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Rev. G.L. Morrill, populist preacher “wherever two or three are gathered!”

Calvary Baptist, People’s Church—Hennepin Av, Wonderland Amusement Park, Nicollet Field Baseball Park, His Own Funeral 

COURTESY HENNEPIN LIBRARY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS
G.L. “Golightly” Morrill, with a University of Chicago theology degree, broke away from established churches and founding an unorthodox “People’s Church” in downtown Minneapolis. His Los Angeles Times Obituary noted, “Probably the most unique funeral service ever conducted was held here today when the voice of Rev. G.L. “Golightly” Morrill was heard preaching his own funeral service. The words were heard over the body of the noted writer and world traveler in a local funeral parlor this morning. They issued from a phonograph which was playing a record dictated by Morrill himself months ago in preparation for his final rites. After the sermon another record was placed on the machine and Morrill’s voice was heard singing a religious song.” ‘Golightly,’ nickname, came from an associate who told him the Baptist Church officials were getting uneasy about his church services, where he told jokes, had musicians, drummers, slide projected images, and Hula Dancers. The associate told him to “go lightly.” G.L. did not change his methods, but did adopt “Golightly” as his pen-name. He was the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, 2608 Blaisdell Av., where some members of notable families McGarvey, Pillsbury and Harry ‘Wild’ Jones (Church architect) belonged.

Bertha French and Fred C. Dodds, the parents of Cedric Dodds, were married in Minneapolis on April 5, 1911. Reverend G.L. (“Golightly”) Morrill performed the ceremony. Theirs was one of many—perhaps hundreds—of wedd-ings that he performed. He was known to preside over as many as three weddings, two of them in his own home, on a single day.

Reverend Morrill was a great believer in marriage, though perhaps not so much a believer in true love, and went so far as to offer green stamps to couples who wed. Despite his many eccentricities he was a compassionate man and counted among his flock people who more conventional ministers would not find respectable enough to be members of their congregations.

Bertha and Fred Dodds were not a young couple when they married—Bertha was 28 and Fred was 32—but that did not necessarily mean that they were worldly. In 1911, the fact that she was visibly pregnant on her wedding day would have been only slightly less of a stigma than having no marriage prospects at all. 

Perhaps it is not surprising then that Morrill performed the Dodds’ ceremony. By the time that Fred and Bertha married, she was somewhere between four to six months along in her pregnancy. After the couple got married they moved to Aberdeen, South Dakota where Cedric was born on July 11, 1911. He did not thrive and seeking help his mother brought him back to Minneapolis. Cedric died in Cody Hospital, a charity hospital for newborns, when he was three months old. The cause of his death was malnutrition with “prematurity” being a contributing factor. He is buried in an unmarked grave in
Lot 20, Block j-2.

If that wasn’t enough of a burden Bertha experienced a second blow to her reputation—the failure of her marriage. Five years after Cedric’s death Bertha began referring to herself as a widow, but she was not a widow, she was divorced. Whether by her own choice, by mutual consent, or by abandonment, Bertha was on her own.

Fred moved to Montana where he worked as a tractor engineer. He remarried in 1925, had two children. He died in Montana in 1968, at the age of 90.

In 1920 Bertha was living with her two younger sisters, Edna and Shirley, and working as a housekeeper in a private home. Edna was 37 years old and working as a saleswoman in a dry goods store. Shirley was a stenographer in a corporate office. One year later Shirley married. In 1925, Edna died, and Bertha was on her own.

In 1930, Bertha was living in Wayzata and was working as a “servant” for the E.J. Phelps family. Phelps was a prominent Minneapolis banker who lived in one of the mansions on Park Avenue’s Golden Mile. Bertha died in 1965 at the age of 89 and was buried in Lakewood Cemetery.

Reverend Morrill, a Powderhorn resident for more than 20 years, continued to be one of Minneapolis’ more colorful characters popping up all over town during the first two decades of the 19th century. He was everywhere—ballgames, Wonderland Park, Big Island Park, the Nicollet Avenue ballpark, and his church, complete with hula dancers, movies and slide shows in the Unique Theater downtown. More than seven thousand baseball fans had to sit through one of his sermons, delivered from the pitchers mound, before the first pitch was thrown. They spoke highly of his sermon, praising its brevity. He raised money for the family of a firefighter killed in the line of duty and victims of a devastating earthquake in Italy. A dying man who didn’t want his expensive, custom-made, wooden leg to be buried with him asked Morrill for help and Morrill found a new owner for it. He ran (very) unsuccessfully for mayor in 1901. He eventually moved to San Diego where he died in 1928 but not before he tape recorded his own eulogy to be played at his funeral.

COURTESY HENNEPIN LIBRARY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS
Rev. G.L. Morrill said, “I know many people who go on a religious debauch every Sunday.” Wing portrayed Rev. Morrill’s classic, characteristic poses. Frank M. Wing, cartoonist, born 1873 in Elmwood, Illinois, in Twin Cities at the turn of 20th century, a staff artist—Mpls. Journal, Mpls. Tribune, St. Paul Pioneer Press and Dispatch, Chicago Tribune, Des Moines Register, and Tribune Syndicate; author of several books featuring his nostalgic cartoons; died in 1956 at the age of 82 when he lived in the Francis Drake Hotel in Minneapolis demolished in 2020 after severe Christmas Day fire, 2019.

FRANK WING 1873-1956

Yesterdays, 1910, by Frank Wing; cartoons originally in the Minneapolis Journal; an influence on young Charles Schulz, who studied with Wing, joined him on Art Instruction School faculty; encouraged Schulz to submit his work (Li’l Folks) to the Pioneer Press. [Charles Schulz who later created “Peanuts.”] In Yesterdays, each cartoon is printed on the right-hand page and a short paragraph of commentary on the left, in which a friendly and knowing narrator speaks in a tone of gentle condescension and ironic understatement about the characters and their lapses. Wing identifies himself as a part of the community he satirizes (referring to “our town”), and speaks in a refined English peppered with colloquialisms, while most of the characters—many of whom have pretensions to urbanity—converse in a kind of rustic dialect. Wing had talent for drawing lanky yokels with distinct facial expressions. His writing, too, a critic said, “was great; each paragraph of narration or word balloon has words or phrases that I have never read before. I think that is part of the reason I enjoyed stuff like this so much; it is the sense of surprise and newness.”

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