By Anne Gordon Perry, PhD.
In 1912 Green Acre received its most illustrious visitor—‘Abdu’l-Bahá, son of the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, during His eight-month travels in America. He came for one week, August 16–23. The room He occupied on the third floor of the Inn is now used for prayer and meditation.
The visit of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to Green Acre in 1912 was the single most important occurrence in Green Acre’s history. His stay underlined the significance of the property and the importance of Sarah Farmer’s vision for its future.
In anticipation of His arrival, Sarah had written to Persian diplomat Ali-Kuli Khan, with whom ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was staying in Washington, DC, saying she had looked forward to welcoming Him to Green Acre for twelve years and asking what she could do to prepare for His arrival. However, she herself had not been at Green Acre since 1909, having been hospitalized, first in Massachusetts and then in Portsmouth, NH.
On August 16 when ‘Abdu’l-Bahá arrived at Green Acre from Dublin, New Hampshire, more than five hundred people gathered to greet Him. The road from Main Street to the Inn was illuminated by Japanese lanterns. After a festive reception, He gave a short talk on “The Search for Truth” and later delivered an address in the Eirenion, a lecture hall dedicated to peace.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá stayed at the Inn and gave public talks at Green Acre that were fundamental to the Bahá’í view of education and human development. (Many of the talks are published in The Promulgation of Universal Peace, 253-275.) He urged His listeners to study “reality”:
In Green Acre you must concentrate your forces around the one all-important fact—the investigation of reality. Expend your efforts on this, that the union of opinions and expression may be obtained. (1)
On the following day He spoke of the pleasant climate of Green Acre, visited the homes of several of the friends, and gave another talk in the Eirenion. Mahmud ibn-Isma’il, who traveled with ‘Abdu’l-Baha in America and served as His scribe, noted on that day:
. . . many of the fortune tellers, spiritualists and ascetics, came there [to Green Acre] every year to spread their superstitious views. The address of the Beauty of the Covenant [‘Abdu’l-Bahea] demolished and destroyed their cobwebs of superstitions. They were checked to such a degree that some of these impostors who in previous years delivered lectures contrary to the Cause of God, now came to His Holy Presence, bowed before Him and expressed repentance. (2)
That evening ‘Abdu’l-Baha offered sweets to ascetics who refrained from eating certain kinds of food. “Food has nothing to do with faith,” He told them. You should eat things which give you strength and enable you to acquire spirituality.” (3)
On August 18 Carrie Kinney prepared dinner for the Master. He again spoke in the Eirenion and met with many people who had come long distances to seek His advice.
On August 19 He praised the climate of the country and warned His audience not to hold superstitious beliefs. He visited a girls’ campsite by the river, sat on the grass and watched them pitch their tents before addressing them. He gave instructions for the Nineteen Day Feast that He would host the following day. That evening He spoke on the eternity of the dominion of God and the Holy Manifestations.
During the next day, He received Fred Mortensen, who had once escaped jail while awaiting trial and had been a fugitive for four years. Fred’s attorney, Albert Hall, had introduce him to the Bahá’í Faith. Mortensen recalled, “It was he who told me, hour after hour, about the great love of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá for all His children. . . . Thus the Word of God gave me a new birth, made me a living soul, a revivified spirit.” (4) Having no money to travel to Green Acre to meet ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Fred had climbed aboard a freight train in Minneapolis and had “ridden the rods” to Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Mahmud wrote, “The Beloved One said [to Fred], ‘You are my guest.’ Every day He bestowed upon him kindness and gave him money for the expenses of his journey. . . . He paid for many indefinable expenses which were never known to anyone.” (5)
On August 20, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá also visited Sarah in Portsmouth, and together they viewed places of historic interest including the Navy Shipyard in Kittery, ME, where the signing of the Portsmouth Peace Treaty had occurred. When they arrived at Green Acre, before alighting from the car, He kissed her on the cheek. This occasion must have been particularly poignant for Sarah, who had waited to see Him again for twelve long years.
Several of those present during the week of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s visit remarked on the special connection between Sarah and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Margaret Klebs later recalled:
The great genius of Sarah J. Farmer, with her unconquerable devotion and will-power, prepared the way for the appearance of our Holy Master. . . . Never to be forgotten is the picture when the Beloved One held her in His arms driving slowly around the Greenacre fields. Blessed are we who could witness it. (6)
Later, on August 20 at the Green Acre pines, over three hundred people gathered to hear ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s address. After dinner He hosted a unity feast from the porch of what He called “Bahá’í Home” (then Eliot House and now Staples Cottage). There are only a few sketchy descriptions of the feast. Alice Tobey Cummings remembered the round peppermints that Ella Robarts brought at ‘Abdu’l-Bahá‘s request for the refreshment table at the feast. She also remembered ‘Abdu’l-Bahá saying that he had left enough spirit at Green Acre to bring dry bones to life. (7)
On August 20, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá made an historic visit to Monsalvat, a property about four miles from the main campus of Green Acre. Here, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá shared with Sarah and others His vision of the future of Green Acre, which would include a House of Worship and a university. He pointed out where some of the buildings would stand in the future.
According to an account by Ivy Drew Edwards, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá took Sarah’s hands in his and said loudly, “This is hallowed ground made so by your vision and sacrifice. Always remember this is hallowed ground which I am pointing out to you.” Then he turned to Sarah and said, “You will be revered above all American women one fine day, you will see.” Then he said to the small group gathered, “You may all be able to see this University with your own eyes if your prayers to do so are sincere. This will be the finest University on the planet and will draw students to it from all countries of the world. People will stream up and down the hill to some department in the University and to the Temple for prayers which shall be in the midst of it.” (8)
That day a larger group was photographed with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá on the property. Mahmud notes:
As soon as He arrived, about four hundred persons in unison and modulation sang the song of His praise. He addressed this gathering on the necessity of founding the school for the investigation of religions which Miss Farmer had desired to found on that mountain. . . . This gathering was marked with a burst of enthusiasm, ardor and a strong attraction which seemed to draw all hearts. The day was auspicious. (9)
On that day, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá also went to the home of Kate Ives. In the evening He dined with and spoke to nineteen guests at the home of Esther Annie Magee and her daughter Edith Inglis.
During His last full day at Green Acre, August 22, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave an address in the morning, received many people privately, and paid farewell visits in the neighborhood. He spoke that night on the need for unity of the races and for the elimination of prejudice.
On August 23, the last morning of His stay, a crowd lined the road to wave their handkerchiefs, many wet with tears, as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá departed in His carriage. From there He went to Portsmouth for a final visit with Sarah, who “fell weeping at His feet.” (10)
Along with revealing a special prayer for Sarah Farmer, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá made a number of statements about Green Acre and how He hoped it would develop. Here is one of the most oft quoted:
Are you well? Are you happy? This is a delightful spot; the scenery is beautiful, and an atmosphere of spirituality haloes everything. In the future, God willing, Green Acre shall become a great center, the cause of the unity of the world of humanity, the cause of uniting hearts and binding together the East and the West. This is my hope. (11)
Please join us online as Dr. Anne Perry and Dr. Robert Stockman share their insights on ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s historic visit to Green Acre in August of 1912.
- The Bahá’í Year Book, Vol. 1, 88; The Bahá’í World, Vol. II, 15.
- Allan L. Ward, 239 Days: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America, Wilmette, IL: Bahá’í publishing Trust, 1979, 125-26.
- Ibid., 126.
- Ibid., 129.
- Ibid., 42.
- Letter dated August 12, 1935, from Margaret Klebs to those assembled for the anniversary of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s unity feast at Green Acre, Eliot Bahá’í Archives.
- Notes dated August 1912 by Louise Thompson on ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s visit to Green Acre, Tobey/Cummings collection, Eliot Bahá’í Archives.
- Ivy Drew Edwards, unsigned and undated account of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s walk on Monsalvat, recorded by Emma Flynn, Eliot Bahá’í Archives. (Translation of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s words not authoritative.)
- Mahmood Eben Ismail, Book of Wonderful Signs, Vol. I, typewritten translation for the U.S. Bahá’í National Archives and History Committee, Wilmette, Illinois, October 23, 1944, 125.
- Ward, 130.
- Excerpts from a talk given by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá at Green Acre on August 17, 1912 (from notes by Edna McKinney).