‘Abdu’l-Bahá Goes to Washington 1
This morning — Saturday, April 20, 1912 — ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had boarded the 8 a.m. train to Washington, DC, from New York’s Pennsylvania Station. But in order to avoid the kind of brouhaha that had greeted the Cedric, he had kept his arrival time a secret. That’s why Marzieh’s parents — Florence Breed of Boston and Ali-Kuli Khan of Iran — had received a panicked telephone call at lunchtime: “Hurry! The Master is arriving at the station in half an hour!” They dropped their knives and forks, picked up the children, and ran into the street to catch a public victoria.
The Khans arrived at Union Station with five minutes to spare: the train pulled in at 1:33 p.m. Mother rushed into the flower shop and bought two bouquets. Rahim 2, Marzieh’s elder brother, received violets; she got red roses. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá loved flowers.
Washington D. C. 3
Saturday night He spoke to the Persian-American Society, with six hundred people packed into a public library hall that normally seated four hundred. At least one hundred more standing outside took off their hats as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá approached. The audience in the auditorium rose to its feet as soon as He entered and stood until He bade them be seated. The next day the Washington Evening Star reported that “after he had spoken and when he was seated on the platform, hundreds pressed around him, seeking to grasp his hand.”
Included in the group were reporters who asked His opinions of the Titanic disaster. They reported that He said, “‘Both Americans and Europeans seem to be possessed of the mania for speed… It was a pitiful waste of life that came because of the effort to save a few hours in time—rushing a great vessel at top speed when it was known there was danger from ice.’” 4
Talk at Orient-Occident-Unity Conference, Public Library Hall, Washington, D.C.
Briefly, I have traveled this long distance, crossed the Atlantic Ocean to this western continent in the desire and hope that the strongest bond of unity may be established between America and Persia. I know this to be your wish and purpose also and am sure of your cooperation. We shall, therefore, offer supplication in the divine threshold that a great love may take possession of the hearts of men and unite the nations of the world. We will pray that the ensign of international peace may be uplifted and that the oneness of the world of humanity may be realized and accomplished. All this is made possible and practicable through your efforts. May this American democracy be the first nation to establish the foundation of international agreement. May it be the first nation to proclaim the universality of mankind. May it be the first to upraise the standard of the Most Great Peace, and through this nation of democracy may these philanthropic intentions and institutions be spread broadcast throughout the world. Truly, this is a great and revered nation. Here liberty has reached its highest degree. The intentions of its people are most praiseworthy. They are, indeed, worthy of being the first to build the Tabernacle of the Most Great Peace and proclaim the oneness of mankind. I will supplicate God for assistance and confirmation in your behalf. 5
Saturday, April 20, 1912
In the early morning after prayers, meditations, morning tea and receiving some of the believers, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá left the Hotel Ansonia for the railway station [Grand Central Station]. A large group of friends and well-wishers were there to bid Him farewell. One by one they came to Him and in their own ways expressed their respect, attraction and humility.
When He arrived at the station, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá walked around the building, praising its beauty and construction. We were informed that it is one of the finest in the world, its construction costing about six million dollars. The train began its journey and for the first few miles it traveled by the great river. As well as His usual companions, two American Bahá’ís traveled with the Master. One was Mr John Bosch from California, who had come to New York specifically to see Him. He had asked for a Persian name and was given the name Núrání [’the Luminous’] by the Master. The other American was Dr Edward Getsinger, who begged ‘Abdu’l-Bahá that he be allowed to be a part of His entourage. As most American trains have but one class of travel, except for sleeping compartments, we were all accommodated in one cabin.
After a journey of about five hours the train reached Washington DC. Before the journey the Master had sent a telegram to the friends in Washington requesting that a house be rented for Him. Mrs [Agnes] Parsons had invited the Master to stay at her home but He did not at first accept her invitation. However, after He was told by the friends that her home had been especially prepared for His visit, for which she had been anxiously waiting, He agreed to her request; for had her invitation not been accepted, she would have been heartbroken and deeply saddened. The Master and a translator went to Mrs Parsons’s home and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá instructed the other members of His entourage to stay at the house rented for Him. Thus Mrs Parsons’s house was the first home in America in which the Master resided; He stayed there for several days. 6
That evening ‘Abdu’l-Bahá attended the annual meeting of the Orient-Occident Unity Conference at the public library. It was a vast gathering and the hall was filled to capacity. As the Master entered the hall, the audience was awe-struck. All stood and remained standing until He bade them be seated. It was amazing to witness how spontaneously these people paid Him their respect, even though most were not Bahá’ís. He spoke on the importance of the relationship between the East and the West, the unity of people and about the Revelation of the Greatest Name. His talk was so moving and inspiring that afterwards everyone wanted to meet Him but because He was too tired to greet everyone, He decided to return home. 7
- Menon, Jonathan. “‘Abdu’l-Bahá Goes to Washington.” 239 Days in America, April 20, 2012. https://239days.com/2012/04/20/abdul-baha-comes-to-washington/. ↩
- Notes from Baha’i History. “‘Ali-Kuli Khan and Florence Meet ‘Abdu’l-Bahá,” December 18, 2017. https://dailynotebahaihistory.blogspot.com/2017/12/ali-kuli-khan-and-florence-meet-abdul.html. ↩
- Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 38. ↩
- Newspaper Staff Writers. “Due to Speed Mania: Abdul Baha Accounts for Titanic Disaster.” Washington Evening Star. April 21, 1912, The Sunday Star edition, sec. 1. ↩
- ʻAbduʼl-Bahá. The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by ʻAbduʼl-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912. Edited by Howard MacNutt. 2nd ed. Wilmette, Ill: Baháʼí Publishing Trust, 1982, 36-37. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/3#810048538. ↩
- Joseph Hannen notes that ’Receptions were held at the home of Mrs Parsons every afternoon at about 5:00 o’clock [sic], from Monday to Friday, inclusive’. Star of the West, vol. 3, no. 3, p. 7.
- Mahmud-i-Zarqani, Mirza. Mahmúd’s Diary: The Diary of Mírzá Mahmúd-i-Zarqání Chronicling ’Abdu’l-Bahá’s Journey to America. Edited by Shirley Macias. Translated by Mohi Sobhani. Oxford: George Ronald, 1998. https://bahai-library.com/zarqani_mahmuds_diary&chapter=2#section27 ↩