Day 17

At 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

On his last day in Washington, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá heads to the White House to keep an appointment with President Taft.

The East Room of the White House circa 1910. Library of Congress / Harris & Ewing


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Day 17
April 27, 1912 Washington, DC

At 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

On his last day in Washington, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá heads to the White House to keep an appointment with President Taft.

THE PARSONS’ HORSES CLOPPED along the driveway at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue shortly after noon on Sunday, April 28, 1912. Through the trees ‘Abdu’l-Bahá could see the large pediment, supported by eight white ionic columns, that sheltered the western entrance to the executive mansion. The carriage, which carried him, Dr. Fareed, and Mrs. Parsons, rolled forward beneath the mottled shadows in the cool afternoon air.

President Taft had invited ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to visit him at the White House at 12:30. On Friday morning ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had spoken at the President’s church, All Souls Unitarian on Harvard Street. Then, on Saturday, members of the Taft family had attended an evening reception that Mrs. Parsons had held for 300 dignitaries in the capital.

William Sulzer, the Democratic Congressman from New York, had also come to the Parsons’ for a private interview with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. He was Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and said later that he felt he had just talked with the prophet Elijah, and Moses. Shortly afterward, another invitation arrived: this one came from Champ Clark (D-Missouri), the Speaker of the House of Representatives, who asked ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to address Congress the following week on his vision of world peace.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá on the Parsons’ porch near Dupont Circle in Washington. National Bahá’í Archives

The horses came to a halt under the main entrance portico of the executive mansion. But before ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had a chance to dismount, a White House aide rushed out from the executive offices to make President Taft’s apologies. He had been campaigning in Boston this week in advance of the Massachusetts Republican Primary, which was coming up on Tuesday. But he had only arrived back in Washington at 4 a.m. this morning and would have to leave again for New England on the 6:35 p.m. train. Politics was an unpredictable business, and the President had to postpone.

As for addressing Congress, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was the one who had to decline. He had to be in Chicago. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People had invited him to give a major address to their Fourth Annual Conference on Tuesday, and he was scheduled to lay the cornerstone for a new Bahá’í temple in the village of Wilmette, Illinois, on Wednesday afternoon. He was leaving Washington by train tonight.

From the White House, the carriage drove south to the Ellipse, an oval-shaped park just beneath the White House’s south lawn. Eleven years from now President Coolidge would start a new American tradition here by lighting the first National Christmas Tree. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Mrs. Parsons, and Dr. Fareed took a walk through the American elms that ringed the oval roadway, and then drove back to her home at 18th and R Streets for lunch. After several more interviews and a few last minute visits, the horses trotted down Massachusetts Avenue and back to Union Station, where ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and his party departed on the 5:25 p.m. train to Chicago.