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Monday, March 08, 2010

Unshackled!

Unshackled! actually began in the 1940s as an inspirational sermon show given by rescue mission superintendent Rev. Harry Saulnier (1902-90), an electrical engineer from New York City who went to Chicago to work for the Consolidated Edison power company in 1923. He became active with the downtown rescue mission, the Pacific Garden Mission, so named by evangelist Dwight L. Moody for a bar called the Pacific Beer Garden. The Pacific Garden Mission used the Pacific Beer Garden's second building at 386 South Clark Street for its original location. Moody's idea was to let the drunks know that they were in the right place.

Pacific Garden Mission's first superintendent was Colonel George Clarke. He married his wife Sarah in 1873 and they started their rescue mission in 1877. It wasn't one of the first rescue missions but it is one of the oldest missions today. The original location was what is now 67 East Van Buren Street and had a capacity of 40 people. The bar became available in 1880 and it was at this time that Pacific Garden Mission was born.

Other superintendents included Harry Monroe, a mission convert, who took over when Col. Clarke died in 1892. Sarah Clarke continued working at the mission until her death. Monroe had come from Detroit after serving a prison term for counterfeiting. Mel Trotter converted to Christianity under Harry Monroe's leadership. Trotter was an infamous hopeless drunk on Michigan Avenue who later became a Presbyterian minister in 1905. He helped to start over 65 rescue missions around the country. When Harry Monroe died in 1912, Mel Trotter took over as superintendent, where he served until 1918.

In 1886, baseball player Billy Sunday (1862-1935) became a Christian at the mission. He was a popular outfielder for the Chicago White Stockings (today the Cubs). After an illustrious baseball career, he volunteered at the mission until his death. He was widely known as an evangelist in revival meetings.

Walter and Ethelwyn Taylor, known as "Ma" and "Pa," came to the mission in 1918. Ma was known as the hymnist who wrote "Calvary Covers It All."

The mission moved to its famous location at 646 South State Street, where it remained until 2007. This was never considered a prime location. The building was a brothel, the White House. After moving in, the stretch of State was known as "Murderers Row." After the Taylors retired in 1936, T. Donald Gately became the superintendent.

Harry Saulnier became the superintendent in 1940. He had a radio program in 1945 called Doorway to Heaven over station WAIT. WMBI (the radio station of the Moody Bible Institute) got interested in airing some kind of radio dramatic series in 1950. John Gillies (of the Institute) wrote a pilot script and WGN, a Chicago 50,000 watt powerhouse agreed to air the show. But a title was missing. A sailor at the mission, who had been in the U.S. Navy for many years, suggested the title Unshackled! It stuck.

The first show was a biography of Billy Sunday and was written by John Gillies. Later scripts were written by Eugenia Price (1916-96), a novelist who also wrote radio scripts in a previous life (as well as books about Christian subjects), wrote the first scripts. She was a new Christian herself (1949).

In time, Unshackled! received its "voice" in the person of Jack Odell (1915-91). A veteran radio actor in Chicago, his lifestyle had ruined his life until he gave his life to Jesus in the early 1950s. Jack and Unshackled! were linked together until his death.

The program became extremely famous over the years. Its phone number in Chicago (until 2007), in Jack's words, "Area 3-1-2, 9-2-2, 1-4-6-2," was politely made fun of by both Christians and nonbelievers alike. The original phone number was WAbash 2-1463. It didn't have quite the rhythmic bounce of the second number [(312) 922-1462], so it was the Mission that called the phone company to change the last digit of the phone number to a 2. They granted the request. The present phone number, (312) 492-4910, also isn't as nice sounding, but this is an era of computers and cell phones. No one cares what a phone number sounds like.

Most of the programs on Unshackled! have been true biographies. For holidays, "special" programs are often written.

Harry Saulnier worked at the mission until his son David (b. 1940) took over as superintendent. Today, David McCarrell is superintendent. And after a few years of being the host of Unshackled!, Russ Reed, an OTR veteran in Chicago, retired and now these responsibilities are shared by guests and mission personnel.

Unshackled! is the longest running radio program in history. The Guiding Light moved to television in the 1950s and it didn't air on the radio consistently. The same could be said about other shows. While it was probably more popular in previous years, the show will not leave the air...

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