kissinger let out a stifled belch
and the thick aroma of hard whiskey wafted up and surrounded me like a heavy fog might do to a row
As the crowd settled down , I realized I should have gone to the outhouse again before we were
trapped here for God knows how long. The root beer I had at Seley's Market on the way into town had
gone straight through me. But there was no way I was gettin up now and risking the disapproving glare of
the good Reverend and my folks. The show had just begun .
"Hallelujah my brothers and sisters" said the Reverend ..."thank you for coming. I see many
a familar face and some new one's as well".
The Reverend then commenced preaching for what seemed like days but was actually about 2 1/2
hours. He spoke of sin.....and told us that we are all sinners and bound for hell unless we change our
ways. "For no one is righteous" ...he quoted the Bible...".no not one!" And then he spoke of the rapture.
This is the part that always got to Jama .. she had nightmares about waking up to an empty house with all
her family carried off to heaven by a huge bird called a" Rapture", leaving her (a sinner she thought)
home all alone......and all the dead people coming back to life. A real horror story for such a small child.
The Reverend quoted from "Thessallonians"
"For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of
the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven
with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise
first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the
Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord."
The Reverend's voice crescendo'd until he was shouting out the sermon, pounding the pulpit, pacing
back and forth...his face blood-red and dripping with sweat! His audience was completely still and fixated
on his presence and every single word. Even Mr. Showalters dogs who had found a good shady spot in
the corner of the tent looked attentive as if they were taking in every word as well.
The sermon was tumultuous, littered with "Amens" and Hallelujahs". There was praying, weeping and
repenting and people down on their knees. It was riveting...the man knew how to strike fear in the hearts
of us sinners.
Then he was silent for a moment, motioned to his son to pass around the collection plate and
everyone breathed a little easier while reaching into their pockets for the offering. I saw pa' lean in to ma'
and whisper "Nothing like the fear of eternal damnation to make a man dig real deep in his pockets".
While that was happening, Mrs. Rebecca Morris started playing the organ.....and we sang..... "Old
Rugged Cross"," In The Sweet Bye and Bye" and "Whispering Hope". It was at this time that Ginny
Runyan caught my eye. She was the prettiest girl in Henry County (and she had the prettiest singing
voicee too), I had plans to make her my girl this summer and maybe even get a kiss before school started
again in September. She came to all my baseball games every summer and cheered me on. I just hadn't
gathered up enough courage to talk to her much outside of school and the baseball field. But this summer
was going to be different.
After the final chorus of "Whispering Hope".... the tent's occupants were worn out and silent. They
looked as if they'd been poured into their seats...hot and sweaty , wilted from the heat and the fiery
sermon. But the Reverend wasn't finished yet! He then started his finale........the big finish and the fat lady
was definitely going to do something tonight, but it probably wouldn't be singing...of that there was no
After the singing....Reverend Morris got to his feet and you could tell he had a head full of steam. He
pounded the pulpit with fisted hand using every ounce of energy he had and shouted:
and everyone's focus shifted quickly back to the makeshift pulpit.
"I feel like I've been here before at this very time in this very place.....in fact I HAVE been
here before. You know how?" No one answered. (In my mind I yelled out "you have been here before...
every year since I can remember, in the hottest dang month of summer....and ma and pa make us come
and sit here to listen to your long winded sermons about hell fire and brimstone!). Of course that would
never happen and if it did, an outburst like that would bore ma to pieces and it would almost certainly
garner a trip to the woodshed with pa when we got home, although I think a part of him would find it
amusing. He is respectful of Reverend Morris but not so fond of his epic and fiery sermons.
"I have been here before my brothers and sisters, said the Reverend (in a more subdued
voice)...in a vision from God! (with much emphasis on the word God so that it came out sounding like
Can I get an Amen!?
And the flock on cue answered "Amen!".
The good Reverend continued: "You were here Mr. Creason.....and you Mrs. Lawson...all of
you....and you know who else?"
"God?"...yelled out Lila Creason before she thought better of it, causing her cheeks to turn a rosy
red, suddenly realizing that it was a rhetorical question.
"No mam' said Reverend Alvin Morris......."God is here and always among us....but there's
another here who we don't know. But he knows us and he's just as interested in this sermon
as God is...and as you are".
"That someone is....Satan"!
When the Reverend said Satan...he spat it out in disgust and defiance....the "s's" sounding like a
nest of snakes making their way from the pulpit down through the congregation.
Here we go I thought...now Jama will have nightmares for a month of Sundays. I saw my little sister
clutch on to momma's arm and dig her fingers in real tight til her tiny knuckles turned white.
"YESSIREE" said the Reverend......."Satan is here (now shouting and pointing twoards the
back corner of the tent) and he's sitting right back there in that corner...waiting...to do battle.....
for your souls!" There were those snake-like s's again at the end of the word souls.
The entirety of the congregation, with the exception of the last row, turned forthwith to look to the
back of the tent in the direction the Reverend pointed out, half expecting to see Satan himself seated in
the corner, a big smile on his face,drinking a Dr. Pepper and enjoying the heat of the day. What they saw
was a wide eyed Mr. Clemens, the old colored man who sold indian artifacts and other oddities my pa
called junk around town, and who lived out on the edge of Blue River. Mr. Clemens, briefly panicked, then
in an instant of quick thinking turned his head to look back at the heavily worn canvas of the end of the
tents make-shift wall, thereupon turning back around as if to say...."nope...no satan here".
The Reverend went on...."Yes, Satan is here and ready to do battle for your souls, but you'll
notice he's not up here with me or you good folks. He is behind us..........and that's where we
will keep him. SATAN GET THEE BEHIND ME" he shouted in the hot August afternoon!
That was the last straw for Mrs. Tucker....she of the green and yellow flowered dress ......what happened
next would be told and retold for many a year to come in Henry County.
That was it for Mrs. Tucker. She stood up and let out a howl that stunned the already shaken
parishioners....the howl followed by the shrieking voice of a madwoman...."I feel Satan's presence" she
cried....and then she began citing The Lord's Prayer with eyes closed and body trembling while she ran
up and down the aisle of the tented church. It was a sight to behold for sure.
Thinking myself a relatively experienced revivalist, and having known Mrs. Tucker for quite some
time, I knew that something on a grand scale was about to happen....and something sure did alright.
Upon her approximate 10th lap up and down the aisle of the tent, she ran smack dab into one of the metal
poles that were supporting the tent.....a huge red lump started growing immediately across her entire
forehead, yet she kept on running ...up and down the aisle looking totally deranged....mad as a hatter!
When she finally returned to the place where her chair stood , she collapsed , and not only did she take a
fall....she landed smack dab on top of poor old Mr.Tucker who was about 100 pounds less earthly than
she, toppling him and his chair ... and they both proceeded to hit the ground a ton... her prostrate upon
the top of him, her large, sweaty body covering him almost completely.
Once there she convulsed violently for several minutes before completely succumbing to to a coma-
like state, exhibiting no signs of life whatsoever. I was sure Mr. Tucker would be maimed for good.
part of the huge tent collapsed upon part of the congregation. Adults grabbed children and ran towards
the darkness of the oncoming night outside the tent. Babies cried and dogs headed for the woods, hind
legs catching forelegs.
"My God, she's dead" cried someone from the crowd.
The parishioners gathered round her,babies still crying, Mr. Showalter's two hound dogs, the only
two dogs who hadn't deserted the sinking ship, were barking, Jama was now actually on top of ma's lap,
desperately trying to crawl all the way up to mama's head. The other women fanned air onto Mrs. Tucker
with their pamphlets and most of the men tried to help extricate Mr. Tucker, some trying hard to hold back
hysterical laughter and some wide-eyed with fear.
Once they had precariously removed Mr. Tucker from underneath his wife, he professed no injuries
The rotund and flower dressed Mrs Tucker awoke a few minutes later....speaking of how she had felt the
presence of God and the devil and witnessed a battle of unprecedented equal between good and evil,
and the saving grace of salvation. She had felt as light as a feather and as quick as a derby horse! She
had seen heaven, hell and everything in between!
What a grand finale for the Reverend's sermon this day. His face showed a triumphant smile and I
imagine he knew at this moment that his sermon today would not soon be forgotten.
Now I'm not saying he's a charlatan or someone who revels in the angst of others, I'm just saying he
enjoyed a tumultuous church service and the status he had brought upon himself on behalf of his
righteous cause. I think P.T. Barnum would tip his top hat in respect and humility to the Reverend Alvin
Morris on that hot August evening. Barnum had Tom Thumb , Jenny Lind and the Swedish Nightingale,
but Reverend Al could make even a normal midwest housewife do the most amazing things with just a few
carefully crafted words.
After the ruckus, and after Mrs. Tucker settled back in her chair, the exhilarated Reverend led what
was left of the crowd , wide-eyed and weary, but completely full of the Holy Ghost, in a rousing rendition of
"Rock of Ages" followed by a short prayer of thanks and then dismissed the reborn soldiers of God into
the humid air, the light growing dimmer as the sun sank even lower in the western sky.
I carried a now exhausted Jama piggy-back down the road to the wagon and reflected on the
meeting that night and how we would all be up all night with Jama and her nightmares.
But sure as the sun sets and rises...we would be right back here next year for another revival....
When we got home, I tucked Jama into bed.
'Starling" said Jama.......if the rapture comes tonight, will you stay with me if God don't take me?".
"Sure would" I replied, "but God aint gonna leave his prettiest angel behind.......
Would you stay with me Jams, if God up and left me behind?"...I asked.
"Nope" she replied with a grin that turned into an uncontrollable giggle.
"Night Starling" she said.
"G'night Jams", I replied. ....."see you in the morning".
"You promise?" , Jama queried.
"Yup.....I promise" said I.
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