Day 36

The Amazing Race

‘Abdu’l-Bahá dispatches a lieutenant on a whirlwind overnight mission to New York.

The Shawungunk Ridge from the Skytop cliff tower near the Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, NY. The ridge runs south from the Catskills to the New Jersey border. Wikimedia / Jarek Tuszynski


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Day 36
May 16, 1912 New Paltz, NY

The Amazing Race

‘Abdu’l-Bahá dispatches a lieutenant on a whirlwind overnight mission to New York.

THE GOOD DOCTOR LEAPT onto the caboose of the moving freight train, his hands gripping the steel pole attached to the carriage. Air whipped through his clothing and the trees blurred. Nobody believed he could do it. It was nine o’clock in the evening and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s entourage was set to leave Lake Mohonk at ten o’clock the following morning. This gave Dr. Zia Bagdadi exactly thirteen hours to travel from Lake Mohonk to New York and back again.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá kept several beautiful Persian carpets in his New York apartment. On the final evening of the Lake Mohonk Peace Conference he decided to make a gift of one of them to Mr. Albert Smiley, the conference’s president. Only one thing stood in his way: one hundred and eighty miles. Still, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá entrusted Dr. Bagdadi to the task.

With the keys to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s New York apartment on his person, Dr. Bagdadi held on tight. Straining to pull himself inside, he eventually secured a place for himself in the safety of the car.

Albert K. Smiley stands in the sunshine close to where ‘Abdu’l-Bahá presented him with the carpet. Mohonk Mountain House

Then . . . more trouble. A conductor spotted him, angrily protesting his stowing away. But once Dr. Bagdadi produced a business card with the credentials “Dr.,” the trainman relented, unaware that this doctor’s “urgent mission” involved delivering an oriental rug to a man named Smiley.

Mrs. Grace Ober and her sister, Ella Robarts, who minded ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s New York residence when he was away, were woken up rudely at two o’clock in the morning. They found a droopy-eyed Dr. Bagdadi trying to get in. Presumably, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá hadn’t given him the right key. He declined their kind offer of a meal, dashed into ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s room, rolled up one of the most precious looking carpets, and stole off into the night.

Dr. Bagdadi arrived at the Lake Mohonk train station with an hour to spare, but he still had to make it to the Mountain House. This last leg of the journey had been a glorious little excursion filled with song three days ago. Now it was a frantic race against time. The doctor’s large dark eyes scanned for a vehicle. A mail carrier caught his eye, driving a wagon, and he begged the driver to take him the rest of the way.

Back at the Mountain House, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Mr. Smiley were shaking hands and saying their goodbyes. Dr. Bagdadi came rushing up. It wasn’t so much the doctor’s disheveled appearance that shocked Mr. Smiley, nor even the gift of a Persian rug, but the gift of this particular Persian rug.

“Why this is just what I have been seeking for years!” Mr. Smiley exclaimed. “We had a Persian rug just like this one, but it was burned in a fire and ever since my wife has been broken-hearted about it.”

Mr. Smiley eventually bequeathed that well-traveled, stealthily-retrieved, heroically-delivered carpet to the Lake Mohonk Mountain House. It still hangs there today.

The carpet ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave Albert Smiley, just as he was leaving the conference. It remains on display the Mohonk Mountain House to this day. Shahin Sobhani