THE PARSONS’ HORSES clopped along the driveway at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue just before 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, April 28, 1912. Through the trees to the left Abdu’l-Baha 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 in the direction of the executive offices in the West Wing.
President Taft had invited Abdu’l-Baha to visit him at the White House at 12:30. On Friday morning Abdu’l-Baha 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-Baha. 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-Baha to address Congress the following week on his vision of world peace.
The carriage pulled in under the portico of the West Wing. But before Abdu’l-Baha had a chance to dismount, a White House aide rushed out from the executive office entrance 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-Baha 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 Baha’i 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-Baha, 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-Baha and his party departed on the 5:25 p.m. train to Chicago.
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This article was originally published on April 27, 2012 at 239Days.com, a social media documentary following Abdu’l-Baha’s 1912 journey through North America. © Jonathan Menon, 2012. This article may not be republished without prior written permission. Contact info@239Days.com.