'Abdu'l-Baha Writes to Kansas City
The Bahá’í Faith is the youngest of the world’s religions, beginning less than two centuries ago. Information about the earliest years in Kansas City is fragmentary. The early records are very sketchy and incomplete. The first Bahá’í known to live in Kansas City, Missouri was a “Mrs Hatch,” she was registered as a Bahá’í here in 1896. Two years later the first Bahá’í was registered living in Kansas City, Kansas. Nothing more is currently known about the connection of Mrs Hatch with the Bahá’í community. Hatch is the family name of seventeen entries in the 1895 city directory and twenty-one in the 1897 directory. Without a first name for herself or her husband further research would be fruitless.
Gradually other residents of Kansas City became attracted to the Bahá’í Faith and entered the Bahá’í community. It is not possible at this time to write a complete history of the Kansas City Bahá’í community so only one element of that history will be addressed here: Tablets from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá was the son of Bahá’u’lláh, the Prophet-Founder of the Bahá’í Faith. In His will and testament, Bahá’u’lláh appointed ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as His successor. This provision of a religious covenant had never existed before in religious history. It is the reason that multiple branches of the Bahá’í Faith have not arisen and proliferated. After the passing of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá His will and testament gave central authority of the Faith to Shoghi Effendi as the Guardian of the Faith. After the Guardian the Universal House of Justice, which had been ordained by Bahá’u’lláh in Bahá’í scripture, was elected. Because of this covenant those who reject the line of authority, or any part of it, are not truly Bahá’ís. Such a covenant may seem unfamiliar but it functions like a constitution for the Bahá’í community and has worked well in its first two centuries.
As Head of the Bahá’í Faith, contact with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was very important. Many people who wanted to join the Faith in the early years of the twentieth century would write of their belief directly to Him, others would write for advice or counsel. These are the kind of letters that generated the Tablets contained here. The original letters to Him have not been found.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote to at least three individuals residing in Kansas City, Missouri; there may be more, but these are the ones that have been found to date. The three are Mrs. Carrie C. Haines, Mrs. H. Brecklin and Mary Hanford Ford. The texts of five Tablets have been found that were written to these three women. The first two women received one Tablet each and copies have been found in the International Bahá’í Archives at the Bahá’í World Center in Haifa, Israel. No formal translation has been made of these Tablets, the translations here are merely provisional and temporary. Three additional Tablets have been found that were sent to Ford and they are kept in the U.S. National Bahá’í Archives, handwritten copies of the translation were obtained for this booklet.
The first two Tablets we will address were written to Mrs. Carrie C. Haines and Mrs. H. Brecklin. Both recipients lived on the same block of Warwick Blvd so they knew each other: Mrs. Brecklin at 4111, Carrie Haines at 4117, just one house between th em. No dates are on these Tablets so they could have been written any time in the first two decades of the twentieth century. It is likely that they sent their letters together to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as was customary at the time and received the replies at the same time. More investigation will be required.
It is known that “Mrs. H. Brecklin” of 4117 Warwick was Mrs Hugo Brecklein of the same address. Hugo Brecklein was a prosperous druggest in Kansas City for many decades. By 1895 he was in business with A. M. Chadwick running a drugstore at 904 Grand Ave. By 1902 he was operating the story by himself and lived at 313 W 11th St. A dozen years later he owned two drug stores, the main one in the new Rialto building on Grand Ave and the other with Glazier Williams at 904-906 Walnut. The Rialto store had two phone lines with separate phone numbers (Main 7622 and 7623) while the Walnut store had only one (Main 269). By this time the family lived at 4111 Warwick. Both stores operated during the years of the Great War.
This information in the city directories remained the same through the 1921 edition (with the addition, in 1920, of a separate directory entry for “Joseph Brecklein” at the family home address). Something happened between the time when information was gathered for the 1921 and 1922 directories. There is no listing at all for the family in the latter, no drug stores, and two new people are living at the family home address: “Mary A. Gibbs and Mary R. Ellis.” No further information has been found about the Breckleins or why they suddenly moved away, except for the Tablet from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.
In the Tablet, sent through ‘Alí-Kuli Khán who served as a relay and translator of Tablets, He says:
“Your short letter was long because it came from the depths of your love. One word expressing the love of God is the same as an elaborate and eloquent book, and one song of the praise and sanctification of God is a unique symphony. Therefore from your letter sweet melodies reached the ears of the concourse on high. Try to find in each day a new grace, riches or blessing and a new gift or talent. Upon you be the glory of glories.”
Carrie Haines was the wife of Adelbert S. Haines. In 1895 he owned and operated “A. S. Haines & Son,” and the family lived at 514 E 9th St. In 1902 the business was located at 112 W 4th St, the residence remained the same.
By 1914 there was no listing for the business in the city directory, he had likely retired, and the family had moved to 4117 Warwick, the second house down from Breckleins. They were close neighbors.
There is no change in the city directory listings until 1922 when “Carrie C. Haines” is listed as the widow of “A. S. Haines,” but still at the same address. Records of the Elmwood Cemetery show that Adelbert Haines had died on 13 October 1921 and was buried two days later in Lot 20. He was seventy-seven years old when he died. His wife, Carrie, is not buried in that cemetery. Three others named Haines are buried in the same lot, two of them were born at such times that they could have been their children. No other information about Carrie Haines, or her connection with the Bahá’í community is known, except for her Tablet.
Her Tablet was also sent through ‘Alí-Kuli Khán. The first part of the Tablet acknowledges news of her son’s addiction to alcohol. This saddened the heart of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and He asks God to save the young man from the dangers of his addiction. He considers it is a tragedy that the addiction occurred at such a young age. If the son can overcome the addiction, he will become spiritual and successful. In closing, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá assures her that He is always praying:
“God, please keep your servants from wine and alcohol and keep alcoholic liquor away from them. O God, please destroy this harmful substance from the earth so no sign of it can be seen, and no one will hear any more about it. Thou art the Powerful, the Mighty.
The third believer in Kansas City that Abdu’l-Bahá wrote to has made her mark in Bahá’í history. Mrs. Mary H. Ford deserves at least an entire book to herself, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as much as said so. In Haifa, in 1906, He told Florence Khán, “It is true that Mrs. Ford has served humanity long and faithfully. Now tell her, if she will arise to serve the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh with equal zeal and fidelity, her name will be mentioned in all the worlds of God.” This brief mention will be a small beginning toward that destiny.
Mary Hanford Ford was born 1 November 1856 in Meadville, PA, the daughter of a banker. She married Smith M. Ford the owner and editor of “The Evening Mail,” a Kansas City, Missouri newspaper.
During her youth she considered herself an atheist. At her father’s deathbed she had an experience that affected a complete transformation of her belief system. Thereafter she was convinced with an unshakable certainty that the human soul survived the end of the human life. She did not ally herself with any specific doctrine or group but considered herself to be a “Spiritist,” interested in the nature of the human spirit or soul.
Shortly after her father’s death, in her search for a broad base of information on the spirit, she began a course in comparative religion. The ninth lesson was on the Bahá’í Faith. What she learned there interested her so much that the next year, 1902, she attended the “Green Acre School of Religion,” in Eliot, ME. The Bahá’í teachers there were Mírzá Abu’l-Fadl, the foremost Bahá’í scholar of the world, and ‘Alí-Kuli Khán former Persian Legate to the United States.
She decided she was Bahá’í and dedicated the rest of her life to spreading the Bahá’í message. She eventually traveled and taught in the United States, Italy, Switzerland, France and England. She also promoted the Faith by writing three books: The Oriental Rose, The World of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and The Secret of Life. At her death she was working on a novel highlighting industrial conditions.
She departed this life in Clearwater, FL on 2 February 1937. Her daughter, Lynette Storm, was with her as she traversed the distance between this world and the next. She died saying, “It is so beautiful, Lynette, it is so very beautiful.”
Her funeral was held at Wagner Funeral Home in Kansas City on Saturday, 6 February 1937. Notices appeared in the “Kansas City Star” and “Kansas City Times” for the three days up to the funeral. She was buried at Forest Hill Cemetery. Memorial gatherings were held for her in several places including New York City which many prominent people attended.
In a letter of condolence, the Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith wrote, “Her unique and outstanding gifts enabled her to promote effectively the best interests of the Faith in its new-born and divinely-conceived institutions. I will pray for her soul from the depths of my heart. Her services will always be remembered and extolled.” A memoriam was written for her by Florence Khán and published, with her photograph, in The Bahá’í World, vol. VII (1936-38).
During her life she received several Tablets from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá when she lived and traveled in different places. A letter from the Secretariat at the Bahá’í World Center mentions her receiving a Tablet while she lived in Kansas. So far the text of three Tablets have come to light in the United States National Bahá’í Archives. Two are dated and give the city she lived in when she received them, the texts are included here in their chronological order. The third is not dated nor is a city noted, so it is included last.
The first is dated 1913.
“To Mrs Mary Hanford Ford. ParisThe second:
“To the maid-servant of God
And the third (in handwriting that is difficult to read in places):
“Mrs Mary Hanford FordThese Tablets provide a glimpse into the early history of the Bahá’í community of Kansas City, Missouri. A great deal more research is required to complete the picture. Before 1935, when the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Kansas City, Missouri was established, there are no local records. Information in other places is fragmentary. Finding and assembling these pieces is a long and wide ranging task. A complete history of the community will take decades to prepare; this will serve as a beginning.
Information for this booklet came from the International Bahá’í Archives at the Bahá’í World Center in Haifa, Israel, the United States Bahá’í National Archives in Wilmette, IL, the Kansas City, Missouri Public Library and Heart of America Genealogical Society in Kansas City, Missouri. To all of them I give my heartfelt thanks.