Billy Graham is heading home.
A hearse carrying the body of the Charlotte-born evangelist is part of a 10-car motorcade that departed late morning Saturday from Asheville’s Billy Graham Training Center at the Cove. It should get to Charlotte around 2:20 p.m., although that time is fluid. And at about 3 p.m., the procession is scheduled to arrive at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte.
That’s where funeral and burial services will be held next Friday for the man who started life on a dairy farm near what is now Park Road Shopping Center and went on to become a globe-trotting preacher of the Gospel and a pastor to several U.S. presidents.
Graham’s son, Franklin, who also became an evangelist, tweeted this from the motorcade: “My father made me promise long ago that we would take him back to Charlotte after he died, and that’s what we’re in the process of doing right now.”
Also Saturday, BGEA spokesman Mark Demoss confirmed to Observer news partner WBTV that President Donald Trump will be in Charlotte on Friday for the funeral.
To many in western North Carolina, Graham, who was 99 when he died last Wednesday morning at his longtime home in Montreat, was a neighbor. Some rose early for the chance to be among the first admirers to pay their respects.
Hundreds of people lined the streets of downtown Black Mountain Saturday morning as Graham left his beloved Blue Ridge Mountains haven for the last time.
Only the sounds of clicking cell phones, the whir of two helicopters circling overhead and a few “thank yous” broke the silence as a procession of two black Cadillac hearses and a half-dozen black SUVs moved down East State Street toward Interstate 40.
“Millions of people would love to be here right now but can’t,” a woman in the crowd whispered to her companions as a State Highway Patrol escort of eight motorcycles came into view. “And here we are, just (living) 15 minutes away. That’s huge, ain’t it?”
The gathering crowd held mostly local residents, but Ann Lyons had flown in from Texas for the procession. Her minister grandfather had known Graham, and the family has deep roots in Montreat, the small town in a mountain cove where the Grahams had lived for more than 60 years.
“Montreat’s a special place,” Lyons said. “You can still feel that small-town feeling.”
Lindsay Higgins had lived just a few doors down from Graham since moving to Montreat from San Diego three years ago. She never got to meet the famous evangelist as his health declined, but said it was “special just knowing he was nearby.
“It’s very sad,” said Higgins, 33. “You can definitely feel it in Montreat. Just knowing that he’s not here — there aren’t enough people like him in the world, so it’s really sad.”
Lynda Davis, 69, a former housekeeper for Graham gospel singer George Beverly Shea, sat with a hand-lettered, neon-yellow sign beside her folding chair. “Well done thou good and faithful servant,” it said of the man Davis calls “our Mr. Billy.”
Near Hickory, people waiting for the motorcade parked their cars and trucks off Hwy. 321, and lined up or sat along the road. They waved Bibles and signs. Some others positioned themselves along an overpass, hoisting large American and Christian flags.
And near Marion, one man played bagpipes, an instrument associated with funerals.
Franklin Graham, in another tweet written along the route, called the turnout “overwhelming.”
“The outpouring of love we are seeing as we travel from Asheville to Charlotte via the motorcade with my father @BillyGraham is overwhelming. People lining the streets, the overpasses,” the younger Graham wrote. “Thank you.”
Billy Graham’s only surviving sibling, Jean Ford, waited Saturday at the Charlotte library with her husband, Leighton Ford, an author and evangelist.
Ford told WSOC-TV that his wife was also moved by all the interest in her older brother since his death, which came 13 years after his last crusade in 2005 and then years of mostly public silence.
As for turning a farm boy into a evangelist with a worldwide flock, Leighton Ford added, with a nod to Graham’s humility: “Billy would say, ‘Only God could do that.’ ”
The 130-mile route will take the motorcade past sites that were special in Graham’s life.
Sometime after the procession gets to Charlotte, it will go by the church he and his family attended when he was a youngster. The building at the corner of East Boulevard and South Boulevard is now occupied by Grace Covenant Church. But when “Billy Frank” got his first religious education there, it was white-columned Chalmers Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. Born in 1918, he was a member of the graduating class of the church’s Beginner’s Department in 1924.
Some “designated public viewing areas” dot the route.
In Charlotte, the motorcade will travel along Interstate 277, entering downtown via North Tryon Street. Motorcade viewing areas in Charlotte include Tryon Street to the intersection of Stonewall Street, and along Stonewall Street to South Boulevard. A public viewing area will extend along South Boulevard from downtown to Remount Road.
From there, the motorcade is expected to travel on South Tryon Street before turning onto Billy Graham Parkway. It will then proceed to the library for a ceremonial arrival involving Graham’s family. They will accompany the casket into the library for a private gathering.
Saturday’s procession is the start of nearly a week of mourning for Graham.
On Monday and Tuesday, members of the public will file past his closed plywood casket, which will be on display in his boyhood home. The house was restored and relocated to the library grounds.
Then, later in the week, ceremonies are planned that are designed to echo other highlights in Graham’s life and career.
On Wednesday and Thursday, his body will lie in honor in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in Washington. It’s a city Graham visited often over the years: to say prayers at presidential inaugurations, to offer solace in times of national crisis, and to receive honors from Congress and the president.
Graham’s funeral service will be at noon Friday on the library grounds. About 2,300 invited guests will gather under a massive tent meant to recall Graham’s 1949 crusade in Los Angeles. It was that eight-week event – held under two circus tents that came to be called the “canvas cathedral” – that first brought him to the nation’s attention. It drew about 350,000 people and reporters flocked in to cover it for their newspapers and radio stations.
At Friday’s funeral, Franklin Graham, who now leads the Charlotte-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, will speak along with his four siblings. President Donald Trump is expected to be among the guests.
Former President George W. Bush, meanwhile, plans to visit the library on Monday to pay tribute to Graham, who “changed my life,” Bush wrote in a Wall Street Journal column published after Graham’s death.
Billy Graham and his longtime crusade choir director, Cliff Barrows, mapped out the order of the funeral, including favorite hymns, years ago, said a spokesman for the BGEA.
Friday’s funeral service will be followed by a private burial. Graham will be laid to rest on the library grounds, at the foot of a cross-shaped walkway. He’ll be buried next to Ruth, his wife of 64 years, who died in 2007.
His grave marker will read: “Billy Graham, Preacher of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
It will also include a Bible citation: “John 14:6.” That verse reads: “Jesus told him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ ”
More chances to say goodbye
▪ Monday and Tuesday, from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., shuttle buses will transport people to the Charlotte library grounds. There, they’ll stand in line outside to view Graham;s closed casket in his boyhood home, which has been restored and relocated. Those wanting to view Graham’s casket in his family homestead at the Billy Graham Library will be shuttled from two off-site locations: the parking lots at the Operation Christmas Child warehouse, 7100 Forest Point Blvd. in south Charlotte, and from the Charlotte Valet Business Lot 2 at 5601 Wilkinson Blvd. at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
▪ On Wednesday and Thursday, thousands are expected to file into the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, where Graham’s body will lie in honor.
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