239 Days in America

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

Day
239
December 5, 1912
New York, NY
Storify Feature

‘Abdu’l-Bahá Says Farewell to America

‘ABDU’L-BAHÁ STEPPED OUT of his cabin on the Promenade Deck and set off down the corridor toward the ship’s bow. He and his party swept through the main foyer — bustling with passengers preparing for departure — up a flight of stairs to the Boat Deck, and then into the first-class lounge on the top of the ship. It was already overflowing when he reached it. More than 100 people had boarded the liner on this Thursday morning, December 5, 1912, to capture a final moment with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá before he set sail for Liverpool.


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The SS Celtic, a 21,000-ton steamship of the White Star Line, lay moored along her port side at her pier on the Hudson River near West 23rd Street. She was 700 feet long — nineteen feet and one inch longer than her sister, the Cedric, which had delivered ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to New York 238 days earlier. Two buff-colored funnels rose amidships, capped in black, and the Celtic’s dark iron hull reached down beneath the pier out of sight to the cold December waters below.

Someone handed ‘Abdu’l-Bahá a large bunch of red American Beauty roses when he entered the lounge at eleven o’clock. This light and cheery space, forty feet wide and almost as long, was the ship’s primary indoor gathering place. Visitors filled the three-sided nooks along the walls, which were formed by dark leather seats built in securely under the windows. Others perched on the soft barrel-shaped chairs in the middle of the room; they were upholstered in tapestry and set around small, heavy, ornately carved tables where passengers would often play cards during their long overseas voyages.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá moved among the tables, speaking a few final words to this person and then to that, offering to some of them a rose. As the top of the hour approached he stood and began to speak in his deep resonant Persian, the sentences translated into English, one by one, as he intoned them.

“The earth is one native land, one home; and all mankind are the children of one Father,” he said. “God has created them, and they are the recipients of His compassion. Therefore, if anyone offends another, he offends God. It is the wish of our heavenly Father that every heart should rejoice and be filled with happiness, that we should live together in felicity and joy. The obstacle to human happiness is racial or religious prejudice, the competitive struggle for existence and inhumanity toward each other.”

Only the sobs of visitors disturbed the silence in the room.

“Until man reaches this high station,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said, “the world of humanity shall not find rest, and eternal felicity shall not be attained. But if man lives up to these divine commandments, this world of earth shall be transformed into the world of heaven, and this material sphere shall be converted into a paradise of glory. It is my hope that you may become successful in this high calling so that like brilliant lamps you may cast light upon the world of humanity and quicken and stir the body of existence like unto a spirit of life. This is eternal glory. This is everlasting felicity. This is immortal life. This is heavenly attainment. This is being created in the image and likeness of God.”

‘Abdu’l-Bahá then took a seat in the corner of the room, and the guests gathered round, continuing to converse until the moment finally came for them to disembark. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá walked out along the port side of the Boat Deck. He leaned on the railing with his right arm and looked down at the crowd gazing back at him. When the clock struck noon, the Celtic’s engines began to hum. The great ship began to move slowly astern, the crowd on the pier tracking ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s white turban as the vessel pulled slowly backward into the flowing waters of the Hudson. Once the ship had cleared the dock, the pilot turned his wheel to the right, then reversed the engines and steamed south with the current, past the rising skyscrapers of downtown.

Back on April 11, when ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had first steamed up the Hudson, he had pointed out the two tallest buildings in the world, the 700-foot Metropolitan Life Tower on Madison Square Park and the Singer Building in lower Manhattan, as the “minarets of Western World commerce and industry.” But now, as the crowds on the dock faded into the distance, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá could see that J. P. Morgan’s new Woolworth Building on Broadway had superseded them, climbing fifty-seven stories to top out at 792 feet. A few minutes later the ship skirted the immigrant landing station at Ellis Island, and steamed past the green copper cladding of the massive statue that stood guard over the bay.

Within thirty minutes the SS Celtic had traversed the upper bay, slipped the three-mile route of the Narrows, passed the breakwater at the southern tip of Long Island, and pushed out over a smooth sea, bound for Liverpool and the Old World.

ADD A NEW COMMENT

  • Grateful Reader

    A song to play while looking at this last beautiful photograph:

    http://ryazhari.bandcamp.com/track/long-journey

    Lyrics are all words of ‘Abdu’l-Baha from his first talk in America.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for recounting this amazing journey through 239days.com. An experience that will never be forgotten.

    • Linda

      Thank you for the music as well.

  • Dalton Garis

    O my dear Lord! It is finished! How shall we all here honor this legacy?

    • Philip Cantor

      I believe that the Universal House of Justice has given us a wonderful answer to this most important question in their 2011 Ridvan message:

      “Our great hope is that frequent recollection, during this centennial period, of the Master’s matchless record will inspire and fortify His sincere admirers. Set His example before your eyes and fix your gaze upon it; let it be your instinctive guide in your pursuit of the aim of the Plan.”

  • dorothy

    Thank you for bringing this monumental research and rich Baha’i heritage to us. The only follow-up is to continue to spiritualize, enrich and inspire our lives with the ocean of the abundance of Baha’i spiritual history and guidance so easily accessible to us. Thank you for inspiring us.

  • Lyn Martin

    During these 9 months we have used the Master’s talks at our weekly Sunday devotional program. Often times we have turned to 239 Days for those accounts that have made Him a living presence: “Today `Abdul-Baha is in ……. He is addressing the ……. When He spoke to Mr…He said…… The local newspaper has given this account…….”
    This Sunday we will share His last talk in America. And for the remainder of December conclude our series “First Teaching”, “Second Teaching” which begin with the words of Baha’u'llah followed by the Master’s interpretation. It has been a rich period of time during which we have personally experienced the description of the House of Justice that `Abdul-Baha “challenged their assumptions, reoriented their perspectives, expanded their consciousness, and focused their energies.”
    Thank you for enriching our experience.
    Lyn Martin, Corvallis Oregon

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=639533314 Mary Wilson

    Thank you thank you for all you have done to have me really miss Abdu’l-Baha as He left the shores of America.

  • Bret Breneman

    Gone–yet ever closer as the days and years have passed. Nearness is likeness, He had said.

  • Karridine

    The free readings (recordings) of each day’s report will continue to be available for all at MyPodcastWorld-dot-com / Karridine / 100 Years to the Day

    I’m honored to have been a small part of this auspicious undertaking, and a bit pleased that I made it 239 consecutive days, with only minor hik- hiccough- hiccups.

    If I’m here for the TWO-hundredth year observations, I’ll see you then, else we’ll meet in a better place… :D

  • Nine

    I can’t find adequate words of thanks for allowing me to live every day of His 239 days in America.

  • Yi Chi

    The last photo burst a sense of cry in me. Why do we miss Abdul-Baha? Because of the contrast to this world? As long as we miss Him, we have the sacred responsibility to bring heaven to this world, to love each other in a profound way and bring the togetherness with the Master to our fellow human beings.

    • Philip Cantor

      How beautifully you have expressed the longing of our hearts to continue the Master’s journey in America by our own feelings, thoughts, words, and deeds…

  • Emily

    Thank you, thank you! This has been a wonderful and inspiring journey and I have grown to know ‘Abdu’l-Baha in a more intimate and deeper way.

  • jeannie

    The last 239 days has been a wonderfully enriching and touching journey for all our hearts and souls. Thank you so much! The big question we must now ask ourselves is “Where do we go from here?” Thank you, God, for ‘Abdu’l-Baha!

  • Bill Hyman K11UU-D, Pago Pago

    Many thanks for your efforts. I have made over 300 television programs for local transmission, which have aired daily, from the US and this website, commemorating exactly 100 years, to the day, of Abdu’l-Baha’s activities and addresses and have learned a lot. I have been asking myself, if Abdu’l-Baha was so audacious and courageous, why is Baha’i proclamation, generally, so conservative? Is not he our example? When Abdu’l-Baha spoke at the Temple Emanu-el explaining the reality of Christ some Jews tried to curtail his address and even the Baha’is thought he had gone too far, but he completed it. The articles on this web-site have had a very nice balance.

  • PASCAL MOLINEAUX

    I add my voice of deep gratitude for such an epic rendering of the Master’s historic journey to North America. What a blessing for the people who met Him, listened to Him, interacted with Him, were able to speak to Him and bask in the sunshine of His blessed Presence. You have rendered His trip so vivid, so filled with bounty and love, helping arrive at a greater understand of extraordinary significance of His superhuman efforts in transmitting HIs Father’s Message to all. Thankyou, thankyou so much.

  • Ann

    Dear ones;

    Well, saying farewell to 239days.com
    takes time. Time to break the habit of reading the website each morn
    and pondering what the Master experienced 100 years ago on this day and
    reflecting back on my own life.

    I
    personally love tracing around a calendar the events and holidays. I
    suppose it is one of the many reasons why I wanted to be a teacher. Teachers
    speak to the daily acknowledgement of weather, time, date and the
    progress of the school year. We chime in on the holidays about their
    significance and push
    students to try and understand the annual pattern that we observe with the passage of time.

    We
    traveled these months together retracing a journey that I’ve tried
    to imagine what it must have been like to stand in the shadow of the
    Master. I myself can’t fully
    appreciate it. I am certain it would break my heart if I could truly
    capture the moment and imagine what it must have been like in that time,
    1912, and then realized I missed the Mystery of God.

    As a
    young child, I would dream about what it would have been like to walk
    the
    streets following the dust of Jesus, to be so close to him and see his
    face, I was born too late to see or feel
    His gaze. And once again I’ve missed the opportunity to follow and
    observe the Master here in the west. I think I would truly mourn if I
    came to fully realize the loss of
    hearing Abdul-Baha speak those words of encouragement and liberation to
    the black servants assembled at the lake house in Dublin, New Hampshire
    or to sit at a table listening to His stories and laughter.

    So,

    as we mark the end of this historic and remarkable journey of
    Abdul-Baha
    in the west one hundred years ago, we remember this historic date when
    our Beloved Master set sail

    back to His home, the cradle of the prophets, the Holy Land. We can
    recall the long distances He traveled, the talks that he delivered to
    all levels and strata of society instilling in this nascent
    Faith in the West the revelation of His Beloved Father. What He set
    in motion here in the west was the beginning of building a just and
    unified community now filled to saturation with His love and guidance.

    It
    does not strike me odd that today, December 6th, is St. Nicholas Day in
    the Christian calendar. The day when Christian’s commemorate this saintly man
    who carried rewards to good little children and warnings to others. An
    ancient tradition tied to this teacher that of placing children’s shoes outside their door hoping for gifts
    seems rather quaint and yet who wouldn’t want to receive the love and
    attention from jolly Ole St. Nick. Our Beloved Master has always struck me as the archetype of what we call Santa Claus
    here in the west from the bountiful stories of His generosity and love of children.

    And
    so, we’ve left our shoes outside our door hoping that what we been able
    to render in His service over these days of remembrance has been a kindly reminder. And, what
    we came to realize along this journey together is that we
    have received from the Beloved Master over these past 239 days of
    recollection was the greatest ‘gift’.

    Loving regards,

    Ann

  • Dalton Garis

    What will do without this daily read??? I have grown dependent upon it for its wonderful details and contextual imagery!

    Well done!, and thank you for every episode!

  • Druzelle Cederquist

    I feel a great sadness to say good-bye to this wonderful blog. Inspiring, enriching, more than a remembrance – a small spiritual treasure for each day, interwoven vivid snapshots of the world as ‘Abdu’l-Baha found it, and which we still grapple with. Thank you one and all for your tireless excellent work.

  • Kathy Hogenson

    Well done!!!! Thank you dear friends!!! It has been an amazing journey!!

  • Druzelle Cederquist

    I recall mention of posting the sources for blog postings. When and how will we find this?

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

      Yes we are currently creating stand alone PDF downloadable files. In fact, Jonathan is working on the footnotes for his Day 239 sitting next to me now…We will post as many as we can by January 1 :)

      • Mike Bruwer

        Have you posted any of the PDF files yet?

        • http://jmenon.com/ Jonathan Menon

          Not yet, Mike. But we will as they are completed.

          • Philip Reich

            Any word on when and where the PDF version(s) are or will be posted?

  • Manee

    The last 239 days has surely been enriching and touching journey for me. Many thanks for the efforts.

  • David Henderson

    So, you scrubbed my comment?! So much for open and transparent discourse. Says a lot about the defensiveness behind this site.

    • http://jmenon.com/ Jonathan Menon

      Hi David,

      We occasionally delete comments if they are off-topic for the feature, or if they appear to press religious opinions on others. But we have looked back over the comments deleted over the past two weeks on our Disqus system and can’t find any under your username. Please feel free to repost. Thanks.

  • Thelma

    I’ve loved reading about Abdu’l-Baha’s journey to America these past 239 days and will miss it now. I became a Baha’i in San Francisco in 1964 and shortly after returned as a new Baha’i to England. 100 years ago yesterday Abdu’l-Bahá arrived in Liverpool and remained in the UK (England and Scotland) until January 21st. It is for future generations to assess the impact of His visits to the West on all our lives.