‘Chicago, That Toddlin’ Town,” is a song published in 1922 and written by German-born Fred Fisher (anglicized from Fischer). The song has become a classic, having been recorded by scores of entertainers including Rosemary Clooney, Judy Garland, Ann-Margret, Al Jolson, Sammy Davis, Jr., Louie Prima, Lou Rawls, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Tony Bennett, and, of course, Frank Sinatra.
As a hip song, glorifying the big city as unpredictable and unstoppably wild, the most notable sentiment is the mocking of powerhouse Billy Sunday.
About Billy Sunday
In the winter of 1862, during the Civil War, Billy Sunday was born in a two-room cabin in Ames, Iowa. He never met his father who had died shortly after his birth in an army camp. After several years of struggling to feed her children, his mother reluctantly decided it was best for her two sons to be regularly fed and also schooled by the Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home.
The two boys grew in health and were given a well-rounded education. When Billy’s brother Ed turned 16, he left the orphanage and Billy went with him to find odd jobs. He took pride in performing well in those jobs, even jobs so humble as scrubbing floors; and they afforded him enough money to continue his high school education. He even found time to play baseball with a group of friends.
He became well known for his baseball antics. Not the best hitter, far from it, but he was exciting to watch for his daring in stealing bases, running unbelievably fast, and for his leaps and dives to catch all kinds of fly balls. The Chicago White Sox scoped him out in 1883 and signed him on the spot to play for their team. It was found he could run around the bases in 14 seconds and before long he held the world’s record in 1891 for stolen bases, 90 bases in 116 games,
His fans and teammates both liked and admired the great Billy Sunday, and they continued to support him after he announced his conversion to Christianity in 1887. While still playing for the White Sox, Billy became a popular speaker at church meetings and other Christian groups such as the YMCA. His fame as a ball player was an asset as he brought cheer to the sick, prayed for those with all kinds of problems, arranged speaking engagements, and helped raise money for the needy. His ministry time for Jesus became so important to him that he asked to be released from his baseball contract.
One evening, almost 2,000 people came to hear a famous visiting evangelist, but the evangelist was delayed due to an accident. To ease the restlessness of the crowd, Billy Sunday got up to start his own brand of preaching from the Bible. That sermon was so inspiring, a newspaper reporter was prompted to write, “He was quite as efficient with the Bible as with the bat.”
In 1896, Billy Sunday started receiving calls to come speak to various congregations throughout the state of Iowa. His popularity as an evangelist spread so much so that dates had to be booked for him at least three years in advance. Thousands upon thousands of people came to hear Billy Sunday, and thousands upon thousands of people were saved. During his time, he became America’s most celebrated and influential evangelist.
Without any expense to anybody and without any scientific experience in this particular field, Sunday has demonstrated the power of Christian publicity. The newspapers carry his messages all over the world. The Pittsburgh dailies published special ‘Sunday Editions.’ They had thousands of subscribers for the issues containing the evangelist’s sermons and many persons have been converted by reading the newspaper accounts of the Sunday meetings. One cherished story tells of a young man in China who had been converted thirteen thousand miles away from the spot where the evangelist was speaking. Source
Coming soon: Chicago and Billy Sunday, Part II