Who was `Abdu'l-Bahá, and why did He come to the West?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

May 14, 1912

Lake Mohonk conference of the International Peace Society: "a new spirit and excitement"

Mahmud writes:  "As `Abdu'l-Bahá was invited to Lake Mohonk, the venue for the conference of the International Peace Society, He made preparations to leave. This conference was the greatest of all the peace conferences in America. It was held in a most ideal location and many dignitaries and delegates from various countries had been invited to attend. Lake Mohonk is four hours away from New York by train. At the train station special landaus [four-wheel carriage with a top divided into two sections and a raised seat outside for the driver] were waiting to take the guests to the conference site. The Master took one of these and went to the Hotel Lake Mohonk. He praised the beauty of the place and the scenic grandeur of the route as His carriage drove for about an hour amidst green valleys, wooded hills, woodlands, waterfalls and natural springs. The conference was to last for three days. Each day two long sessions were held in the spacious hall of the hotel facing the lake, the hall having been especially built for the conference.

On the first evening, `Abdu'l-Bahá's name was at the head of the program. All the members and delegates were anxious to hear His address. The president [of the International Peace Society, Mr Albert K. Smiley] introduced the Master with the utmost respect and glowing words of praise. Then `Abdu'l-Bahá stood and spoke. A new spirit and a new excitement seemed to prevail over the gathering. During the day most of the delegates had been engaged in materialistic issues. Their thoughts had been concentrated on effecting the union of the interior of the United States of America. In the evening, however, they found themselves puzzled when they heard the eloquent, elegant address from the Master concerning the unity of all people, the reformation of the whole world and the Manifestation of the Greatest Name which would bring about the oneness of the world of humanity and the promulgation of the teachings of universal peace. He spoke for about 20 minutes, the time allotted to Him in the program. According to the custom of the West, the audience applauded for a long time when He ceased speaking. They requested that He continue but because He was tired He apologized and with a gesture of His hand bestowed kindness on all. One by one, dignitaries and delegates from many countries came to shake His hand. Some of them embraced Him and expressed their thanks. The president again stood, offered thanks and spoke with great reverence on the importance of the teachings, praising and commending `Abdu'l-Bahá on behalf of the audience. Mr Smiley's wife then gave the Master a pendant especially made for the peace conference and thanked Him most joyfully."

Don't you wonder if this pendant exists in an archive somewhere? 

Peace seems to be such an important aspect of the Master's message to America (and the world), as it remains today. Apparently speaking at the conference was one of the reasons He came to America. (I'll discuss that more tomorrow.)
It's hard to imagine the days He spent at Lake Mohonk fully, based on Mahmud's accounts.  He doesn't tell us  who went with `Abdu'l-Bahá to the conference, aside from Dr. Zia Baghdadi and himself. (Coming up there is a funny story about Zia and a Persian rug.) Juliet simply says, "On the fifteenth of May [it was actually the 14th] the Master went away for a few days."
Luckily, Rob Stockman in his forthcoming book shares information from Ahmad Sohrab's letter to Agnes Parsons: "He was so exhilarated by the beauty of nature, charming sceneries of mountains, valleys, plains and the verdant forest of trees and wild flowers that he [`Abdu'l-Bahá] burst into songs of happiness commanding others also to sing. Lua and Fareed sang some Persian songs written by Abdul Baha, then Mr. Mills being a good singer was asked to sing. All through the seven miles [sic] drive the party of four sung in whole and in turn while Abdul Baha out of the sheer joy applauded them. It was a never [sic] memorable incident which has seldom happened in the life of the Master and Doctor Fareed could not remember throughout all his service and travel with Abdul Baha of a similar occasion [May 15, 1912, Agnes Parsons Papers].
 Wouldn't we all have loved to be in that party?  Can we hear that music in our imaginations now?

According to Rob, "`Abdu'l-Bahá settled into His room in the hotel—number 166—overlooking magnificent Mohonk Lake and went to the evening session to deliver a twenty-minute address to the 250 men attending the exclusive conference and their wives. . . . Ahmad Sohrab was so thrilled by the response that he sent a telegram in typical “telegramese” to Agnes Parsons almost immediately:
'Abdulhaha [sic] delivered address half an hour ago before large audience of Lake Mohonk conference on international arbitration on principles of Bahai movement created most profound impression actually fired hearts of listeners as soon as he finished there was most unforgettable satisfaction on faces such sensation has seldom seen few having heard of message his talk was like conflagration longest applause."  [Ahmad Sohrab to Agnes Parsons, night letter [a kind of telegram] May 15, 1912, Agnes Parsons Papers.]
 It must have been nice for the Master to get away from the city and spend a few days in such a beautiful and restful place--in a building that is still there now, owned by the same family!  
Lake Mohonk Mountain House

Albert Smiley (R) and twin brother Alfred Smiley
Historical Background: Lake Mohonk Conference on International Arbitration 

The Lake Mohonk Conference on International Arbitration was founded in 1895 for the purpose of creating and directing public sentiment in favor of international arbitration, arbitration treaties, and an international court. The first Lake Mohonk Conference on International Arbitration was held in June 1895, at Lake Mohonk in Ulster County, New York. Fifty eminent American men were convened by Albert K. Smiley, a Quaker and the owner of the Lake Mohonk Mountain House, one of the most prestigous summer resorts of the day. The annual conferences soon grew to attract 300 leaders of government, business, religion, the press, and education. After Albert Smiley's death in December, 1912, his place as host of the Conferences was taken by his half-brother, Daniel Smiley. The last conference was held in 1916. Plans for a 1917 conference were made, but it was never held. 

The scope of the conferences gradually increased over the years to include: 1) the promotion of arbitration among leaders of the American business community, particularly through trade associations; 2) national college essay and oratorical contests on the issue of arbitration; 3) supplying libraries and other educational institutions with information about arbitration and the Lake Mohonk Conferences; 4) creation of a type of Mohonk membership called "correspondents." These individuals received regular mailings of materials and were invited to report to Mohonk about their own activities. These programs ceased after 1917. Hi Doty wrote in 1963: "The conference was a striking success in terms of favorable attention and persuasiveness, and it soon grew to be an annual meeting of 300. But whatever its size, each year it was a gathering of the elite of American power and influence, leaders of government, business, the church, the press, and the universities. As a deeply concerned Quaker, as a leader in moral and civic associations, as a respected figure in the business world, and as an impeccable host, Albert K. Smiley brought all of his gifts and influence into focus, through the lens of this conference, on the nation.... Smiley was single-minded on the subject of arbitration, and he made the conferences so. At first the enemy was indifference; sometimes it was factionalism; in some years it was the compelling fact of war; but each spring, whatever the difficulties, the Lake Mohonk Conference hewed to its own line, won new leadership for the cause, and sent that leadership back to lead" [Report "Appraisal of the Records of the Lake Mohonk Conferences on International Arbitration" in SCPC Office File]. See: http://www.swarthmore.edu/Library/peace/DG051-099/DG054LakeMohonk.htm#anchorXI

Andrew Carnegie at Mohonk with Albert

From Wikipedia: The Mohonk Mountain House has hosted many famous visitors over the years, such as industrialist John D. Rockefeller, naturalist John Burroughs, industrialist Andrew Carnegie, and American presidents Theodore RooseveltWilliam Howard TaftRutherford B. Hayes, and Chester A. Arthur. Guests have also included Former First Lady Julia GrantThomas Mann and religious leaders such as Rabbi Louis Finkelstein, Reverend Ralph W. Sockman, Reverend Francis Edward Clark and `Abdu'l-Bahá, the eldest son of Bahá'í Faith founder Bahá'u'lláh, have also stayed there on one of his journeys to the West.
From 1883 to 1916 annual conferences took place at Mohonk Mountain House, sponsored by Albert Smiley, to improve the living standards of native American Indian populations. These meetings brought together government representatives of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the House and Senate committees on Indian Affairs, as well as educators, philanthropists, and Indian leaders to discuss the formulation of policy. The 22,000 records from the 34 conference reports are now at the library of Haverford College for researchers and students of American history.
The hotel also hosted the Lake Mohonk Conference on International Arbitration between 1895 and 1916, which was instrumental in creating the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands
From http://rogershepherd.com/WIW/solution8/mohonk2.html:  The Lake Mohonk Conferences on International Arbitrationbegan in 1895 as an attempt to seek world peace. The conferences are credited with having given impetus to the Hague Conference movement, The World Peace Foundation, and The League to Enforce Peace.
Hundreds of well-known people attended the peace conferences between 1895 and 1916 including William Jennings Bryan and William Howard Taft. It was through his contact and friendship with the Smileys at Mohonk that Andrew Carnegie founded the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, with Albert K. Smiley as one of its original trustees.

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