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COLLECTIONPilgrims' notes
TITLEEyewitness Impression of the Dedication
AUTHOR 1Sophie Loeding
ABSTRACTBrief recollections of Abdu'l-Bahá on the occasion of the dedication of the Wilmette temple, May 1, 1912.
NOTES This document is online as a scan of the original, with a picture, at
TAGS- `Abdu'l-Bahá,; Eyewitnesses; Foundation stones and groundbreaking; Mashriqu'l-Adhkár, Wilmette; Pilgrims notes; USA; Wilmette, IL
CONTENT On May 1, 1912, an important date in American Bahá’í history, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá laid the foundation stone of the building in which we are today gathered. I remember it well. One of the Chicago friends had provided a beautiful golden trowel for preparing the place in which the stone was to be imbedded. The trowel was ceremoniously given to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and He tried to break the ground with it; however, the lovely but frail instrument proved wholly inadequate to make more than the merest dent in the hard-packed earth, and the Master very practically called for a spade. It had never occurred to anyone to give such a work-a-day thing as a spade to the Center of the Covenant! Heaven forbid! So no spade was at hand. The trowel was useless — and the Master wanted a spade! There were no houses anywhere near where one could be borrowed. What to do?

Then young Herbert Anderson remembered that workmen had brought the Elevated tracks as far as Isabella Street, and he started running across the prairie to get a spade from the men working there. Successful in his mission, he ran back with the spade and then the Master set to, like a veteran laborer, dug the spade into the ground with a hefty push from His foot and turned over several spadesful. Charlie Greenleaf, a young lad about 17, received two handfuls of this earth turned by the Master, and later shared it with a few friends, of whom I was fortunate enough to be one. This is now in the Archives. The friends then, one by one, turned some of the earth in the name of some country not represented. That privilege was mine too. The stone was buried. It now rests, as many of you know, anchored in the concrete floor of a small room just outside this hall.

Until May 5, when ‘Abdu’l-Bahá left Chicago, His engagements, private and public, were as numerous as elsewhere. Any other man would have broken under the strain, but He was always eager to carry on and proclaim the Faith brought by His Father.

On September 11 He again arrived in Chicago and the same round of meetings and public addresses continued.

His visits to Chicago remain for me a kaleidoscope of meetings and talks in auditoriums and homes, halls and churches, of which I attended a great many. What specifically the Master said on these occasions I do not recall. It was more than half a century ago. However, it is all recorded in the Star of the West, I do remember very vividly how He always made his listeners welcome before anything else. And if the meeting was not very large, in a home perhaps, He would ask "Are you happy? Are you happy? I want you to be happy."

I also remember so well, the warmth that emanated from Him, His kindness; His great dignity and the majesty of His bearing. He was not a large man. He was delicately formed; His hands and feet were small and fine boned; His hair, where it peeped out from under His white fez and turban was very fine and a truly silvery white. His face was slender; His nose slightly aquiline and delicate. Having once seen His face, it is never forgotten. One night at a very large meeting in the Drill Hall of the old Masonic Temple in Chicago at the corner of Randolph and State Streets I noticed one of my English professors in the audience. Going out he was quite close to me and I heard him say: "He has a head like a dynamo." Dr. Lewis, a non-Bahá’í, had felt that dynamic something that emanated from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. The Master's voice was resonant and clearly audible and He never stood still when on a platform, but strode really strode purposefully, up and down, spoke vigorously and gesticulated with His hands. He occasionally would interrupt His interpreter to drive home a point in such a way as to make His meaning unmistakably clear. When He spoke in private homes He often sat. I suppose there was never any room to do much moving about. Tired He might be and no doubt He often was, but there was never the least evidence of weakness.

Often people say "How wonderful that you know ‘Abdu’l-Bahá!" Of course I didn't know ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. How could I know Him? I saw Him; I listened to Him; but always with awe and the definite realization that there was a line between Him and me that I could never cross, even though I touched Him, which I did more than once.

The relationship between the Center of the Covenant and one's self cannot be described. It can only be felt, and it is a very awesome feeling.

    * Editor's note: The above impressions by Miss Loeding were extracted from a talk given by her in Foundation Hall of the House of Worship, Wilmette, in November 1971, in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the passing of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. In reply to a question about the location of the golden trowel, she said that it was in the possession of the Holmes family (non-Bahá’í).
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