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

Sunday, November 11, 2012

November 11, 1912 The ardor of lovers; Baltimore

Washington DC -- Baltimore: departure and arrival scenes; the ardor of lovers
Inside Camden station, Baltimore
 (from our shoot August 2011)
Camden Station, 1865, Baltimore
Agnes reports that many Baha'is came to the station. [Union Station in DC] Ghodsia Khanom was "much overcome." A few went with Him on the train.  The Master had her sit by Him. They went to a Hotel so He could rest upon arrival, then He spoke in a church, then had lunch at the Struven's home, then went back to Camden Station. She rode with Him as far as Mt. Royal Station (apparently she was staying in Baltimore with her aunt) and then had to leave the Beloved. "At the time I thought this was our last meeting in America, but He stayed longer in New York than was at first expected and I was there to see Abdu'l-Baha off on the steamer."  She understates her own emotions here, I think, and thus ends her diary on this note.

Mahmud writes: "The believers were so eager to see `Abdu'l-Bahá that they began to arrive at His residence from early morning. Their hearts were burning with the fire of separation and each craved His assistance and bestowals.
The believers had already assembled when `Abdu'l-Bahá arrived at the railway station [Union Station in DC] at 9:00 a.m. To the amazement of onlookers, they gathered around Him, their hearts filled with sorrow and anguish. This happened in every city of America when `Abdu'l-Bahá arrived and departed. Onlookers were at a loss to understand how a person from the East in Iranian dress had won the veneration and respect of the men and women of America.
Hotel Rennert, Baltimore,
where He rested
(no longer there)
Some of the friends accompanied the Master to Baltimore where He stayed at a hotel. Among the many visitors who came to see Him was a newspaper reporter who was given a detailed discourse on universal peace and the ability of the American people and government to enforce it. The Master's words were noted down for publication.
Later, `Abdu'l-Bahá spoke at the Unitarian Church of Baltimore regarding the oneness of the world of man, the immutability of the principles of the divine religions and the changing of the social laws according to the demands of the time.
Unitarian Church, Baltimore
(the Master spoke in a hall
behind the sanctuary)
When `Abdu'l-Bahá left the church He went to lunch at the home of Mr [Howard] and Mrs [Hebe] Struven.  [1800 Bentaloo Street, West Baltimore] The Baltimore believers were overjoyed to see their Master. In one of His talks to the friends He said:
1800 Bentaloo Street
(unit on end, red awning)
Praise be to God! I have spent time with you in utmost happiness. I am very pleased with you and will not forget you. I pray that you may daily become more illumined and more spiritual. When I reach the Holy Land, I shall lay my head on the threshold of the Blessed Shrine and, weeping, I shall supplicate on your behalf for assistance and heavenly favors, eternal honor and everlasting joy.
The Master and the friends then left for the station in two automobiles. On the way `Abdu'l-Bahá embraced Mr Struvens as a kind father embraces a son and with the utmost kindness thanked him for his many services to the Cause in such glowing terms that the others were astonished.
A message from the friends in Philadelphia was relayed to `Abdu'l-Bahá expressing their hope and expectation that since it was on His way, He might be able stop in their city. He replied, `We have been there once. Now we have neither time nor possibility. Send them a telegram saying that they may come to the station so that we can meet for a few minutes.'
At train museum, Baltimore

At 6:00 p.m. when the train reached the station, the friends, both men and women, were on the platform. When the train stopped, they immediately rushed towards the Master's seat and fell upon His feet, fulfilling their hearts' desire. With great eagerness and enthusiasm, many of them accompanied the Master to the next station, honored to be in His presence. They begged His assistance that they might render service to the Cause of God and then, weeping, left Him. When the other passengers saw these 30 or so friends from Philadelphia hovering near the Master with such heartfelt emotions, their curiosity to know more was aroused. Fascinated by His majesty and grandeur, they surrounded the Master to hear explanations of the divine teachings. They were transformed and attracted to the teachings and asked for the addresses of the friends and assemblies. Teaching the Cause of the God and guiding the people along the road gives so much joy and excitement that there are no words to describe it.
Deb Clark, at train museum
At about 1:00 a.m. the city of New York was once more graced with the presence of `Abdu'l-Bahá. He stayed at the same house which had previously been rented at His instruction. Thus for the second time this house became the court of the Center of the Covenant and the threshold of bounty and favor. The owners of the house and their relatives had joined the group of sincere and devoted believers and were counted among the lovers of `Abdu'l-Bahá."

Much happened, on this day before the Holy Day. Four cities, really, with the short stop in Philadelphia!

 For a more detailed account of `Abdu'l-Bahá's visit to Baltimore see Deborah Clark, `The Bahá'ís of Baltimore, 1898-1990' in Hollinger, Community Histories, pp. 125-9.  Here are my notes from her article:
Restored Camden Station,
 also called Camden Yards
(a museum; no longer a station) 

Abdu’l-Baha was in Baltimore for only part of a day, but it was a memorable visit.  He arrived at  Camden Station on November 11 at 11:00 am from Washington DC., was escorted to a waiting automobile by six people, surrounded “by a crowd of  well-dressed women,” then went to the fashionable Hotel Rennert where he met the press and took a short rest.  He spoke at the Unitarian Church on Hamilton Street at noon, where “followers, Johns Hopkins professors, and business and professional men” heard His address focused on the unity of religions.   The report in the Baltimore Sun included illustrations depicting Abdu’l-Baha in five different aspects and mentioned the impressive manner of His delivery—His voice low pitched but sometimes increasing in volume; His pauses to let the interpreter translate, and His frequent gestures showing the universality of the “doctrine He propounded.”  After the lecture he declared that the nations of the world looked to America as the leader of a world-wide movement.  He had lunch at the home of Howard and Hebe Struven, 1800 Bentaloo St., a row house facing a courtyard.  Around 55 people attended the lunch. As He stood in the courtyard with His arms outstretched He said, “Many friends have I in Baltimore.”  At 3:00 He left with His entourage on the train. 

There's also a funny story of two Catholic priests  who had sneaked into the chapel and hidden behind a doorway—Abdu'l-Baha walked over and closed the door on the priests.

Also, the story of Maud Thompson walking to a farm to get a live chicken for the lunch (p. 128  Deb’s article). To feed 55 people? Is this a "loaves and fishes" story? 

Louise Shuman Irani  memoir of the dinner (p. 128 Deb’s article)

Rob Stockman has the following information in his new book:  [at the church] "He spoke about proofs of prophethood, referred to Moses and Jesus, and distinguished between each revelation’s eternal spiritual teachings and temporal social laws.
From the Unitarian Chapel, `Abdu'l-Bahá went to the house of Howard and Hebe Struven for lunch with the Bahá'ís and their friends, some fifty-five in number; “a grand chicken dinner, with rice and celery, peas, ice cream and cake.” It was a quick but joyous occasion, for `Abdu'l-Bahá was back on the train at 3 P.M., bound for New York City. The Philadelphia Bahá'ís asked Him to visit with them for a few hours, but the Baltimore stop took too long; `Abdu'l-Bahá telegraphed them to see Him at the station during the stop, and 30 did so. Some paid to ride the train several stops so they had more time with Him. When `Abdu'l-Bahá finally arrived at His rented house in New York City—the same one He had occupied in July—it was 1 A.M."

For another account of `Abdu'l-Bahá's arrival in New York see Diary of Juliet Thompson, pp. 362-4.

 For  `Abdu'l-Bahá's Tablet to Andrew Carnegie see Star of the West, vol. 6, no. 11, pp. 82-3.

Such an eventful day--showing so much about the Master's love of the friends. 

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