Contents Chapter 2
At 48 West Tenth
by Marzieh Gail
Whether or not General Tom Thumb (Barnum's midget, and at
the start of his career twenty-five inches long, weighing in at fifteen pounds)
ever owned the Greenwich Village brownstone where Juliet and Daisy (Marguerite
Pumpelly Smyth) lived so many years, we do not know. At the time when we knew
the place, Daisy was renting it from Romeyne Benjamin, brother of Dorothy
Benjamin who married Enrico Caruso.
Like its fellows in the row, it was narrow and high, with black railings to
either side of the front steps, other steps leading down to a long basement
room, and a strip of garden in back. Inside, up from the front hall, narrow
stairs hugged the wall on your right.
The old house, painted light blue when we last saw it, long after the inmates
loved by us were gone, might well have been the wealthy midget's, as Juliet was
inclined to believe: it was just such a place.
When Daisy asked 'Abdu'l-Bahá how to live, He said, "Be kind to
everyone," and Daisy was. The house was a haven for a motley crowd. Here,
Daisy's brother Raphael told me he had once, during the Depression, left his
bed briefly in the night, and returned to find a sailor in it, complete with
live parrot. Here, at one given time, in an upstairs room Dimitri Marianoff,
Einstein's former son-in-law, who had become a Bahá'í, was
writing a book on Táhirih, while Juliet was revising her I, Mary
on a lower floor and I, at ground level, refugeeing from the
family apartment uptown, was finishing Persia and
Here Daisy, like Juliet a fine artist,
sat among their many guests at the firesides. Usually inaccessibly vague,
Daisy would from time to time utter a great truth. Once when her cat
unsheathed its claws and raked delicate upholstery, Daisy spoke: "Cats are
more fun than furniture," she said.
'Abdu'l-Bahá had been all over the house. His living presence had
blessed it all. In a dark corner of Juliet's whispering old studio stood a
fragile armchair of black oak--it would later be willed by her to Vincent
Pleasant--surprisingly small, with a cord across it, none ever to sit in it
again, the chair of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. He loved her studio room. He said it
was eclectic, part oriental, part occidental, and that He would like to build a
Here, Juliet had read in manuscript the books of her friend and neighbour
Kahlil Gibran. Here she had struggled with her love for Percy Grant. Here, by
my time, we talked a little about the land in Chiriqui which (such is my memory
of it) Lincoln had helped her father, Ambrose White Thompson, his close friend,
to acquire. A rich tract of land in northern Panama it was, and Juliet
believed that somewhere in Colombia, which then owned the area, a government
building had burned down, and all the relevant documents about the property had
gone up in flames.
After her father's death, Juliet and her mother were poor. Juliet could, of
course, have married money. Many men sought, as they used to say, her hand.
Two prominent Bahá'ís who proposed to her were John Bosch and Roy
Wilhelm. Come to that, Mason, Admiral Remey's son, whom 'Abdu'l-Bahá
wished her to marry, was not a poor man. Juliet told me that in those days
grown a red beard, and as they sat together he would talk of the
children they would have, and Juliet would visualize, floating in the air about
her, the Remey babies, each with a small red beard.
Mostly, we discussed the progress or lack thereof of our Bahá'í
community in New York and the nation at large, and one day we decided that what
our Faith most needed in America was the qualities of George Townshend.
Immediately, we determined to cable the Guardian and ask him to send us George
Townshend--a pre-eminent Bahá'í who was the former Canon of St.
Patrick's cathedral in Dublin and Archdeacon of Clonfert--to travel nation-wide
and teach. Far from ignoring our doubtless brash suggestion, the Guardian at
once replied, with a radiogram received 19 February 1948:
JULIET MARZIA 48 WEST 10TH STREET NEW YORK
REGRET TOWNSHEND'S EFFORTS DUBLIN VITALLY NEEDED
SIX YEAR PLAN LOVE SHOGHI.
'Abdu'l-Bahá teaches that we must never "belittle the thought of
another" (Bahá'í Administration
, p. 22), and although
Shoghi Effendi was carrying the whole Bahá'í world on his back,
he did not belittle ours, and he took the time to answer.
Once, when the powers that be were making life difficult for me in another
city, Juliet wrote them a letter in my favour. To this, there was no reply.
What status did Juliet have? She was only one, the Master said, that future
queens would envy, only one who would be remembered long after the rest of us
were gone and forgotten.
She was always a rebel. She did not hesitate to speak well of the Germans
during World War I, and to exhibit the Kaiser's picture on her living room
table. Something like setting up a statue of Herod in a cathedral, at the
time. In later years, she decided to rewrite I, Mary Magdalen
and make Judas a certain leading individual who afterward lived on to
receive great honours in our Faith.
Juliet was a Celt, from a long line of early bards, and she was kin to Edward
Fitzgerald, of the Rubaiyat.
Her Irishness did not, apparently, extend
to that country's religion. She told me that when her father was dying, he was
by chance in the hands of the nuns, and they moved about, seeing to it that
Extreme Unction (as it was then called) was duly administered, while her
non-Catholic mother wrung her hands. Reassuring, the moribund raised his head
and said: "Never mind, Celeste, it doesn't amount to a damn."
Rebels are valuable, but they are not always right. Once, contrary to
everyone's advice, Juliet's strong feelings about an individual led her and
Daisy astray. She made us all come to the man's talks, or rather talk, which
was always about love. We got so we hated love. "No wonder he advocates
love," was Harold Gail's comment, "look what it's done for him." It had
certainly given him Juliet and Daisy, and only later on did they see the
light--the light being that his main interest seemed to be Daisy's bank
As the Guardian once commented, our World Order is founded on justice, not
love. Our governing institutions are Houses of justice, not love.
The man did bring many to hear about love at Juliet's, which used to remind me
of Romeyne Benjamin's gloomy prophecy, that the ceilings would fall in.
It was the unconventional, rebel quality in Juliet--this, plus her sympathy and
true love--that attracted so many to her, particularly the young. All ages,
sexes, skin colours, and degrees of wealth and servitude, used to
foregather at 48 West Tenth. Her name was, incidentally, in the New York
Social Register, along with her brother's--"but I am only there as a junior,"
This unconventional quality of hers, frightening to any establishment, appealed
to the Guardian, as it had to the Master before him. We remember writing to
the Guardian once, about a town where the activity was barely detectable, and
he replied that the situation was due to "the lethargy and conservatism of
certain elements in the community."
'Abdu'l-Bahá praised Juliet repeatedly for her absolute truthfulness.
On her second pilgrimage, when the Guardian asked her, "Do you like the
(Wilmette) Temple?" She answered: "No, it looks like a wedding cake." She
added, relaying the conversation to me: "We used to call it 'Mrs True's
church.'" (Mrs Corinne True, later a Hand of the Faith, was known as "the
Mother of the Temple.") She said Mason Remey withdrew his design, in favour of
Louis Bourgeois', although each received the same number of votes.
Needless to add, the ethereal, lacy, floating House of Worship at Wilmette does
not look like a wedding cake, but Juliet had an opinion and she voiced it.
"Let us remember," the Text says, "that at the very root of the Cause lies the
principle of the undoubted right of the individual to self-expression, his
freedom to declare his conscience and set forth his views."
, p. 54).
We read in her diary of the Master's telling Juliet "a thing so wonderful" that
she could not repeat it. In after years she confided to Bahá'í
pioneer Bill Smits what that
thing was. "You are nearer to me than anyone here,"
'Abdu'l-Bahá had said, "because you have told me the truth." Asked what
He meant by " here," she said, "Oh, New York, the United States--I don't
This diary we have here is not the original, longhand one. She destroyed that.
She was essentially a private person and all those secrets have blown away.
This diary is the core of the original: she kept whatever she wanted posterity
to have, sat up in bed with the portable on her knees and typed it herself. I
was one of (necessarily) few to receive a carbon, and mine has some of her own
hand-written notes in the margin. Some years afterward I had the carbon
professionally typed for the National Spiritual Assembly, but years later it
could not be discovered in their files. Also, Philip Sprague mimeographed
parts of it, but where that material is, we do not know.
Still more years later, when Harold and I were back from Europe and living in
New Hampshire, I became aware that with so few copies in the world it might be
lost forever, and consulting with fellow Bahá'ís we had xeroxes
made, so it would stay safe. Meanwhile someone--was it Daisy?--had brought out
a handsome booklet, printed by the Roycrofters, East Aurora, New York, and
titled 'Abdu'l-Bahá's First Days in America
, From the Diary of Juliet
It bears no date or copyright, is forty pages long and contains
only excerpts: a teaser, as it were.
The truth seems to be that during her lifetime the Bahá'ís in
charge of publishing did not cotton to the dairy. "Too personal," they said.
They probably meant that there was too much love in it. We understand this,
but we note that the mass of the believers were always eager for it. Here was
a woman blessed as perhaps no
other occidental Bahá'í was blessed. Not only was she
received by 'Abdu'l-Bahá in the Holy Land, in Switzerland and the
eastern United States, but she had an artist's eye and a writer's pen, and
thus, better perhaps than any, she was able to evoke those so often
irretrievable days and hours.
'Abdu'l-Bahá prophesied of her that: "In the time to come, queens will
wish they had been the maid of Juliet." Certainly she received priceless
opportunities, and proved adequate to her good fortune.
Love is not blind, it is "quick-eyed," George Herbert said.
'Abdu'l-Bahá likened Juliet to Mary Magdalene because she loved, and
saw, so much. She had that same storied love that Mary had--that love which
after all is the only thing that holds the Bahá'ís together, or
for that matter holds the Lord to His creatures, or keeps the stars in their
She says here that one early morning (on that breathless, ecstatic,
tear-drenched pilgrimage) she gave up her will, made over her desires and her
life to the Will of God, and saw how, when we are able to do that, "the design
takes perfect shape." Then peace comes, she says, and "beauty undreamed of
blossoms upon our days."
Again she tells how the Master once gathered the American pilgrims
together--they being symbols of all--and said He hoped that a great and
ever-growing love would be established among them. He knew that their one main
desire was to live in His presence, and He told them how this could be done.
"The more," He said, "you love one another, the nearer you get to me. I go
away from this world, but Love stays always."
Juliet's death notice in the New York Times says that she was born in
New York, but the jacket to her book, I, Mary Magdalene,
undoubtedly more to be trusted, has her a Virginian by birth, and brought
up in Washington, D.C.
She was a cult figure. People became possessive about her, regarded her as
theirs and only grudgingly doled her out. This was particularly true of Helen
James, who came from the Caribbean area and was a long-time companion. I can
remember Helen angrily barring the door to me one day, when Juliet was sick.
It did not bother me too much--I knew from mythology that dragons guard
treasures. Then there was another time when I had prevailed on a man to come
over to the Village all the way from Brooklyn, and record Juliet's voice as she
read from her diary. (On wire, it was. The business was new then.) And Helen
tried, in the midst of it, to break in from the other room and let in even more
noise, besides what was already being reproduced from the traffic on West
You can say for Helen that she was a true friend to Juliet, and faithful. One
mid-day, years after all this, as Juliet lay in her bed, it seems that she
looked up at Helen and asked, "Do you want to come with me, and be with
"No," Helen told her, "I am not ready yet."
And then, as she watched, she saw Juliet die. It was 4 December 1956. They
had moved by then, the Times said, to 129 East Tenth. I was glad that she did
not die at number 48.
The Guardian's cable, received by Daisy Smyth on December 7, said "DEEPLY
GRIEVED" and "HER REWARD
ASSURED." To the National Spiritual Assembly he cabled, "DEPLORE
LOSS," and he directed that a memorial gathering be held for her in the House
of Worship. In this cable among other praises he referred to her "IMPERISHABLE
MEMORY," said that she was "FIRED WITH ... CONSUMING DEVOTION" to the Centre of
Bahá'u'lláh's Covenant, and called her "MUCH LOVED, GREATLY
ADMIRED ... OUT-STANDING EXEMPLARY HANDMAID [OF] 'ABDU'L-BAHá."
48 West Tenth Street was a house dedicated to 'Abdu'l-Bahá.
Often when you were let in the front door, you heard His voice--the recorded,
spontaneous chant made in 1912--loudly reverberating through the rooms.
One day Juliet took Robert Gulick and me up the street to the corner of Fifth
Avenue, and we entered the beautiful Church of the Ascension that had once been
Percy Grant's pride before his ruin, and she showed us exactly where
'Abdu'l-Bahá stood, delivering His first American public address on 14
He came out of the vestry on the right, just as the choir burst into "Jesus
lives." He sat in the Bishop's chair--which broke the nineteenth canon of the
Church, for the unbaptized may not go behind the chancel rail. The red plush
chair with its high back was still there, just as it had been that other day,
although no flame burned on the altar then. When He spoke as you looked past
the low steps to the altar, He was on the right, and He stood on the fifth
'Abdu'l-Bahá had told Juliet she must either break with Percy Grant or
marry him. She had broken with him. Percy had arranged this meeting for the
Master as a peace offering to Juliet. From this very pulpit, to win Juliet
away from her Faith, he had often inveighed
against the decadent East, had even denounced "the
Bahá'í sect," but today he had filled the church with lilies and
arranged for One from the East, and Head of the Bahá'ís, to
Juliet said that she used, in her story of Mary Magdalene (whom, as
'Abdu'l-Bahá remarked in the diary, she even physically resembled) many
things she learned from the Master himself. This book has inclined many a
heart toward our Faith, and Stanwood Cobb considered it "one of the most
graphic and lofty delineations of Christ ever made in literature."
She illustrated her story with portraits, three of them: one haloed, of the
Master's face; Mary wears Juliet's face, they being look-alikes; and the
handsome lover, Novatus, wears the face of Percy Grant. She was a serious
artist, frequently exhibited, and a member of the National Arts Club. She had
studied at the Corcoran Art School, then at Julien's in Paris, and with Kenneth
Hayes Miller in New York.
During the Coolidge era, Juliet's beauty and social background, along with her
artistic gifts, carried her into the White House. (It is interesting to note
how many Bahá'ís have been received at the White House, all the
way from 'Alí Qulí Kh
án and Florence, and Laura
Barney, in the early days to moderns like Robert Hayden and Dizzie Gillespie).
Juliet was there to make a portrait of Mrs Coolidge, incidentally one of the
most popular of First Ladies.
"The President came in to watch," said Juliet, "chewing on an apple, and I told
Mrs Coolidge I could not put up with that."
The portrait she did of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, described here in the diary, no
longer exists, except in a photograph.
Time-damaged, it had to be restored, and Juliet felt the original was
gone forever. The Kinneys maintained that He did like it because He said it
made Him look old. 'Abdu'l-Bahá greatly encouraged her art, and told
her it was the same as worship, but toward the end she no longer cared to go on
with it, nor even cared for her once-loved New York as it had become, and all
she wanted to do was teach the Faith.
Sometimes Juliet and Marjorie would recline at the top of Juliet's large bed,
while Daisy and I would sit on chairs at the foot. The sooty warm spring air
would blow in from the little back garden, down where Rebecca--a statue picked
up by Romeyn Benjamin--stood scanning the horizon, endlessly waiting on her
pedestal, left hand to brow. It was one such time when the conversation
centred on Percy Grant, that dramatic preacher who, in our view, certainly
merits a biographer, not only for his small role in our Faith but because he
represents so much of New York history at the century's turn.
"Poor Julie. How long did you love him?" I asked.
"Seventeen years, darn it." (In those days it went without saying that the
love was Platonic.)
And that is how, reinforced by Marjorie, Juliet told me how things turned out
for Percy Grant. Significantly, his end is relegated in the dairy to a
footnote. The story of it goes like this:
Grant was--as 'Abdu'l-Bahá remarked to 'Alí Qulí
án, comparing the popular society clergyman to his disadvantage
with the fine Unitarian minister, Howard Ives--a womanizer. (Here,
'Abdu'l-Bahá used a graphic Persian word.) His remark was prompted by
the fact that, as they were leaving the church by a side door, they
accidentally encountered the rector with a woman in his
embrace. Later the Master, father to daughter, even more graphically
but in other words, warned Juliet to the same effect. And in the long run, it
is of note that finally a woman toppled Grant down.
She was a Cuban--descended beauty of great wealth, whose luxurious car would be
seen outside Grant's rectory by day and night. She had a dead-white face with
bright, red-painted lips, and was a given to wearing evening gowns which did
not hide the fact one breast had been completely removed, while the other
remained without flaw. No intellectual, she was what Marjorie called
"eruditized" by her association with famous artists and scholars.
Wherever Percy Grant went, she went, gazing up at him as he towered over her,
and calling him "Little Rector." Without his knowledge, she spent $60,000
redoing his house. When she had their engagement announced in the Paris
Herald, his only comment for the press was: No comment.
Next, she sensed that Percy was unfaithful--it was his chambermaid this
time-put detectives on his trail, and turned over their findings to the
vestrymen (the Episcopal administrative body) of his church. On a given
Sunday, when Grant was scheduled to preach, they forced him to resign, and took
down his name.
He was also required to pay back the $60,000, which wiped him out, and at that
time Juliet went about among the parishioners, collecting funds to help. Most
of the press, except for the Times, was brutal, she said. No church but one,
Guthrie's, St. Mark's in the Bowery, would let him preach. In any case, the
words would not come any more.
As to the woman, she lived on, constantly under the
surgeon's knife, constantly giving sumptuous dinner parties at which
all she herself could eat was a little rice from a silver bowl--meanwhile
assuring the guests that this was simply the best way of maintaining her (slim
and lovely) shape.
At the very last meeting Percy and Juliet ever had--it was in a drug store, and
the conversation languished--she asked herself how she could ever have loved
With her final moments in the presence of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Juliet
brings her diary to a close.
On 5 December 1912, the ship sailed away, taking the Master out of this
hemisphere for always. Physically, He would be unobtainable now. That was the
last, sad day when He uttered His final spoken words to America, words in time
to be read by millions, then heard by only a few. Florence
ánum remembered only four automobiles coming to the pier, she
and 'Alí Qulí Kh
án being in the second one. These
two believers, as well as Juliet, although they could not know it that day,
would never look upon His earthly face again.
Juliet tells how, aboard the Celtic,
more and more Bahá'ís
crowded into the Master's cabin, and how they all went above to a spacious
lounge. There, 'Alí Qulí Kh
án translating (as the
of the West
reports, giving his Bahá'í name,
ti'ál), the Master paced up and down as He spoke:
"The earth is ... one home, and all mankind are the children of one father. ...
Therefore ... we should live together in ... joy. ... God is loving and kind
to all men, and yet they show the utmost enmity and hatred toward one another.
... You have no excuse to bring before God if you fail to live according to
[Photograph of Juliet Thompson in later years]
for you are informed of ... the good-pleasure of God. ...
It is my hope that you may ... stir the body of existence like unto a spirit of
Then the visitors slowly left the ship, and Juliet described
'Abdu'l-Bahá's final look "as He bade His immature children farewell."
That loving anguish, those weary, prescient eyes gazing from His thin, ravaged
face, are clearly seen in a photograph taken by Underwood and Underwood at the
last moment--and Life Magazine
(11 December 1950) reproduces it, but
with less clarity: the Master's look, from the rail of the ship, at the
upturned faces of the American Bahá'ís. Somehow, with Juliet, we
were able in after years to have three full-sized copies made from the old
photographic plate, and only just in time, for it broke then, as a messenger
carried it across New York.
They still return to haunt the mind, those vanished days and nights at
Juliet's. I know the steps of those long gone still echo there. I know the
powerful chant of 'Abdu'l-Bahá: "Glad tidings! Glad tidings!" rebounds
from wall to wall. Surely all is still there as it was before: the spidery
old chairs, the creaky, uncertain floor, canvases looming down in the dark,
coals in the grate. Juliet in gold brocade and purple velvet: blonded, fluffy
hair, smiling blue eyes, a man on either side.
"You are not beautiful," her mother had told her. "You are not handsome. You
"There is a magic in Juliet's eyes," Dimitri Marianoff said.
Contents Chapter 2