“Mardi Gras is one mighty explosion of sin, stage-managed by the devil. I believe that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, if they could be resurrected and visit New Orleans during Mardi Gras, would by unanimous vote request that they be sent back to hell. I think that Mardi Gras is a time when even the devil is ashamed of his own followers.”
So proclaimed the Rev. Bob Harrington in his 1969 autobiography The Chaplain of Bourbon Street. Born in 1927 and born again in 1958 (both in the town of Sweet Water, Alabama), Harrington first encountered “the dives and strip joints of the [French] Quarter” while a Navy seaman during World War II. He returned in 1960 as a student at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, along with his first wife Joyce and their two daughters. He “was particularly thrilled by the lives of four great evangelists, Jesus, Roger Williams, who founded the first Baptist church on American soil, and those two great modern-day preachers, Billy Sunday and Billy Graham.” It didn’t take long for Harrington “to open a ‘Salvation Shop' in the heart of the French Quarter—the area that Billy Graham, during a visit there, had called ‘the middle of hell’.” Moreover, according to Harrington, “I wanted the sinners to see me coming from blocks away. I wasn’t going to pussyfoot around. To call attention to myself, I adopted the custom of wearing a red tie, red pocket handkerchief and red socks. And I carried with me everywhere a Bible bound in red leather. Those are my trademarks to this day.”
And the rest, as they say, is an In His Steps-esque tip-sheet for soul saving, but with a canned bluster (“No one had invited me—a sin-busting, devil-chasing young preacher—into the hellhole that was the French Quarter of New Orleans”) that came honest to an admirer of Billy Sunday, and with a voyeuristic gaze (“As far as I know, I’m the only man permitted free access to the backstage dressing rooms of the strippers”) that can only be (un)appreciated if you happen upon a copy of The Chaplain of Bourbon Street in your local Christian used bookstore. At the very least, check out his website: www.thechaplain.com
Here's a debate between Harrington and Madalyn Murray O’Hair (founder of American Atheists) on the Phil Donahue Show in 1970.
For our vinyl collectors...
And from the bombastic to the benign, here’s a two-sided card that my daughter caught at a recent Mardi Gras parade in Baton Rouge.