ABDU’L-BAHA DIDN’T LEARN the sad news until he arrived in San Francisco on the ferry boat from Oakland, where he had stepped off the train from Salt Lake City in the early morning hours of October 3, 1912. Thornton Chase had passed away three days earlier, on September 30, at the Angelus Hospital on Trinity Street in downtown Los Angeles.
They held the funeral the next day, October 4, at 10 o’clock in the morning in the chapel of Pierce Brothers, an undertaker’s establishment in the City of Angels. Flowers covered the open casket, banked themselves upon easels, and overflowed to knit a carpet across the floor. A quartet of male voices sang “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” and “Lead, Kindly Light,” by John Henry Newman:
Three hundred and fifty miles to the northwest, at 1815 California Street in San Francisco, Abdu’l-Baha seemed to disagree with the words that rang out in faraway Los Angeles. “I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears, Pride ruled my will,” they sang. But Abdu’l-Baha remembered his friend Chase as “free from the troubles of this world.” “Remember not past years!” they sang. But “The life of Mr. Chase was spiritual in character; his service will ever be remembered,” Abdu’l-Baha said.
Thornton Chase was only sixty-five years old when he died. “No matter how long he might have remained here, he would have met nothing else but trouble,” Abdu’l-Baha said. “The purpose of life is to get certain results. . . If the tree bring forth its fruit young, its life is short; it is praiseworthy.” “Praise be to God!” he said, “the tree of Mr. Chase’s life brought forth fruit. . . therefore he is free.”
Abdu’l-Baha had not intended to voyage beyond the San Francisco Bay area, but once Chase died he changed his plans. He left for Los Angeles on Friday morning, October 18, and after a pleasant train ride arrived that evening. No sooner had he checked into the Hotel Lankershim on Broadway at 7th Street (as usual, friends had booked him into the best hotel in the city), than the customary torrent of invitations started to pour in for speaking engagements at local churches and societies. Abdu’l-Baha declined them all. “I have absolutely no time,” he said. “I have come here to visit Mr. Chase’s grave . . . I will stay here one or two days and then I must leave.”
The next afternoon, just before 1 p.m., Abdu’l-Baha watched the countryside fight back against the spreading concrete of the metropolis as his streetcar glided slowly out of the city. Five and a half miles southwest of downtown, in the green suburb of Inglewood, California, he stepped from the car and, without waiting for directions, made his way through the Inglewood Park Cemetery to the spot where Thornton Chase had been laid to rest. “The place is charming,” a bystander wrote, “the meadows are green, and there are many trees.” Twenty-five people followed him in silence.
Abdu’l-Baha stood for a while leaning against a nearby tree, remarked on the beauty of the surroundings, and scattered the flowers each person had brought over Chase’s resting place. Then he stood at its head, chanted a prayer in Arabic, and spoke for a few minutes about the distinguished life of his friend. At the end Abdu’l-Baha dropped to his knees, placed his forehead on the grave, and kissed it
This article was originally published on October 19, 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.