Not quite visiting Billy's home

This may be the pickiest post I have ever written, but, hey, the mountains of North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee are my favorite place on earth, so please allow me to share a news-related chuckle with the locals. Why? Well there is this little problem in the Washington Post coverage of President Barack Obama's courtesy call at the home of evangelist Billy Graham. Here is the reference that will cause raised eyebrows in the Southern Highlands:

During the 2008 campaign, Graham met with Sen. John McCain at his mountaintop house in North Carolina. But Graham, as he had in most elections, did not formally endorse any candidate. Last November, McCain's former vice presidential running mate, Sarah Palin, also visited Graham at his home.

White House officials said the president's visit to Graham's house will mark the first time a sitting president has made the trip to Montreat, the tiny, rural preserve at the top of a mountain where Graham lives.

Wait a minute! When did Montreat move out of its lovely little valley and up on top of a mountain? That would take a miracle.

Montreat is a fascinating place. For one thing, when people talk about "Montreat" they are talking about several different things. First, there is the town itself, which the locals refer to as be located in a "cove." Now, a cove is a small fold in the side of a mountain. By definition, coves do not exist on mountain tops. Second, there is Montreat College and, near that, there is the Montreat Conference Center. Finally, there is the fact that both of these institutions are, by history and other ties, linked to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A), a mainstream denomination that, in other parts of the country, would be considered quite left of center.

Does this puzzle you? Why, you ask, does the world's most famous Southern Baptist live in what, for all practical purposes, is a Presbyterian cove? The fact is that Graham is there precisely because it is a Presbyterian haven. Yes, there is a story there.

Why? Because his late, beloved wife Ruth Bell Graham was the daughter of Presbyterian missionaries and wanted to built their family's home life, while her husband was away preaching, around the little Presbyterian church just down the mountainside from their very private and unique home. I love the fact that when you do a Google search for photographs of that log house, you get -- nothing. It's amazing that they managed to live a quiet and surprisingly modest life there for half a century. I have had the privilege of interviewing Graham there and, trust me, it is not on top of a mountain. From the back porch you are looking down at the cove, but you are looking up at the mountains.

By the way, the Associated Press report about this meeting put the Graham house in the lede -- but managed to get the location right.

MONTREAT, N.C. (AP) -- President Barack Obama made a pilgrimage Sunday to Billy Graham's mountainside home, concluding his North Carolina vacation with his first meeting with the ailing evangelist who has counseled commanders in chief since Dwight Eisenhower.

What happened to the Post? Did the reporter simply skip that part of the president's day and write the story off a press release? Then again, The Politico also has Obama meeting the Grahams at a "mountaintop log cabin in Montreat." Maybe it was foggy today in the Blue Ridge Mountains?

But enough about Graham's home and legacy. After the divine Mrs. M.Z. Hemingway's earlier post about the latest political controversy surrounding the Rev. Franklin Graham, the Post did offer this update on what little is known about the content of the meeting between Obama and the Grahams (plural).

Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton said:

... Graham has "some of the creaks that come with advancing age," but added that "he's still as sharp as he ever was." After the meeting, Burton issued the following statement: "The President had a private prayer and conversation with Rev. Graham. He is extraordinarily gratified that he took the time to meet with him."

Just last week, Graham's son, Franklin, who is also an evangelist, was disinvited by the Army to speak at the Pentagon's National Day of Prayer on May 6 because of comments Graham made about Islam. Graham, who had been scheduled to speak at the event, had said that Islam offends him and that he wants Muslims to know that Jesus Christ died for their sins.

Burton confirmed that Franklin Graham was in the meeting with Obama and his father. Asked whether the controversy would affect the talks between Obama and the elder Graham, Burton said, "I don't know. We'll see."

Yes, it would be nice to have a transcript of that three-way conversation. Don't hold your breath. Was a pool reporter allowed to attend?

Photo: The Montreat Conference Center.

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