239 Days in America

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

Day
156
 | 
September 13, 1912
Chicago, IL
Storify Feature

“Sometimes I Made Him Laugh”

‘ABDU’L-BAHÁ STEPPED DOWN onto the platform at LaSalle Street Station in Chicago just after 8 p.m. on Friday, September 12, 1912. He knew this part of the city well. Seven blocks north of here he had addressed the Federation of Women’s Clubs at the Hotel LaSalle on May 2. Eleven blocks up he had spoken to a standing-room only crowd at Handel Hall on May 1, to the Fourth Annual Conference of the NAACP.

The crowd of well-wishers on the platform parted into two lines to make way for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. “Come down Zacchaeus,” he called out, “for this day I would sup with thee.” Those who were close enough to hear him turned their attention to a skinny Japanese man dangling above their heads. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus had singled out Zacchaeus, who had climbed the branches of a tree in order to catch a glimpse of him. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá addressed Saichiro Fujita in the same words; Fujita was hanging from a lamp post.

Saichiro Fujita was born in 1886 in Yanai, on the southwestern tip of the large island of Honshu, Japan, thirty miles southwest of Hiroshima. He arrived in Oakland, California, in 1904, to attend school, met some of the city’s Bahá’ís, and soon embraced the religion. Having missed ‘Abdu’l-Bahá on his swing through Cleveland in May, 1912, where Fujita then lived, he made sure that when ‘Abdu’l-Bahá came back to the Midwest in September he had the best vantage point possible.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá waved Fujita down. Then, as he had done with Louis Gregory in Washington and Fred Mortensen in Malden, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá kept Fujita by his side throughout his stay in the city. When he left for San Francisco, he asked Fujita to come along. Few of the people who saw the two men together knew that they had corresponded since 1906. Fujita had asked if he could come to Palestine to work for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá encouraged him to stay in school instead.

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‘Abdu’l-Bahá later arranged for Fujita to live in the home of Mrs. Corinne True in Chicago for the next seven years. When the Great War ended, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá finally invited him to come to Haifa.

Saichiro Fujita came bearing gifts, or at least escorting one. He arrived with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s automobile, a gift from an American friend. In a 1965 interview, Fujita recalled that the day he first arrived in Palestine. He met ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s sister, Bahiyyíh, was told that he was now part of the family, and that he should make himself at home. He did: Fujita would be buried in Haifa fifty-seven years later, at the age of ninety.

The two men ate breakfast and lunch together almost every day. They developed a routine of practical jokes, including one where ‘Abdu’l-Bahá challenged Fujita to grow a beard like his, then pulled on it every day when it proved Fujita could only generate the merest collection of hairs. Fujita hid ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s cat in retaliation, and it went on from there.

Having stayed in school paid off for Fujita in the ensuing decades. He planted many of the gardens that would eventually cover the Bahá’í properties in and around Haifa; he helped install electrical fixtures in the many buildings. But in the short term ‘Abdu’l-Bahá took advantage of Fujita’s unassuming nature and endearing sense of humor by having him host the pilgrims who came in ever greater numbers once the war was over.

“‘Abdu’l-Bahá was very, very kind to me,” Fujita recalled in 1965. “We had many trips, many jokes.” When asked what he did for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Fujita replied: “I never felt that I could do very much for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.”
 Then, after a pause, he added: “Sometimes I made him laugh.”

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  • Jay Mac

    Thank you for this heart-warming tale. It made me laugh several times and wish I had met Fujita in Haifa when he was there. My wife and I have many pets and have often wonderered if the holy family did as well, so thank you for mentioning the practical joke regarding the cat. Wonderful! I knew about the horses — are there any other stories involving pets? Perhaps you will insert them in future posts…

  • Stella

    I love this story. It made me laugh and cry, almost simultaneously. These pictures make me wish I could have met him.

    • http://twitter.com/MasterCopyWrite Karridine

      I know how you felt… when I recorded today’s podcast, http://bit.ly/OL5WpQ, I did NOT edit out the effect of the final words of Fujita… What a bounty, to have made The Master laugh, on occasions…

  • Shirin YM

    Beautiful! Thank you!

  • lili shang

    Can someone out there can remember this story better?
    Bahá’u'lláh was hung upside-down on a beast of burden with another friend and
    the entire time they were in this state they laughed and enjoyed themselves.
    Later, Bahá’u'lláh was heard to say…

    • http://jmenon.com/ Jonathan Menon

      It was not Bahá’u'lláh but Haji Mirza Haydar-Ali and another companion that were hung upside down in their exile to Khartoum, Sudan.

  • lili shang

    One factor my dearly loved father declared as an influence towards
    longevity was humor, as a one-a-day vitamin. For best results, this vitamin
    should be the slow release variety that last the whole daylong. He lived until
    he was 96 years young.

  • lili shang

    Near my father’s death, he had a fall and a doctor was summoned.
    She was a pretty and young doctor, a very usual attending physician for my
    father. She went about her duties in a responsible fashion making sure from head
    to foot he was without broken bones or other consequences of the accident.

    As I walked into the room, he demanded that a doctor be
    ordered immediately for a proper examination. She stepped forward and assured
    him that she was the doctor and that she had performed the examination.

    “Mr. Charles!” she began in a most polite Indian
    manner, “Don’t you remember, I moved your feet and legs, and felt for
    breaks right up to your head.”

    Without skipping a beat, my father retorted with a twinkle
    in his eye, “Oh, I thought that was a date!”

    In an instant, the serious mood of family members changed to
    hearts filled with laughter.

    • http://twitter.com/MasterCopyWrite Karridine

      a very UNusual attending physician… I thimk… :D

  • Firuz

    It was not Baha’u'llah but Haji Mirza Heydar-Ali and another Baha’i that were hung upside down in their exile to Khortum, Sudan.

  • Diba A.

    What a lovely story! Thank you. Humor is so important; no wonder God loves laughter :)

  • http://twitter.com/MasterCopyWrite Karridine

    Here’s today’s free podcast of this report… http://bit.ly/OL5WpQ …a report which contains one of the rare, VERY rare, mistrakes to be found in these…

    Look at Paragraph 6, where Fujita meets The Master’s sister… then in Paragraph 7, we read that “The two ate breakfast and lunch together…’ and look back to find precedent, which is, *laughing gently now*, Bahiyyih … and we realize smilingly that Fujita-san probably did NOT have lunch with Bahiyyih daily…

    Personally? I returned from college one day to find my roommate and friends plotting a grand-theft of a race-track, and when I determined they were ‘serious’, I began laughing at their ‘joke’, and pointing out the weak reasoning and VERY SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES they’d suffer IF they went ahead with their ‘joke’… After 15 minutes, they gave up and accepted that robbing was a dumb idea, and we never mentioned the stupid event after that…

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003295938534 Rob Sockett

      Karridine, thanks for pointing out the error. Fujita, of course, ate breakfast and lunch with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, but the way I grammatically set up the sentences, it does sound like he’s eating with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s sister. I’ll get that fixed. Thanks again for being so astute!

  • David Bulman

    Thanks Baha’u'llah for putting a Fujita in the life of ‘Abdu’l-Baha.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/lomeharshan Lomeharshan Lall

    This was really heart warming —
    I thought the cat belonged to Fujita – that he tended to every morning.
    and that Abdul-Baha one morning hid it from him, to play a joke.. or am I wrong?