Jim Loft and the Man on the Train 1
JIM LOFT WOULD NEVER meet ‘Abdu’l-Bahá personally, nor would he play a role in ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s travels across North America in 1912. Yet Jim would experience, and recount throughout his life, one of the unique tales about that historic journey.
On the afternoon of September 9, 1912, four-year-old James Loft — or “Jim” as he liked to be called — sat on a fence just outside of Oshawa, Ontario, alongside the railroad tracks. Five hours earlier, a train had left Montreal, beginning its fourteen-hour journey to Buffalo. It had stopped in Brockville near the Thousand Islands about 10:30 a.m., and was now making its way west along the north shore of Lake Ontario.
At about 3:30 p.m. near the town of Oshawa, Jim watched the train hurtle by. Through one of its windows he saw something that so overwhelmed him that he fell backwards off the fence and onto the grass below. He described what he saw as “a man wearing a long flowing white robe waving from the train.” Later in life he would explain that this was his earliest surviving memory.
Buffalo, Chicago, Kenosha 2
After hours of interviews He took a streetcar to Niagara Falls, at the request of the friends. There He ate some pears and grapes and walked in the park.
When His Persian companions suggested they stay in Buffalo for a period of time, He said, “‘Even half a day is not possible. We have no time for amusements. We must keep ourselves employed with our work.’” Conversing on a variety of subjects, including cleanliness, He mentioned, “‘I washed my hair with warm water without applying soap.’” Mahmúd recorded, “We touched His musk diffusing locks which were in utmost cleanliness and luster.”
After an evening meeting they all went out to view the city, Later He ate a little bread and cheese for supper before going to bed.
Tuesday, September 10, 1912 3
The moment the news of the Master’s arrival in Buffalo became known, the friends eagerly hastened to meet Him, grateful that their city had been blessed with His presence. Journalists came one after the other and left happy and satisfied, which surprised everyone. Owing to articles about the Cause in the city’s newspapers, a great number of people came to visit on the morning of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s arrival. The teachings so touched the hearts of the people that when the Master went out in the afternoon, passersby who saw Him pointed to Him, saying: ‘Look! There goes the Messenger of Peace, the Prophet from the East!’
At the request of some of His companions, after a short walk He took the trolley to Niagara Falls. It was far away and the round trip fare cost 50 cents per person. We had never seen or heard such huge, magnificent waterfalls. It was a beautiful sight. The great river feeding the falls is flanked on both sides by lakes, fields, mountains and woods. At some places the river falls from a height of a hundred meters. Because of the height of the falls and the crash of the water, small droplets of water form sprays which appear like a great sand storm. Below is a very large lake where people entertain themselves in barges and sailboats.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá went to the edge, admired the great falls and recalled the days of the Blessed Perfection:
“There were small waterfalls in Mázindarán which Bahá’u’lláh liked so much that He used to camp near them for several days.”
Continuing, He said:
“So much electricity can be generated from this water that it will suffice the whole town and it is also very good for the health.”
While sitting on the bank of the river He ate some pears and grapes and then walked for some time in the park. We suggested that He should stay here a few days but He replied, ‘Even half a day is not possible. We have no time for amusement. We must keep ourselves engaged in our work.’ He sat down on a bench in the center of the park and said, ‘I washed my hair with warm water without applying soap. It is much cleaner and takes longer to become dirty. Come and see how clean and soft it is.’ We touched His hair, which was like silk, very soft and absolutely clean. On this occasion ‘the place of His lovers was noticeably vacant‘. On the trolley ride back to the hotel, newspaper articles about His arrival in Buffalo were read to Him. The headline read: ‘’Abdu’l-Bahá, the Prophet of Peace, has arrived in Buffalo. The Bahá’ís are very happy to see Him among them in their homes. Their great longing for His arrival is fulfilled. Our hearty congratulations to the Bahá’ís.’ When the Master reached the hotel He met a number of journalists who were waiting for Him.
This evening ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s talk was about unity and amity among the peoples of the East and the West and also about the degrees of love which bring the whole creation into existence. His message breathed a new spirit of love and joy into friends and seekers alike. They all gathered around Him, shook His hand and expressed their humble appreciation. He then went into another room, followed by some journalists who made a note of His words.
Later in the evening He strolled along the store fronts with us. The gas and electric street lamps, as well as the brightly lit theaters and coffee shops, were picturesque. We reached a spot where several poor people had gathered. He gave a sum of money to each. Seeing the grandeur, nobility, generosity and grace of the Master, a huge crowd, with the utmost courtesy, lined up near Him and He showered kindness on all. It was a strange sight for them to see Him walking in the street accompanied by His Persian servants in Eastern attire. Everyone said, ‘This is the same Prophet of Peace who has been acclaimed in the newspapers!’
5 September 1912, Talk at St. James Methodist Church, Montreal, Canada 4
… In order that human souls, minds and spirits may attain advancement, tranquillity and vision in broader horizons of unity and knowledge, Bahá’u’lláh proclaimed certain principles or teachings, some of which I will mention.
First, man must independently investigate reality …
Second, the oneness of the world of humanity shall be realized, accepted and established. …
Third, religion must be the mainspring and source of love in the world …
Fourth, religion must reconcile and be in harmony with science and reason. …
Fifth, prejudice … is the destroyer of human foundations and opposed to the commands of God. …
Sixth, the world of humanity is in need of the confirmations of the Holy Spirit. True distinction among mankind is through divine bestowals and receiving the intuitions of the Holy Spirit. If man does not become the recipient of the heavenly bestowals and spiritual bounties, he remains in the plane and kingdom of the animal. For the distinction between the animal and man is that man is endowed with the potentiality of divinity in his nature, whereas the animal is entirely bereft of that gift and attainment. Therefore, if a man is bereft of the intuitive breathings of the Holy Spirit, deprived of divine bestowals, out of touch with the heavenly world and negligent of the eternal truths, though in image and likeness he is human, in reality he is an animal; even as Christ declared, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” This means that if man be a captive of physical susceptibilities and be lacking the quickening of spiritual emotions, he is merely an animal. But every soul who possesses spiritual susceptibilities and has attained a goodly portion of the bestowals of the Holy Spirit is alive with the divine life of the higher Kingdom. The soul that is portionless and bereft is as dead. Therefore, He said, “Let the dead bury their dead.” Just as the physical body of man is in need of its force of life, even so the human soul is in need of the divine animus and vivification emanating from the Holy Spirit. Without this vivification and sustenance, man would be an animal, nay, rather, dead.
’Abdu’l-Bahá in America, 1912-2012: Calling America to It’s Spiritual Destiny
Celebrating the Centenary: The Master in America
Curated by Anne Perry
- Tamas, Corey. “Jim Loft and the Man on the Train.” 239 Days in America, 10 Sept. 2012, https://239days.com/2012/09/10/jim-loft-man-on-train/. ↩
- Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 139. ↩
- ’Abdu’l-Bahá, and Mirza Mahmud-i-Zarqani. 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=7#section170 ↩
- 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, 316-317. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/22#009740833 ↩