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News / Life / Clark County Life

Clark County history: “Tabernacle Day”

By Martin Middlewood, Columbian freelance contributor
Published: June 22, 2024, 6:08am

Vancouver unofficially declared Jan. 11, 1909, “Tabernacle Day” as several local churches erected a space large enough to house the attendees expected for the “Cyclone” Dan Shannon revival. The Oregon evangelist wasn’t scheduled to speak until April, but the 10th Street building held 1,500 people when the county’s population was 26,115. Shannon’s revivalist rhetoric went on for days and was heard by most of the county.

Revivals were popular then, and evangelical preachers animated masses to chase out sin and the devil and renew people’s faith. Billy Sunday was the nation’s top revivalist, bringing in multitudes and gaining access to the halls of power. (Sunday and his wife owned a model farm in Hood River, Ore., where they retreated from the demands of evangelizing.)

Completed in late February, local preachers gathered their flocks in the tabernacle until Shannon appeared there briefly on Friday, March 11. Unfortunately, it proved too popular. Folks arrived early anxious about finding seats and soon overflowed the tabernacle. The Vancouver Independent worried by week’s end, people would wait with blankets and lunches. The newspaper suggested to further the builders’ work by extending the tabernacle 40 feet into 10th Street.

At meetings held every night and twice on Sunday, Shannon’s preaching and hours of choir music drew large crowds. The cyclone railed against saloons. Soldiers from the Vancouver Barracks came forward, promising to abandon the vices of tobacco and drink. Local lodges, like the Odd Fellows, provided space for Shannon to preach between meetings. When the Vancouver High School student body attended, it cheered “Rah, rah, rah, Shannon!” The Portland Salvation Army Band ferried the Columbia River to perform at one meeting attended by 1,000 people.

A week before the cyclone preacher was finished, 805 people swore Jesus was their savior, 60 percent of whom were men and included prominent businessmen. The Vancouver Independent reported men formerly against Shannon’s preaching were now his advocates. To keep his success among men going, he held a Saturday night meeting on “A Greater Vancouver.”

There was one unhappy citizen. George Otezen, whose father owned a saloon, took umbrage with Shannon in a barbershop and assaulted him over words said about saloons. Otezen wasn’t arrested, and Shannon was uninjured. But Vancouver’s recently religiously refreshed were indignant and urged his father’s liquor license be revoked.

During the final session, Shannon gained another 150 converts, for a total of 955, and he received $1,600 in collections ($57,000 today). The celebration ended with the chorus singers, led by Mr. Ross, which was interrupted by a group tossing rocks against the tabernacle and breaking two windows before police routed them. After the concert, Ross married New Yorker Elizabeth Glick. The Shannons and the Rosses then left for Hood River to prepare a tabernacle there for meetings.

Not letting the religious fever cool, local churches immediately opened their doors to the newly converted. The Vancouver Independent wrote that it saw a change come over Vancouver—men who once spoke in a whisper against saloons were now vocally against them and ready to vote them out of the city.

Columbian freelance contributor