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Sankey Still Sings

by Charles Ludwig

First Fruits of Success

Soon after Sankey's return he bought a large frame house in Brooklyn, a short distance from George C. Stebbin's residence, and joined the famous church of which Dr. Theodore Cuyler was pastor. This property he now considered his winter home, the one in Northfield serving as a retreat in the summer and at the annual conference.

It must not be imagined that because he gave up all his royalties on Sacred Songs and Solos he was a poor man. He was not. Wherever he went he was supported adequately, not by collections—Moody was opposed to this—but by gifts his friends insisted that he take or by a legitimate sum determined by the committee. Many times Moody thought the amount decided on by the committee was too large. And if this was the case he refused to take it all. Nevertheless, both he and Sankey were well supplied. Occasionally, too, Sankey would give a special concert, and often this netted him a good sum. There is a record of his receiving $250 for one appearance a very small payment when we consider his fame and talent.

He took pride in his homes and had them filled with simple but well-selected souvenirs of the great meetings in which he had participated, or of the famous places he had visited. There was a story connected with each treasure, and he was never happier than when he was showing friends around and relating the connecting stories. He and Fanny lived well. They stayed at the best hotels. They enjoyed the fruits of success. But no one who knew them intimately ever accused them of being wasteful or even extravagant. Sankey did not attempt to build a fortune, although he had every opportunity to do so. He was very generous with his money.

In 1886 he had a Y.M.C.A. building erected for his own city of New Castle. The total cost of the structure, together with the price of furnishing it, was $43,000 a considerable amount at that time. He paid for everything. Having been the first elected president of the organization in New Castle, he took great pleasure in making the contribution.

This same year he bought a lot for a new church and parsonage and presented it to the New Castle Methodist Church. He also went out and helped raise the $20,000 necessary for the new building. There is a strong evidence that he gave a good portion of it himself.

When Moody returned from England, Sankey accompanied him in meetings throughout many of the smaller cities of America. His short rest had given him back some of his old strength, and he was able to lead singing with almost as much zest as when he first met D. L. Wherever the two went, great throngs of people gathered to hear them. The many who had predicted that their drawing power would diminish with the years found that instead of diminishing it even increased. A blaze of revival followed them wherever they went. But Moody could not stay away from Northfield!

New buildings had to be built to take care of the growing schools and conference. He enjoyed watching the walls as they went up. He enjoyed knowing that hymnbook royalties were helping pay for them. By 1888 a new church building had to be built to take care of the increased congregation. This time a big one was planned—one with a seating capacity of twelve hundred. Moody gloried in the construction of the other buildings, but in none of them as much as the new Trinitarian Church, where he and his family would worship.

The day the cornerstone was laid, Mr. Moody asked Sankey to stand on it and sing "The Ninety and Nine" as a dedication. Without an organ to accompany him, he sang as loudly as possible, hoping to be heard by everyone in Northfield. As he sang, Mr. Caldwell, the man who had been converted by hearing the song as it was reflected across the river years before, lay dying in his cottage a few doors from Moody's house. He heard the song and gathered enough strength to ask his wife to open the south window so that he could hear it all before he died. A few minutes after Sankey stepped down from the cornerstone, the man died.

In the many meetings conducted in the previous years a number of new hymns had been written and introduced. Many of these were made popular simply because Sankey had used them. His approval of a hymn was usually enough to assure its success. Because of the many new hymns the public demanded a new hymnal. With this in mind, editorial work was started on Gospel Hymns No. 3. The editors of this hymnal, Ira D. Sankey, James McGranahan, and George C. Stebbins, stayed at Moody's house in Northfield. Here they were joined by Major Whittle and Dr. Pentecost. The latter were called because many of the hymnals would be used in their meetings. As the hymns were brought out they were tested as to harmony, words, and theology. Hymn writers knew that the success of hymns included in the hymnal was certain. The result was that the editors were flooded with manuscripts.

Sankey himself was the composer of many of the chosen hymns. Some of them had come to him as the result of an incident, or perhaps an illustration used by a preacher. Many came through an experience in the inquiry room or through the reading of a snatch of poetry in a book or magazine. In all fairness to both him and the world, we must say that most of his hymns were not outstanding. This, however, is no reflection on him. Many hymn writers who have dozens of hymns in print today were the authors of many thousands of hymns. Fanny Crosby alone had more than six thousand to her credit. Of these, probably less than fifty are enjoying any popularity today.

Sankey became acutely conscious of seeing his name on what he considered far too many hymns. But to stop writing he could not, and would not. The solution was to write under a pseudonym. The one he chose was Rian A. Dykes, and this name appears on a number of his hymns. This pseudonym is rather unique in that when the letters are rearranged they spell Ira D. Sankey!

From Sankey Still Sings by Charles Ludwig. Anderson, IN: The Warner Press, 1947.

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