239 Days in America

A Social Media Documentary following 'Abdu'l-Bahá in 1912

May 30, 1912
New York, NY
Storify Feature

A Portrait in Moments

ONE OF THE FIRST recorded images we have of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá shows nothing but his hand. He was reluctant to have his photograph taken, because he didn’t want portraits to circulate and be venerated in an excessive or inappropriate manner. In ‘Akká in 1903, Helen Cole persuaded him otherwise. When she produced her camera, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá reached into the frame with an extended hand and waved. It’s all he gave her.

There are sides to ‘Abdul-Bahá that belie the serious image one may get simply by reading the high-minded talks he gave in America.

He had a quick wit. Earl Redman recounts the story of a man announcing proudly: “O, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, I came 3000 miles to see you.” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave a hearty laugh and replied: “I came 8000 miles to see you.”
 Howard Colby Ives notes that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá often “touched His fez so that it stood at what I called the humorous angle.”

Many afternoons ‘Abdu’l-Bahá went for a stroll in Riverside Park on the Hudson River. He explained: “When I sleep on the grass, I obtain relief from exhaustion . . . .” Seeing him at a small gathering in Cleveland, a reporter noted: “There was no churchy pomp in his manner.” He was also known to get up early to bake bread, and held dinner parties for which he acted as both chef and host.

Then there were cars. Agnes Parsons recounts the story of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spotting an electric motor car across a busy street in Washington, and sending Mason Remey over with the directive “find out price.” Similar enthusiasm was directed at trains and trams, though ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had less affection for sea travel: the rollicking waves he experienced on the Cedric made his stomach queasy.


Yet lest this convey the impression of a man of leisure, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá slept no more than four or five hours each night. Howard Colby Ives recalls: “From five o’clock in the morning frequently until long after midnight He was actively engaged in service . . . .” Beyond ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s busy schedule of public talks and private meetings, he was also directing the affairs of an international community. During his 7 a.m. breakfast and 10 p.m. dinner each day he responded to a perpetual stream of letters and cablegrams.

Then there were the children. On April 19 in New York, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was heading to the Bowery Mission when a group of boys saw him and his Persian entourage and began to throw sticks. Carrie Kinney explained to them that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was a holy man who was on his way to speak to the poor, and they decided they wanted to join him. Instead, arrangements were made for them to visit ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.

When the day arrived, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá stood at the door of the Kinney’s home and greeted each boy as he entered. Howard Colby Ives tells the story of what happened next: “Among the last to enter the room was a colored lad of about thirteen years. He was quite dark and, being the only boy of his race among them, he evidently feared that he might not be welcome.”

“When ‘Abdu’l-Bahá saw him,” Ives wrote, “His face lighted up with a heavenly smile. He raised His hand with a gesture of princely welcome and exclaimed in a loud voice so that none could fail to hear; that here was a black rose.”

“The room fell into instant silence. The black face became illumined with a happiness and love hardly of this world. The other boys looked at him with new eyes. I venture to say that he had been called a black — many things, but never before a black rose.”

Of his time with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Reverend Ives noted: “Life has never been quite the same since.”


  • http://www.facebook.com/estherbill Esther Bradley-deTally


  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Candace-Moore-Hill/736896802 Candace Moore Hill

    While giving his talk in the tent at the Temple property in Wilmette on May 1, 1912, Abdu’l-Baha saw a few ladies shivering and stopped and asked “are you cold?” 

    “Oh no Master, we are not cold” they claimed.

    “Ah,” he replied, “then you must be denizens of Chicago!”

    That joke still gets ’em, every time.

    • Rob Sockett

      I hadn’t heard that one. Thanks of sharing!

    • Valerie Smith

       In all my years, I never heard that joke!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=700881456 Shahin Sobhani

    Great story and unbelievable picture from 1903.  I had never seen it before.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=700881456 Shahin Sobhani

    Thank you

  • Dean Hedges

    the standards are high, the days are long, our heart yearns for you to tell us more

  • Steve

    His hands say it all…..Steve

  • S.Beaveridge

    Definition of ROLLICKING
    : boisterously carefree, joyful, or high-spirited

    You meant rolling waves.

    • Rob Sockett

      Hi “S. Beaveridge” … the definition “high-spirited / boisterous” is exactly why I chose the word. Thanks for the feedback! Hope you enjoy the features.

  • Valerie Smith

    Wonderful to read these stories; thank you for posting.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1526283317 David Lewis

    Jan Teal grandmother busied her day cooking for him in Denver.  She cleaned up the front room but had no time to do the dishes.  He came in and greeted her and said lets go to the kitchen.  She said oh no not now, he them said I just want to help you do dishes.  He could read your face and you could not hide anything from him.

  • Lscallion

    This is so fantastic,Kiyan.  Keep it up.