Did you know...

Christ Church is still an active Episcopal parish and has not missed a Sunday morning service in 315 years.

About 250,000 people visit Christ Church and its Burial Ground annually.

Absalom Jones, the first African American priest in the Episcopal Church of the United States, was ordained there.

The 2-acre burial ground was closed to the public from 1977 to 2003. It reopened following a major renovation and conservation effort.

More than 4,000 church members are interred there, including 5 signers of the Declaration of Independence, the publisher of the first daily newspaper, and the founder of the Philadelphia Zoo - America's first zoo.

Source: www.christchurchphila.org

From the Archives

With a passion for history and an appreciation for bygone relics, Albright senior Sara Baum draws connections among the past, present and future.

By Hilary Bentman

Sara Baum '15 is excited by rare books, dusty artifacts and 230-year-old seating charts.

That's because she sees how these forgotten relics of the past have helped inform the present and transform the future.

"That artifact, that document – there was a choice made when it was written, given to someone and talked about," says the Albright College history major. "It alters what's going to happen next, and what happens after that and what happens after that, until now."

With that mindset, it's easy to see why Baum spends a lot of her time in the windowless quietude of archives, whether it's here at Albright researching the Gingrich Library, in Harrisburg processing politicians' papers, or in Philadelphia studying how churchgoers' seating choices may have helped shape the nation.

"Mind blown," says Baum.

Baum has channeled her love of history and appreciation for the past into internships and research opportunities that she's hoping to eventually parlay into a career in museum or conservation work.

A Hamilton, N.J., native, Baum was working as a walking tour guide in Philadelphia when she became captivated by Christ Church. "There was something about it – the architecture, the history behind it drew me," she says of the Second Street church. By summer 2013, Baum was a tour guide there.


Sara Baum '15 at work in the Albright College archives.

Founded in 1695, Christ Church is known as the "Nation's Church" because so many notable colonial leaders worshiped there. It was Pennsylvania's first parish of the Church of England (Anglican) and is the birthplace of the American Episcopal Church. The current building, an open, cathedral-like space, dates back to 1744. Benjamin Franklin and Betsy Ross were parishioners. George Washington and John Adams both attended services there during their respective presidencies. Five signers of the Declaration of Independence, including Franklin, are buried in the church's adjoining cemetery.

"Everyone went there at one time or another," says Baum.

On the advice of her Albright adviser, history Professor John Pankratz, Ph.D., Baum began attending summer seminars at the McNeill Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. "Listening to these lectures, I realized I wanted to research something," she says. "I wanted to create something."

Adds Pankratz: "(These lectures) raised her scholarly expectations and sparked a genuine curiosity. She just ran with it."

During the 2014 January Interim, Baum took on an Albright Creative Research Experience (ACRE) project titled "Prosopography of Pews," collecting parishioner attendance and seating arrangement records at Christ Church between 1778 and 1785, and analyzing what this data might reveal about some of the most influential early Americans.

During colonial times, parishioners rented their church seats, sitting in box-shaped pews, not the slip-shaped benches of today. Did parishioners buy pews up front as a sign of social status, or did they prefer to sit in the back? Who did they sit near and what did they discuss?

Baum will try to answer these questions this year in her senior thesis. Using the data she collected during her ACRE, Baum will look at who the parishioners were individually and collectively. "People back then tended to travel together in the same social circles," she says. "What happened in the pews? I want to give them more of a story."

It is incredible, adds Baum, to think about the conversations that these influential churchgoers could have been having as they molded the fledgling nation.

Baum has even created a two-dimensional floor plan, overlaying the current church schematic with a 1762 version. She plans to share her findings with Christ Church.

Baum embarks on her senior thesis armed with archival experience gained in the shadow of the Pennsylvania State House. In summer 2014, Baum interned with the state House of Representatives archives, helping to process collections and paving the way for future researchers to more easily access documents. She created finding aids for the records of standing committees, some dating back to 1980, and processed the personal papers of former two-term state Rep. Jeff Coleman, a Republican from Armstrong County.

"He kept everything, printed every email, kept news clips and their duplicates," says Baum.

Though at times frustrating to weed through the mountain of paper, Baum says it was fun. "I was able to call it my own. But it let me know that maybe I don't want to work with paper."

While interning in Harrisburg, Baum toured the Capitol building, met the chief clerk and state representatives, and explored the Pennsylvania State Library, even getting a chance to handle rare books. "It was awesome, probably one of the best experiences of my life," she says.

Interning in the House of Representatives archive has given Baum "experience in the stuff of history," says Pankratz. "Historical knowledge comes from artifacts, how they're obtained, stored and classified. It's not the plant or the flower but the tilling of the soil."

Baum practices her tilling techniques at Albright, where she works with College archivist Sid Dreese. She is currently compiling information on the Gingrich Library's history for an article for the Historical Review of Berks County.

Ultimately, Baum would like to pursue a career in museum, archival or conservation work, particularly dealing with early American or colonial history.

After toiling away in dark, paper-filled archives, Baum knows one thing for certain: she'd prefer "being outside, with fresh air and buildings."

< back to Spotlight home