239 Days in America

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

July 23, 1912
new york, ny
Storify Feature

The Modern Prophet and the Original Hippie

“THERE IS NO DOUBT, among thinking people, that this man represents, in great degree, the growing and evolving spirit of our times.” That was Elbert Hubbard in “A Modern Prophet,” an article he wrote about ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in the July 22, 1912, issue of Hearst’s Magazine.

Elbert Hubbard was a businessman turned marketing guru who, after climbing to the highest ranks of the Larkin Soap Company before the age of thirty, decided he was spiritually empty. He moved to East Aurora, a country town south of Buffalo, and established an Arts and Crafts community called Roycroft. The movement was in protest to the industrial revolution, he said, which was rendering handcrafted goods obsolete. Roycroft soon became a site for the meetings of socialists, freethinkers, and suffragists.

Hubbard also developed a second career as a populist writer, using his skills as an ad man to repackage ideas from philosophers and poets into mass market slogans. “Conformists die, heretics live forever,” was one such slogan. He also wrote popular essays with titles like “Jesus Was An Anarchist.” Ironically, the man who would one day be called America’s “original hippie” became famous for a 1899 short story on worker obedience. It catapulted him into the realm of celebrity.

“According to Abdul Baha,” Hubbard wrote in Hearst’s Magazine, “we are now living in a period of time that marks the beginning of the millennium – a thousand years of peace, happiness and prosperity.” He told his readers that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had come to the West with a mission, and that no one should doubt his sincerity. “He is no mere eccentric,” Hubbard added.

Elbert Hubbard likely never met ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Whatever means he used to research his article, he managed to simultaneously capture the spirit of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s message while getting most of his facts wrong. “He speaks many languages and certainly speaks English better than most Americans do,” Hubbard wrote. Of course, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá barely spoke a word of English. Hubbard also claimed that one-third of all Persians had joined the Bahá’í religion.

Hubbard’s article was designed to cater to a country disillusioned with the status quo. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s message, he stated, “presages a world-wide up-springing of vital religion.” “In the world of economics, we in America are infinitely beyond anything that can come to us from the Orient,” Hubbard wrote. “But the divine fire of this man’s spirituality is bound to illuminate the dark corners of our imaginations and open up to us a spiritual realm which we would do well to go in and possess.”

By 1912 handcrafted goods and the bungalows that housed them were going out of style. Hubbard’s marriage ended in divorce when a longtime affair with Alice Moore was exposed. Then the war broke out. “Who lifted the lid off of hell?” Hubbard said. He blamed it all on big business.

On May 1, 1915, Elbert Hubbard and wife Alice boarded the Lusitania bound for Europe. He hoped to interview Kaiser Wilhelm. Hubbard had once written a moving tribute about the Titanic, and the death of a couple who had refused the lifeboats in order to die together. At ten minutes past two in the afternoon on May 7, a torpedo from a German U-Boat glided across the water toward the Lusitania. Hubbard and Alice linked arms, entered a room on the top deck, and closed the door.


  • Rstockman

    Say, who called him the original hippie? How interesting.

    • http://www.facebook.com/caitlin.s.jones Caitlin Shayda Jones

      I got it from this documentary by PBS http://www.pbs.org/wned/elbert-hubbard/edu-rebel-reformer.php

      The relationship between protest culture and business is really interesting I think. Seems like it was there from the beginning. 

      • Don Calkins

         This appears to me to be PBS hype.  I can find no references on-line to Hubbard as “original hippie” that date to before the PBS program on him.  Tho’ perhaps it orignated w/ the Roycraft folk. 

        • http://jmenon.com/ Jonathan Menon

          This is interesting. In the transcript of the PBS documentary, the reference is made only once, in the first spoken line. The transcript of the film is here: http://www.pbs.org/wned/elbert-hubbard/transcript.php

          Paul Lamont is the film’s Writer, Director, and Producer. Caitlin, perhaps we should find him and ask him for the reference — what justifies the statement that he was “often referred to as the original hippie”?

  • Winnie

    From my genealogy research going back into the 19th century, I have observed that media objectivity is a fairly recent “idea”.  There did not seem to be a separate editorial section and all articles reflected the views of the writer.  I had a great grandmother who was married to a man named Abram Fake.  After his death when there were court battles between her and his sons, the reporting of which was anything but even-handed.  The papers had a hey day with headlines and content playing on the name “Fake”.  2 of my ancestors lived in Salt Lake City in the second half of the 19th century.  It was interesting to see how the local papers there had articles both supportive of and against the Mormons and you could not tell which the writer was without reading the article at which time it would be obvious.
    I collected a large number of articles ifrom papers in  New York state about Abdu’l Baha’s visit.  They run the gamut from very supportive and surprisingly accurate for the time to outright hostility and untruth.  Some were infuroiating and others downright amusing.
    My point is that objectivity and honesty in media is evolving-not always in a positive direction.  Expressing one’s opinion through the media is OK, but writers need to be sure to indicate when they are reporting fact and when they are reporting opinion!

  • Bahaiwoman99

    Whew!  Very dramatic.

    Made my pulse rise..

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/3CUN266EIO5BPOBGQ3HWL6KEWE Ron

    I find this historical aspect of the Master’s visit most fascinating. Keep up the good journalism even though Hubbard was a little lax in his reporting. Thanks.

  • Anne Perry

    Hubbard was such a character! He wrote an extended glowing tribute to Abdu’l-Baha, calling him the “Modern Messiah” and describing how business stopped and eyes “bulged” when people saw him. Among the facts he got wrong were his reports that Abdu’l-Baha had swept through the White House and through the legislature of Congress. This is the source of Ward’s “facts” on these points in 239 Days. For years, it has spawned misconceptions. I love Hubbard’s zeal and drama–and his strength is clearly not in objective reporting! Your piece about him here is great! 

  • Robertahodgin

    My father, who read the paper every day, always said, “Don’t believe everything you read in the paper.” A warning I’ve never forgotten.

    • 239Days

      Something about this comment reminds me of the old quote: “There are lies, damned lies and statistics.” by Benjamin Disraeli.

  • Sharon

    I think journalists must be held accountable for researching the facts and presenting them to the public in a truthful and responsible manner.  And the consuming public is responsible for thinking independently and using their own critical thinking skills to evaluate what journalists are writing and saying, and then make a judgement about whether they are telling us the truth or not.  Ultimately, I think a great deal of responsibility for the media rests with parents and educators to raise children who will be truthful, responsible journalists and truth seeking, discriminating media consumers.

    Here are a few more Elbert Hubbard sayings:
    “The discovery of truth as our most valuablebusiness asset is the one great achievement ofour age in which we live.   For truth there is no substitution.””All things move in an orbit, even theories andreligion.”                                  “A successful man is one who has tried, notcried; who has worked, not dodged; who hasshouldered responsibility, not evaded it; whohas gotten under the burden, not merelystood off, looking on, giving advice and philoso-phizing on the situation.  In fact, the result of aman’s work is not the pleasure of success.  To godown with the ship in a storm and tempest is betterthan to paddle away to Paradise in an Orthodoxcanoe.  To have worked is to have succeeded– we leave the results to time.  Life is too short togather the Harvest – we can only sow. ”         

  • http://www.facebook.com/rosamond.brenner Rosamond Brenner

    The media are most responsible for the truth, but they are not aware of how responsible they are.   Media consumers must not believe everything they read, but must investigate the truth, and report the truth.  This takes time and patience. 

    • 239Days

      Maybe they’re also not looking. In this day and age, it may not just be a matter of awareness but also of conscience. Who knows if the personalities who stand the gain the most from newspaper sales/tv viewership/whatever slow down to ask themselves what their “duties” to the public are.

  • Loie Mead

    It is heartening to read the comments regarding Elbert Hubbard’s articles and to realize the importance being given to research by readers.  I remember the first time I ever read:

    “In this Day the secrets of the earth are laid bare before the eyes of men. The pages of swiftly-appearing newspapers are indeed the mirror of the world. They reflect the deeds and the pursuits of divers peoples and kindreds. They both reflect them and make them known. They are a mirror endowed with hearing, sight and speech. This is an amazing and potent phenomenon. However, it behoveth the writers thereof to be purged from the promptings of evil passions and desires and to be attired with the raiment of justice and equity. They should enquire into situations as much as possible and ascertain the facts, then set them down in writing.
     (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 39)

  • paul brady

    ‘Abdu’l-Baha to the edtor of a paper in Chicago. “A newspaper must in the first instance be he meansof creating harmony among the people. This is the prime duty of the proprietors of newspapers, to eradicate misunderstandings between religions and races and nationalities and to promote the oneness of mankind.” So, that makes the responsibility of the media in accurate reporting mandatory. The responsibility of the reader/populace is to investigate truth. Unfortunately, nowadays, we should never assume we are being told the truth. The media is used extensively to manipulate the populace. Lies proliferate. It’s harder to find truth these days.

    • Karridine

       Quite so, ‘…harder to find truth…’
      Especially now that so many ‘media outlets’ know that FEAR, SHOCK and SEX sell, so who wants to hear that Abundance is all around us? Who wants to publish stories reporting that ‘Even today’s poorest billion people live lives equal to or in many cases BETTER (materially) than the kings and robber barons of the previous 6,000 years’ ?

      “Beat it, Kid, it’ll never sell…”

  • Rooplall Dudhnath

    re Elbert Hubbard, so physically and intellectually close but however spiritually removed.

    Let them who have eyes to see , see!  that Abdul Baha walked the physical path with practical feet.
    This is a lucid lesson for me! thanks 239 days!

  • http://twitter.com/MalariaFighter Barmak Kusha

    How can we access a full copy of Hubbard’s article?

    • http://www.facebook.com/caitlin.s.jones Caitlin Shayda Jones

      Hi Barmak,
      If you email info@239days.com I can forward you a copy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/don.calkins.5 Don Calkins

    Barmak – Isn’t on-line.  It’s in vol 22 of Hearst’s  Vol 21 and 23 are available but not 22.  It’s available as a stand-alone print to order book at an exhorbitant price (see Amazon), but is also available as part of Hundred-Point-Men: Elbert Hubbard’s Selected Writings Part 10 as a used paperback from the 90’s.  It’s also still in print.  Check your local library, it may be available via inter-library loan.  BTW, copyright has ling expired so if someone gets a copy of the original, I’m sure Jonah Winters would love to have a hi-res scan to put on his site.