Aug. 17, 1953: Thousands gather to see Pittsburgh’s ‘revved-up human dynamo’
Kathryn Kuhlman grew up in Concordia, Missouri and dropped out of high school at age 16 to preach to farmers in Boise, Idaho.
Between the late 1940s and 1970s, her popularity as a Christian evangelist grew because of weekly radio and television programs plus public appearances that drew thousands of people, many of whom hoped to be healed of various afflictions.
Her passion for preaching led her to Oregon, Colorado and Iowa before she was invited to appear at a church in Franklin, Pa. She then settled in Pittsburgh.
Slim, long-legged and often dressed in white chiffon gowns, the evangelist with the throaty alto voice and Shirley Temple curls held audiences spellbound. Ann Butler, a writer for The Pittsburgh Press called her, “a strange mix of spunky Rosalind Russell and salesgirl Josephine, the lady plumber” and described her as “a revved-up human dynamo, supercharged with electric confidence.”
Kuhlman studied the Bible for two years and and was ordained by the Evangelical Church Alliance. While she considered herself non-denominational, she had a special rapport with Roman Catholics. Starting in 1947, she ran a nationwide radio, television and revival meeting ministry from the sixth floor of the Carlton House, a hotel in Downtown Pittsburgh. In 1948, she began holding services at Carnegie Hall on the North Side.
To celebrate five years of preaching in Western Pennsylvania, she appeared at the Syria Mosque in Oakland in August 1953. More than 6,000 people jammed the auditorium and some of them waited all night to get a seat.
In 1962, she published a book titled “I Believe in Miracles,” which sold more than a million copies. By the 1970s, the Kathryn Kuhlman Foundation was receiving annual contributions totaling $2 million. The funds were used to build 20 missionary churches and mission centers in Argentina, China, Costa Rica, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Macau, Nicaragua and South Africa. In Vietnam, the foundation built a $50,000 hospital and a center for paraplegics.
On Monday evenings, the lady preacher led a Bible study in Downtown Pittsburgh’s First Presbyterian Church. On Fridays, she led healing services at Carnegie Hall on the North Side. Her Sunday services were often at Stambaugh Auditorium in Youngstown, Ohio. Her weekly television show, “I Believe in Miracles,” was broadcast on more than 60 stations. About 50 radio stations carried her half-hour programs. She also led a revival in Stockholm, Sweden for 16,000 people and traveled to Rome where she had an audience with Pope Paul VI.
Kuhlman died in 1976 after suffering complications from open heart surgery in Tulsa, Okla. She was 68 and buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, Calif.
During a memorial service, mourners filled Downtown Pittsburgh’s First Presbyterian Church, 320 Sixth Ave. Ushers from the Kathryn Kuhlman Foundation passed red velvet pouches down the aisles to collect contributions. A 95-member choir sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
Her estate, valued at $732,543, included a one-story ranch home at 350 Fox Chapel Road in Fox Chapel, an apartment in Newport Beach, Calif. and a summer cottage on 35 acres in Alberta, Canada. She also owned two fur coats, valuable antiques, paintings and jewelry.
Her will bequeathed about $314,00 to Dana Barton “Tink” Wilkerson, a 44-year-old car dealer and his wife, Sue. Mr. Wilkerson was a regent at Oral Roberts University. The estate paid out $267,500 to three of her family members and 20 employees.
The foundation that bears her name maintains a website that offers videos, prayers, photographs and audio clips of her sermons.
Top picture: Sidewalks outside the Syria Mosque were packed hours before an appearance by Kathryn Kuhlman. (Pittsburgh Press photo)