Do You Know the Academy Whistle?

academywhistle1.gif“It has been suggested by someone that ‘our boys’ make good use of the ‘Academy whistle,’ especially when they arrive in England and France. It will be sure to receive an answer from any Academy friend within earshot” (New Church Life 1917, 770).

The Academy of the New Church whistle, a simple tune that originated in the 1890s, was promoted in the pages of New Church Life during the First World War as a means for men and women in the service to recognize each other in a crowd.

“Our soldier readers will be interested in the news that Miss Helen Colley, of Bryn Athyn, is now in France. She is a member of the entertainment branch of the Y. M. C. A., and will travel from place to place through France. She is anxious to meet the New Church soldiers. For the information of those who have never seen Miss Colley, she asks us to say that her picture will be on the program posted in the Y. M. C. A. huts in which she will appear. We might suggest that the ‘Academy Whistle’ will always bring quick response” (“The Academy War Service Committee,” New Church Life 1918, 704).

Francis Frost was a soldier in Europe during World War I, and many years later in the 1960s he recalled using the Academy whistle:

“During WW I, I saw in the distance, in France, someone I thought was from B.A. and I whistled the whistle. The effect was electric. It turned out to be Reggie Smith. I believe I whistled it at Helen Colley in Luxembourg, too, resulting in her ditching a Major for me, a buck private” (Francis Frost. Letter to Paula Roschman. 3 December 1969).

academywhistle2.gifThe exact origin and history of the Academy whistle is difficult to ascertain. There may have been more than one version. The tune that many Academy families and individuals still whistle today (see musical notation, top, and click here to hear it) is not the same as the musical notation written by Francis Frost in 1969 (see photo, left). Many individuals in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, can whistle the standard tune, but only one person who was interviewed in January of 2009 made mention of a separate reply whistle.

Several sources give Rev. Homer Synnestvedt credit for initiating the whistle. During the summer of 1889, he and some other New Church people went on a bicycle tour of England and the continent with the Rev. N.D. Pendleton (New Church Life 1889, 136). The collective memory seems to be that he picked up a Swiss tune during his travels and brought it back home.

There are several early records of its use. William Norris of Pittsburgh wrote the following in his diary in 1894: “Tuesday, August 1. Arrived at camp after a long long tramp. Everybody dead tired at 6:00 p.m. Were greeted with the Academy call and usual war whoops on arrival” (William Norris. Typescript from his diary. Academy of the New Church Archives).

Colley Pryke of England reported in New Church Life that he had used it in the Palais de Justice in Brussels in 1896 (New Church Life 1913, 694). Harold P. McQueen encountered it when he attended the Academy school in London in 1898 “where it was in common use” (Harold P. McQueen. Letter to Paula Roschman. 29 November 1969).

Many families with connections to the Academy of the New Church continue to use the whistle today. Individuals use it to locate each other in shopping malls, theme parks, and other crowded places.

The editors of would like to hear from people who have materials or memories associated with the Academy whistle. We would like to thank Bryn Athyn College student Lamar Odhner for first proposing the whistle as a New Church History Fun Fact. We would also like to thank the following individuals for taking the time to share their experiences of the whistle: Gideon Alden, Joralyn Echols, Ruth Glover, Morna Hyatt, Grant Odhner, Janina Stroh, Marilyn Stroh.

Photos: The top image of the standard Academy whistle is from a small publication by Paula Roschman, The Academy Call or Whistle, which is located in the Swedenborg Library, Bryn Athyn, PA. The second image is from a letter written by Francis Frost to Paula Roschman in 1969. The letter is located in the Academy of the New Church Archives, Swedenborg Library, Bryn Athyn, PA. The audio file of the Academy whistle was created by Stewart Farmer.

Questions and comments may be addressed to the editors at

January 19, 2009 | Posted by: Ed and Kirsten Gyllenhaal in New Church History Fun Fact