Middlesboro, Kentucky native Henry Harrison Mayes (1898-1986) was God’s advertiser. He spent most of his life making signs which promoted the Lord. Placed in as many locations as possible, his monuments reached 44 states. He dropped a reported 56,000 bottles which contained religious messages into various waters all over the world. He embodied the term “dedicated”.
Harrison dug coal 43 years for the Fork Ridge Mining Company in Mingo Hollow, just south-west of Middlesboro over the Tennessee state line. In 1918, a mine car broke loose and crushed him against the wall of the mine. He prayed that if the Lord pulled him through the accident that he would be His servant the remainder of his days. After his rescue, the doctors reported to his wife, Lillie, that he would not likely survive the night. As Harrison slowly healed, he began to search the path to make good on his promise. He felt like his preaching and singing was not up to par, but he could draw. His first test subject was the family pig. He caught the black sow and wrote on her side, then let her run free in the coal camp. He began to paint barns, trees, coal cars, all with messages stating “Get Right with God”, “Prepare to Meet God”, or “Jesus is Coming Soon”. He constructed up to 1600 wooden crosses that he planted in various locations, before he thought of making them more permanent and forming the messages in concrete. The 13’, 1,400 pound hearts and crosses would be loaded up on a hired flatbed truck, three at a time. In the night he would find locations to plant them, often not asking permission from the land owners. He would dig a hole, back the truck to it, and roll it across a row of pipes, right into the hole. He continued this process through the rest of his life, reaching 44 states before his passing. He had left instructions on several monuments for delivery to foreign countries after his passing. Some were even marked for other planets.
He built his house in the shape of a cross and painted “Jesus Saves” on the roof to be viewed by folks on airplanes. He made all of the concrete blocks himself and carefully formed a cross on each one. Mr. Mayes would often work double shifts in the mines to fund his advertising. He also worked on the side, painting signs for the Coca Cola Company and other businesses. His fellow miners set aside money from their pay to help him, and churches would also take up donations. An enormous lit cross on the eastern hillside of Middlesboro still shines each night as a testament to the promise.
Not everyone was happy with Harrison’s methods. In 1947, Virginia state officials removed 39 concrete monuments and delivered them to him with a bill for $39. At the time, advertisements that were not associated with nearby businesses were required to obtain license plates, which he had not. In 1949, Harrison said the following in an interview with the Louisville Courier-Journal: “I’m not a crank at all,” he said. It’s just that I’m interested in religion and that I believe in advertising it to other people. I do my preaching pretty much like some people sell their goods. That’s what you’ve got to do to make people come around to seeing that religion is a normal thing. Just keep telling them. And brother, when you come right down to it, a man needs religion more than he needs a pack of cigarettes or a tube of shaving cream.”