On a cold day just before Christmas in 1870, two actors went to Rev. William Tufnell Sabine, rector of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the Atonement at Madison Avenue & 28th Street in Manhattan. One of them (though Mr. Sabine did not recognize him) was the great Joseph Jefferson, who had been playing Rip Van Winkle since 1859 in various versions. He explained that his old friend George Holland had died; this was Mr. Holland's son Edward; they wished to arrange for the funeral. Then he added that Mr. Holland had been a well-known oldtime actor. Mr. Sabine's expression changed. Hesitantly he said that he was sorry, he could bury no actor from the Church of the Atonement.
"Well, sir," said Joe Jefferson, "in this dilemma is there no other church to which you can direct me, from which my friend can be buried?"
"There is a little church around the corner," said Mr. Sabine.
"Then, if this be so," said the actor piously, "God bless 'the little church around the corner!' "
Rector and founder of the Church of the Transfiguration near Fifth Avenue on East 29th Street was Rev. Dr. George Hendric Houghton. Kindly, white-bearded, he was a pronounced Anglo-Catholic, a follower of the Oxford Movement. Only once, in his youth, had he attended a theatre (to his death he never saw Actor Jefferson on the stage). But he had performed funerals for actors. He agreed readily to do so for Actor Holland. The Press heard of the incident, amplified it. Out of the welter of discussion which ensued throughout the U. S., there emerged the name & fame of The Little Church Around the Corner. To celebrate it and tell its history there was published last fortnight an elegantly bound and printed volume, Through the Lich-Gate.* Some facts:
¶ Founded in 1848, the church bought property in 1849 which was regarded as too far uptown. But Society moved northward. Theatres were built nearby. Mrs. John Jacob Astor became a communicant of the Church of the Transfiguration, gave a fine pair of gas-brackets. Additions were built on the low. brownstone building; its rambling appearance earned it the name of the Church of the Holy Cucumber Vine.
¶ During the draft riots of 1863, mobs stampeded the streets, hunting Negroes. The Church of the Transfiguration had previously been believed to be an "underground station" for runaway slaves. Dr. Houghton, stanch Abolitionist, hid many Negroes in it during the riots, once stood defiantly at the gate shouting: "You white devils, you! Do you know nothing of the spirit of Christ?" Today in the Church is a memorial to George & Elizabeth Wilson. Negro doorkeepers, representing the baptism of the Ethiopian by St. Philip.