A Twenty-Five Year Search for an AA History That Was Accurate, Filled in Blanks, Untangled Myths, and Reported Facts
Where–after 25 years of engaging in just such a search–would I start, retrace my steps, or point others today? The objective would be to fill gaps, to tell the rest of the story, to get rid of the nonsense gods and irrelevant “spirituality,” and do what should have been done to help Bill Wilson and Nell Wing when they realized and started to act on such a quest in the 1950’s.
Just an outline here
Where to go?.
Maine: to see where Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor was founded and how it grew out of a tiny church in Portland to a world-wide membership of 4.5 million young people.
East Dorset, Manchester, and Northfield, Vermont: to see what the Christian background of Bill W., his parents, and grandparents was; where the Wilsons and Griffiths went to church and Sunday school; the actual church participation of the Wilsons and the Griffiths in East Dorset Congregational Church; what temperance, revival, conversion, and healing events they attended; how Bill W.’s grandfather Willie was completely cured of his alcoholism after a vital religious experience atop Mount Aeolus in East Dorset; what Bill read in the Bible before he went to “high school;” what the four year Bible study course at Bill’s seminary was; what Bill encountered in daily chapel at Burr and Burton Seminary, and also at Norwich University; which Congregational churches Bill attended in East Dorset, in Manchester, and possibly Northfield; where Bill first met his friend and sponsor Ebby Thacher; what Ebby had been taught about the Bible, Jesus Christ, healing, and prayer as a youngster in Albany New York and Manchester, Vermont; what vital religious experiences occurred in the lives of Bill’s grandfather Willie Wilson, and Ebby’s mentor Rowland Hazard.
New York: to learn about: the born again experiences of Ebby Thacher himself, and Bill W. – at Calvary Mission and Calvary Episcopal Church in New York; the advice Dr. William D. Silkworth gave to Bill and to other patients that the Great Physician Jesus Christ could cure Bill of his alcoholism; Ebby’s message to Bill W. that God had done for Ebby what he could not do for himself and that Ebby had been born again and attained sobriety for a two-year period; Bill’s trip to Calvary Episcopal Church to check out the veracity of Ebby’s story; Bill’s decision at Calvary Mission to accept Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior; Bill’s decision to seek the help of the “Great Physician;” Bill’s extraordinary white light that blazed through his room at Towns Hospital after Bill cried out to God for help; Bill’s conclusion that he had been in the presence of his Creator, had said to himself: “Bill, you are a free man. This is the God of the Scriptures;” Bill’s firm decision never again to doubt the existence of God, and his discovery that he had been cured; Bill’s feverish witnessing to drunks on the streets, in the mental wards, at Towns Hospital, at Oxford Group meetings, in flea bag hotels, in the gutters, and in the Bowery; Bill’s efforts in telling his drunks in despair that they needed to give their lives to God and that the Lord had cured Bill of his terrible disease and he just wanted to keep talking about it and telling people; Bill’s attendance at meetings of A First Century Christian Fellowship and his friendship with Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr.; Bill’s doing his witnessing with a Bible under his arm; and Bill’s participating with Rev. Shoemaker and his parishioners in marches to Madison Square where they carried signs “Jesus Christ Changes Lives;” where Bill himself mounted a “soap box” and gave his testimony; and where Bill twice wrote after his conversion at the Mission and his white light experience at Towns Hospital and cure: “For sure, I’d been born again.”
St. Johnsbury, Barre, and Burlington, Vermont to search out every possible connection that Dr. Bob had with Congregational Churches, Congregational Sunday school, prayer meetings, vesper services, YMCA lectures and activities, the huge resources at the St. Johnsbury library called the Athenaeum, St. Johnsbury Academy, daily chapel and the rigorous requirements of the Academy that students attend chapel daily, and also attend church once a week; to learn as much as possible about Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor in which Dr. Bob was active and which insisted on confession of Jesus Christ, conversion meetings, prayer meetings, Bible study meetings, Quiet Hour observances, topical discussions of Christian literature, and outreach; to learn as much as possible about the extensive activities of Dr. Bob’s parents (Judge Walter P. Smith and Amanda H. Smith) in the North Congregational Church of St. Johnsbury, St. Johnsbury Academy, Domestic Missions, United Christian Endeavor Society, Young Men’s Christian Association; to learn the education and community events involving all the Smiths–the Judge, Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Smith’s mother, Bob’s foster-sister Amanda Northrup, and Bob himself; to determine the impact on St. Johnsbury of The Great Awakening of 1875 in St. Johnsbury; to discover the influence of Congregationalism and such evangelists as Dwight Moody, Ira Sankey, F. B. Meyer, Allen Folger, Henry Drummond, and several others; and find how and where Dr. Bob had acquired his intense training in the Bible and interest in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, 1 Corinthians 13, and the Book of James.
Washington, D.C., Connecticut, Claremont California, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Pittsburgh, England, Canada, Australia, Fort Myers Beach in Florida, Arizona, and Baltimore, Maryland to meet or phone or interview or correspond with every known, available, competent activist of A First Century Christian Fellowship, later known as the Oxford Group.
Akron, Newton Falls, Cleveland, New York, Sacramento California, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Rhode Island, Florida, Connecticut, England, Cleveland, to meet or phone or interview or correspond with as many of those–such as St. Paul’s Church in Akron, Akron A.A. Intergroup, Dr. Bob’s Home, St. Thomas Hospital, Akron University, Summit County Library, Stan Hywet Estate, Seiberling Gate Lodge, as well as any individual who could acquaint me with the whole A.A.–Akron story from the Firestones, Jim Newton, Dr. Walter Tunks, Rev. Sam Shoemaker, Dr. Frank Buchman, Rev. Wright, Founders Day Archives, the now retired archivist of Dr. Bob’s Home; Congressman John Seiberling, Dorothy Seiberling, Dorothy Seiberling Huhn, Dorothy Culver, Gail La Croix, Sue Smith Windows, Robert R. Smith and his wife Betty, Mitchell K., Grace Snyder, Jack Rapp, Dale and Carol Morfitt, Steve and Sue Foreman, and Mrs. W. Irving Harris and Nell Wing.
This certainly includes personal visits, phone calls, meetings, emails, and correspondence with some diligent writers and A.A. historians dedicated to learning and reporting accurate history. They include Dennis Cassidy, Ray Grumney, Bill Pittman, Frank Mauser, Charlie Parmley, Joe McQuany, Danny Whitmore, George Vondermuhll, Jr., Charlie Bishop, Dr. David Lewis of Brown University, Dr. Karen Plavan of University of Pennsylvania, Dr. J. Scott Tonigan of University of New Mexico, Ken Belden, Michael Hutchinson, Garth Lean, Dr. Morris Martin, Sally Shoemaker Robinson, Nicki Shoemaker Haggart, T. Willard Hunter, Richard Ruffin, and several others.
If one were given access, he or she could still spend days, weeks, or months going through the A.A. World Services archives, Oxford Group in England archives, St. George’s Parish archives in New York, libraries and churches in East Dorset, Rutland, Manchester, and Northfield, Vermont; the Moody records in Northfield, Massachusetts; the vast records of United Christian Endeavor Society; Brown University libraries; Hazelden archives and papers; and the private papers of many an assiduous searcher connected with A.A., Christian Recovery, treatment and residential programs, 12-Step concepts, and literally hundreds and hundreds of books, articles, and papers–most of which are specifically identified in one or more of my 46 published titles, 1700 articles, and recorded or video talks.