A Skull at St. Michael’s in 1889

In 1889, construction on St. Michael’s third church began. The eastern Amsterdam Avenue wall was being built while the second church, immediately behind it, still standing, continued in use for regular  worship. It was a surprising sight.

1889 Third Church construction photo

Children watched, fascinated.


One of the children was apparently a little girl, Estelle Clark Burdick. Seven years later, in 1896, she was confirmed with an aunt, three  cousins and a group of more than twenty other confirmands by Bishop Horatio Potter at St. Michael’s. That spring, In 1896, the third church had been standing for just six years, and the seven lancet windows of St. Michael’s Victory in Heaven had been installed just sixteen months before.

Confirmation Record, 1896

Estelle Clark Burdick appears nowhere else in St. Michael’s registers.

In 1956, apparently out of the blue, Rev. William Corker, St. Michael’s rector at the time, received a note. It is written in a very shaky and barely legible hand.

280 Chestnut Street

Ambler, Pennsylvania

March 21, 1956

Dear Father

When I was a little girl – I am now 75 – I attended services in the old Saint Michael’s 99th and Amsterdam with old Dr. Peters the rector. Then the cemetery [was] torn up right at the corner to build the beautiful new big stone church … and dear Dr. John Peters was rector then – I was confirmed there in 1896 — … I still remember the glorious stained glass windows over the altar – I always loved the figure of St. Michael … I still remember holding a scull (sic) in my hands as the cemetery was being dug up, a very very old cemetery –


Mrs. Estelle M. B. Wright

Rev. Corker  — or perhaps Mrs. Corker who often helped her husband with some of his correspondence – wrote back that he was pleased that Mrs. Wright had such happy memories of St. Michael’s.


As we think about the construction of the third church and the fact that bones from St. Michael’s first, early nineteenth century cemetery were apparently dug up in the 1889 excavation and building process, we can only hope that the soul associated with the skull that little Estelle held in her hands belonged to a children-loving and good-humored member of the early St. Michael’s community.


October 31, 2017

All Hallows’ Eve