by Ken Wyatt
In late October 1886, General William Booth stopped overnight in Jackson, Mich. So long ago, it was forgotten by passing generations. In itself, the visit was hardly noteworthy. Thousands of people have passed through Jackson’s train depot, including famous military figures, writers and poets, presidents and wannabes, men going off to war and others returning from battle.
But something in the newspaper account of Booth’s visit caught my eye during research in 2009 while working with Jackson’s Salvation Army to prepare for its 125th anniversary.
As it happens, I am the son, grandson and great-grandson of Salvationists. I came to Jackson in 1972 at the invitation of The Salvation Army to take a job as youth center director. And I knew my Salvation Army history.
Buried in a report in the October 30, 1886, Jackson Daily Citizen about the General’s speech at a Friday night rally was mention of his welcome earlier that afternoon at the depot by a crowd of 400 to 500 cheering Salvationists.
“His speech is broken, sometimes disconnected, and when interested drops his h’s, but when speaking more cooly gives the letter. He has the appearance of being very earnest, and said, ‘This is my first opportunity of addressing an audience in the United States. I shall be glad to say anything this evening that would make anyone here love their God more and their country more, which also means more love for their fellow man. There is no denying that there is a great prejudice against The Salvation Army, and I would like to see it removed, and when the people know what we are doing, I think, it will be removed.’”
This was the historic tidbit Linda Hass and the Jackson County Michigan Historical Society Board thought worth highlighting in one of five new historic markers unveiled inside the depot earlier this year. Jackson Corps Officers Majors Matt and Patricia Grindle and soldier Holly Locke were delighted to be part of the event and spent time talking with many of us.
At one point Major Patricia took some photos for me at the new state marker outside the depot. Major Matt and I talked about the Army’s current work.
Truth be told, it was trains and rails that enabled The Salvation Army to spread quickly throughout the U.S. and Canada in the late 19th century. That rapid growth no doubt also had something to do with the bold, bearded evangelist who stepped off a train in Jackson and launched his first tour of the U.S.