“Monday, Jan, 12 . Mr. Benade, Frank Ballou, Walter C. Childs and myself lunched together today. Organized New Church Club by electing Mr. Benade President, W. C. Childs Secretary, and Frank Ballou Treasurer” (New Church Life 1917, 286).
The lunch described in John Pitcairn’s diary took place in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, at the Atlantic Garden restaurant on Diamond Street (see photo above). During their lunchtime conversation, a suggestion was made “that those present form an organization, there and then, in order to begin a propaganda by means of the printed page, for a reformatory movement in the New Church” (New Church Life 1911, 189). In order to defray the cost of their proposed publication, John Pitcairn wrote a check for 500 dollars on January 14th, 1874 (see photo above). Their “New Church Club” formally became the Academy of the New Church on June 19th, 1876, but their historic lunch in 1874 came to be viewed as the true founding date of the Academy.
Founders Day was first celebrated twenty years later on January 14th, 1894. This date does not agree with the January 12th date mentioned in Pitcairn’s diary (see excerpt above). The check (written on January 14th) was consulted when the date for the celebration was chosen, in the mistaken belief that it was written on the same day as the meeting at the Atlantic Garden restaurant (see New Church Life 1894, 39-40). Founders Day was celebrated on the 14th of January rather than the 12th for many years until the mistake was finally discovered in 1917. The diary entry came to light that year when Carl Theophilus Odhner was preparing a biography of John Pitcairn for New Church Life. During his research Odhner also discovered “the curious coincidence that the ‘Atlantic Garden’ restaurant, where the four friends met, was torn down on the very day when John Pitcairn departed from his mortal existence” (New Church Life 1917, 286).
Early Founders Day celebrations took place annually in the dining room of Cairnwood, John and Gertrude Pitcairn’s home in Bryn Athyn. A much larger celebration of Founders Day took place in 1911, when Pitcairn invited 250 people to a supper in the auditorium of De Charms Hall (New Church Life 1911, 187). During the celebration a “large screen curtain was illuminated and the Founders of the Academy were given to our view by the aid of our new stereopticon from slides made especially for the occasion” (New Church Life 1911, 127). (For a list of the slides shown, see this previous New Church History Fun Fact.)
Although the Academy began to celebrate Charter Day in 1917, Founders Day continued to be celebrated on the 12th of January until at least the early 1940s. In 1974, the Academy held a banquet for the corporation and faculty to honor the one hundredth anniversary of Founders Day (New Church Life 1974, 208).
Photos: The interior of the Altantic Garden restaurant in Pittsburgh has been cropped from a damaged magic lantern slide, and is in the collection of the Academy of the New Church Archives, Swedenborg Library, Bryn Athyn, PA. The photograph of the check is taken from The Academy of the New Church 1876-1926: An Anniversary Record (see link below). The line drawing of the four men present at the restaurant is taken from Toward a New Church University: A Centennial Album, p. 23.
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