“I traveled to Beach Haven [a resort town on Long Beach Island, New Jersey], to be present at the celebration of the Decennial of the Academy, which lasted over a week. I will never be able to do justice to that occasion. It was a milestone in my life, a foretaste of heaven. It was the very culmination of the glory of the old Academy. About eighty persons were present, from different parts of the world, all being together as guests of Mr. John Pitcairn in a magnificent hotel at the seaside [see photo, left]. There were services, ceremonies, discussions and feasts, every day. What sublime spirituality, and yet what intense natural gaiety and innocent enjoyment! We ‘boys,’ of course, especially enjoyed the ‘nachspiels’ under the leadership of the indomitable Walter Childs. Fred Waelchli and I roomed together. One morning we awoke to witness a glorious sunrise over the ocean, and seriously discussed whether we were in the natural or the spiritual world!” (New Church Life 1920, 285-6).
The passage above, from the autobiography of Carl Theophilus Odhner, expresses some of the excitement associated with this event (June 14 – 19, 1886), which was remembered with great fondness by the participants for many years afterwards.
According to a report written a few weeks after the decennial, “the subjects discussed were of great importance, and many teachings, new and valuable in their application to the Academy, were presented” (College Letters, August 15, 1886). The subject of New Church funerals is a striking example of how many of the traditions that we associate with the New Church today were still being formed at this time:
“In the social converse which followed the memorial speeches, the subject of funerals was freely discussed. It was maintained that there is too much money expended for funerals which might be put to better uses—devoted to living interests. There is a false sentiment abroad concerning death and funerals, and New Churchmen, from fear of the world, give way to it and launch out into expense from which it frequently takes a long time to recover. The main item of expense is the casket. This is made very fine, is beautifully upholstered and otherwise decked out, because it is customary to have the corpse viewed before interment. This is not necessary—in fact, it is not a good custom. We ought to carry with us the picture of the living, not of the dead man. The effect of viewing the remains is unpleasant on adults and worse on children. In fact, it would be better not to have the body in the room at all in which the services are conducted” (College Letters, August 15, 1886).
At a church assembly in 1919, Walter Childs, who had attended the 1886 celebration along with his ever-present guitar, remembered that the song “Our Own Academy” was first sung at this occasion—a song that is still being sung at Academy events 121 years later (New Church Life 1919, 834). At a June 19th celebration in 1929, the toastmaster, who had attended the decennial as a young child, reminisced about “the early days of the Academy” and “the wonderful spirit of affection, enthusiasm and brotherly love then filling the Fathers of the Church, and identified in memory with Oak Nest, Beach Haven and Knights Hill…” (New Church Life 1929, 445)
The complete “Order of Exercises,” together with a fuller account of the event, can be read here.
The New Church collection at Glencairn Museum includes two objects (pictured above) from the 1886 decennial celebration at Beach Haven: a cordial glass “used at the 1886 19th June Banquet at Beach Haven” (03.VS.310), and a champagne cork “served at the last dinner at Beach Haven” (no number). Both were presented to the Academy Museum by Miss Margaret Cowley on March 16, 1934. Miss Cowley is known to have attended the event along with her brother and parents (see New Church Life 1940, 81).
More about the resort town of Beach Haven, New Jersey, can be found here.
Photos: The photograph of the Engleside Hotel, Beach Haven, New Jersey, is in the collection of the Academy of the New Church Archives, Swedenborg Library, Bryn Athyn, PA. The uncropped photograph contains a decorative border with a handwritten notation at the bottom, which reads as follows: “Engleside Hotel, Beach Haven, N.J. Occupied one week by the Academy of the New Church during its Decennial Celebration, 1886. View of North Side.” The engraving of the hotel is also in the collection of the Academy of the New Church Archives. The cordial glass and cork were photographed by Stewart Farmer.