Vivekananda’s Arrival in America

‘I have a message to the West as Buddha had a message to the East.”

Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda, 1892

“Swami, brooding alone and in silence on that point of rock off the tip of India, the vision came; there flashed before his mind the new continent of America, a land of optimism, great wealth, and unstinted generosity. He saw America as a country of unlimited opportunities, where people’s minds were free from the encumbrance of
castes or classes. He would give the receptive Americans the ancient wisdom of India
and bring back to his motherland, in exchange, the knowledge of science and
technology. If he succeeded in his mission to America, he would not only enhance
India’s prestige in the Occident, but create a new confidence among his own people. He
recalled the earnest requests of his friends to represent India in the forthcoming
Parliament of Religions in Chicago. And in particular, he remembered the words of the
friends in Kathiawar who had been the first to encourage him to go to the West: ‘Go
and take it by storm, and then return!'” – Swami Vivekananda – A Biography by Swami Nikhilananda


Swami Vivekananda had first heard about the Parliament of Religions towards the end of 1891 or 1892 while traveling through India. His friends and followers urged him to attend it and to represent Hinduism, offering to raise money for his fare and expenses.

 

Maharaja Ajit Singh Bahadur, the ruler of the Shekhawat dynasty of the princely state of Khetri in Rajputana and Narendra Dutta (Vivekananda), a monk who went by the name of Swami Bibidishanand. Narendra, a bhakt of Sri Ramakrishna) become a close friend and a staunch disciple, Ajit Singh was also the person to whom Narendra turned for help whenever the need arose. Letters written by Swami Vivekanand mention his plans and difficulties, clearly showing his dependence and faith in his friend. In a letter to Ajit Singh dated November 22, 1898, Vivekananda writes, “I have not the least shame in opening my mind to you and that I consider you as my only friend in this life”.

Ajit Singh persuaded and provided financial help so that his friend Narendra could attend and participate in the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago in 1893. Narendra left Bombay for Chicago on May 31, 1893, with a new name suggested by his friend. Henceforth, he would be known as “Vivekananda”! It was indeed a perfect name for Narendra — Vivekananda meant “the bliss of discerning wisdom” — in Sanskrit it is a combination of viveka (wisdom) and ananda (bliss).

His final decision to undertake the trip, however, was not made until April of 1893 when, having prayed for guidance, he received, as he later told, “a Divine Command.” On May 31, 1893, he set sail from Bombay for America aboard the SS. Peninsular.

Swamiji left Bombay on 31 May 1893 on the S.S. Peninsular, a ship of the P & O Line. The company’s docks were near Kussara Basin. The image above was scanned from a reproduction of a postcard of the S.S. Peninsular. The P & O company would not have had a named postcard of the Peninsular in 1893. The P & O’s early postcards were generic and did not print the names of the ships.

Setting sail, May 1893

The transmission of ideas across the British Empire wasn’t all one way. By the end of the century, there was increasing interest in Eastern spiritual ideas in the West.

Vivekananda got a call to go to America when he heard that there a World’s Parliament of Religions was being held in Chicago. When he was asked why he was going to America,

Swamiji expressed his pain and said:

”I have traveled all over India. But alas, it was agony to me, my brothers, to see with my own eyes the terrible poverty and misery of the masses, and I could not restrain my tears. It is now my firm conviction that it is futile to preach religion amongst them without first trying to remove their poverty and their suffering. It is for this reason – to find more means for the salvation of the poor in India – that I am now going to America.”

Vivekananda must have been aware of this when he resolved to travel to America in order to raise funds for his new social project: “As our country is poor in social virtues, so this country is lacking spirituality. I give them spirituality and they give me money,” he reasoned.

In May 1893 he boarded a steamship at the east coast port of Bombay, bound for North America. But instead of traveling West, he traveled East – first to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), then via Singapore to Hong Kong and China, and finally to Japan.

Along the way, he discovered Sanskrit manuscripts at Buddhist temples in China and Japan and was struck by the influence of Buddhist and Hindu spirituality across Asia. Perhaps these encounters confirmed his belief in the international appeal of Indian spirituality.

From Yokahama, he sailed across the Pacific to Vancouver and then took a train across Canada, arriving in Chicago at the end of July.

Traveling by train, The Canadian Pacific, to Chicago on his way to speak at the Parliament of Religions.

 

With funds collected by his Madras disciples, the kings of Mysore, Ramnad, Khetri, diwans and other followers, Narendra left Bombay for Chicago on 31 May 1893 with the name “Vivekananda” which was suggested by Ajit Singh of Khetri. The name “Vivekananda” meant “the bliss of discerning wisdom”.

Vivekananda began his journey to America from Bombay, India on 31 May 1893, on the ship named peninsula[4] His journey to America took him to China, Japan and Canada. At Canton (Guangzhou) he saw some Buddhist monasteries. Then he visited Japan. First he went to Nagasaki. He saw three more big cities and then reached Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo, and then he reached Yokohama. He started his journey to Canada in a ship named RMS Empress of India from Yokohama.

 

In the journey from Yokohama to Canada on the ship Empress, Vivekananda accidentally met Jamsetji Tata who was also going to Chicago. Tata, a businessman who made his initial fortune in the opium trade with China and started one of the first textile mills in India, was going to Chicago to get new business ideas. In this accidental meeting on the Empress, Vivekananda inspired Tata to set up a research and educational institution in India. They also discussed a plan to start a steel factory in India.

He reached Vancouver on 25 July. From Vancouver (of Canada) he traveled to Chicago by train and arrived there on Sunday, 30 July 1893.

After reaching Chicago, Vivekananda learned no one could attend the Parliament as delegate without credential or bona fide. He did not have one at that moment and felt utterly disappointed. He also learned the Parliament would not open till first week of September.

He arrived in Vancouver on July 25. From there, he took the Canadian Pacific Railway train and arrived at Chicago on July 30th.

The World’s Columbian Exposition had been underway for three months when he arrived and to his shock found that the authorities of the Parliament of Religions required all delegates to produce credentials. Moreover, he was, he found, too late to register as a delegate even if he had had credentials. Thus his hope of speaking before the Parliament vanished almost at once and there remained no chance of his gaining a hearing in America until the late fall when the “lecture season” would begin. The cost of living in Chicago being exorbitant, he decided to go to Boston.

During the twelve days or so that Swamiji spent in Chicago, he visited the Fair almost every day, for it was a huge and spectacular exhibition of the modern wonders of steam and electricity, and, as he wrote, “one must take at least ten days to go through it.”. Thus it was in something like despair that he left Chicago for Boston, where, as he had been told, the cost of living was lower.

Going to Boston

On the train, he met Miss Kate Sanborn, who invited him to be a guest at her home.

It was at her estate, In Framington, Massachusetts called Breezy Meadows, that Swami Vivekananda was introduced to a number of Bostonians, including Harvard Classics professor John Henry Wright.

Meeting with John Henry Wright

“To ask for your credentials is like asking the sun to state its right to shine in the heavens.”

John Henry Wright

At Boston, Vivekananda met Professor John Henry Wright of Harvard University. Professor Wright invited Vivekananda to give a lecture at the University. After being acquainted with Vivekananda’s knowledge, wisdom and excellence, Professor Wright insisted him to represent Hinduism at the Parliament of World’s Religions.[9] Vivekananda himself later wrote– “He urged upon me the necessity of going to the Parliament of Religions, which he thought would give an introduction to the nation”. When Wright learned that Vivekananda was not officially accredited and did not have any credential to join the Parliament, he told Vivekananda– “To ask for your credentials is like asking the sun to state its right to shine in the heavens.”

Professor Wright was at once appreciative of Swamiji’s genius and persuaded him of the importance of attending the Parliament of Religions. He gave him all the necessary assistance; he introduced him by letter to all the proper authorities as a superbly well-qualified delegate, one “who is more learned than all our learned professors put together” and who, as he said, was like the sun, with no need of credentials in order to shine; he brought his train ticket back to Chicago, gave him some money, and saw to it that his housing would be arranged for.

Kate Sanborn and John Henry Wrght

***

Brahmin Monk in Framingham

(Arizona Rebublican August 30, 1893)
SOUTH FRAMINGHAM, Aug. 20.1893

The Swami Vivekananda of India, a Brahmin monk who is on his way to the parliament of religions to be held at Chicago in September, was a guest today at the reformatory prison for women. Early this evening he addressed the inmates of the institution in the chapel upon the manners, customs, and mode of living in his country.

The gentleman, who is of rare intellectual ability and learning, was much interested
in the workings of the reformatory and expressed himself as highly pleased with what he saw.

He returned this evening to Metcalf, where he is the guest of Miss Kate Sanborn at her abandoned farm.

***

The most vivid and enduring literary portrait of Swami Vivekananda during his first days in North America was penned by writer Katherine Abbot Sanborn. They were passengers on the Canadian Pacific Railway heading east from Vancouver across the magnificent Canadian Rockies.

Miss Sanborn  had been doing a lecture tour in California, promoting her latest book, ‘A Truthful Woman In Southern California’.

Kate Sanborn’s eyewitness account of Swami Vivekananda in the CPR observation car is really important to the story of his journey across North America. Kate Sanborn was building a national reputation as a witty writer. In 1891 she wrote a very popular book, Adopting an Abandoned Farm and its 1894 sequel Abandoning an Adopted Farm contained this portrait of Swamiji:

“I had met him in the the observation car of the Canadian Pacific where even the gigantically grand scenery of mountains, canyons, glaciers, and the Great Divide could not take my eyes entirely from the cosmopolitan travelers, all en route for Chicago. Parsees from India, Canton Merchant millionaires, New Zealanders, pretty women from Phillipine Isles married to Portuguese and Spanish traders, Japanese dignitaries with their cultivated wives and collegiate sons, high bred and well informed, etc.

I talked with all. They cordially invited me to visit them at their respective homes, and I, nothing abashed, spoke in rather glowing terms of my rural residence, and gave each my card, with “Metcalf, Mass.,” as permanent address. I alluded to the distinguished men and women in Boston and vicinity who were frequently my guests, and assured all of a hearty welcome at my farm.

But most of all was I impressed by the monk, a magnificent specimen of manhood—six feet two, as handsome as Salvini at his best, with a lordly, imposing stride, as if he ruled the universe, and soft, dark eyes that could flash fire if roused or dance with merriment if the conversation amused him. He wore a bright yellow turban many yards in length, a red ochre robe, the badge of his calling; this was tied with a pink sash, broad and heavily be fringed. Snuff-brown trousers and russet shoes completed the outfit.

He spoke better English than I did, was conversant with ancient and modern literature, would quote easily and naturally from Shakespeare or Longfellow or Tennyson, Darwin, Miiller, Tyndall; could repeat pages of our Bible, was familiar with and tolerant of all creeds. He was an education, an illumination, a revelation! I told him, as we separated, I should be most pleased to present him to some men and women of learning and general culture, if by any chance he should come to Boston.”

John Henry Wright, a Greek professor at Harvard

Young Professor Wright

Swami Vivekananda spent several days in Holliston, as the guest of Kate Sanborn. Ms. Sanborn introduced him to many influential people including John Henry Wright, a professor at Harvard University. Prof. Wright was vacationing with his family in Annisquam at the time, and he invited the Swami to join them for the weekend.

Many also know of Prof Wright’s contribution in getting Swamiji an opportunity to attend and present his thoughts at the World Parliament of Religion but very few people know of Swami Vivekananda’s first public discourse in the United States of America.

John Henry Wright helped Vivekananda make the arrangements for his Parliament appearance; and then he stayed at the Annisquam residence of Alpheus Hyatt, whose marine biology station on Lobster Cove was the first iteration of the present-day Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.

Professor John Henry Wright, anxious to meet the phenomenal Hindu monk, of whom he had no doubt heard a great deal from the Sanborns, was on his way to Boston from Annisquam, a small resort village on the Atlantic seaboard.

Swami Vivekananda and Annisquam

Prof. Wright rented a room for Swami Vivekananda at Miss Lane’s Boarding House near his small summer cottage, called The Lodge

Professor Wright invited him to spend the weekend at Annisquam. It was during this weekend that the professor formed the opinion of his guest that was to have such far-reaching consequences.

A letter written by Mrs, Wright to her mother, which has recently come to light, tells of the occasion:

Annisquam, Mass. August 29,1893

My dear Mother:

We have been having a queer lime. Kate Sanborn had a Hindoo monk in tow as I believe I mentioned in my last letter. John went down to meet him in Boston and missing him, invited him up here. He came Friday! In a long safTron robe that caused universal amazement. He was a most gorgeous vision. He had a superb carriage of the head, was very handsome in an oriental way, about thirty years old in lime, ages in civilization. He stayed until Monday and was one of the most in-teresting people I have yet come across.
We talked all day all night and began again with interest the next morning. The town was in a fume to see him; the boarders at MroriLine’s in wild excitement. They were in and out of the Lodge constantly and little Mrs. Merrill’s eyes were blazing and her cheeks red with excitement. Chiefly we talked religion. It was a kind of revival, I have not felt so wrought up for a long time myself! Then on Sunday John had him invited to speak in the church and they took up a collection for a Heathen college to be carried on on strictly heathen principles – whereupon I retired to my corner and laughed until I cried.

He is an educated gentleman, knows as much as anybody. Has been a monk since he was eighteen. Their vows are very much our vows, or rather the vows of a Christian monk. Only Poverty with them means poverty. They have no monastery, no property, they cannot even beg; but they sit and wait until alms are given them. Then they sit and teach people. For days they talk and dispute. He is wonderfully clever and clear in putting his arguments and laying his trains [of thoughts] to a conclusion. You can’t trip him up, nor get ahead of him.

I have a lot of notes I made as stuff for a possible story – at any rate as something very interesting for future reference. We may see hundreds of Hindoo monks in our lives – and we may not.

It was August 25th, 1893 and many professors, artists, clergymen, and writers from Boston and other cities including Chicago had come to a quiet village called Annisquam on the Massachusetts coast.

Lane’s boarding house today

They were assembling in one of the village’s largest boarding houses called Miss Lane’s Boarding House which had many spacious rooms and a large dining room. People here were coming at the invitation of Professor John Henry Wright of Harvard University.

“It was in this quiet village, Annisquam, from where ships had sailed to China and India before revolutionary times that another revolution was so quietly begun.”

The talk given by Swami Vivekananda at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in September 1893 is now part of history.

The “East Indian Group” at the Parliament of the World’s Religions. From left to right are Narasima Charya, Lakshmi Narain, Swami Vivekananda, Hewivitarne Dharmapala, and Virachand Raghav Gandhi.

Most Indians relate Swamiji to this talk and historians agree that it was possibly a key milestone in introducing Swami Vivekananda to the world stage. Many also know of Prof Wright’s contribution in getting Swamiji an opportunity to attend and present his thoughts at this Parliament.

But very few people know of Swami Vivekananda’s first public discourse in the United States of America. It was August 25th, 1893 and many professors, artists, clergymen and writers from Boston and other cities including Chicago had come to a quite village called Annisquam on the Massachusetts coast.

They were assembling in one of the village’s largest boarding houses called Miss Lane’s Boarding House which had many spacious rooms and a large dining room. People here were coming at the invitation of Professor John Henry Wright of Harvard University. Prof Wright had mentioned that he would be coming with a young Hindu monk whom he had recently met. He knew that he was in the presence of a force, the dimensions of which he could barely fathom but which had captivated him. The melodious voice, the leonine bearing, the spiritual glow in the great dark eyes of this young man of twenty-nine attracted all who approached him and when he spoke, there was a strange and compelling reverberation felt within all who heard him.

Mrs Wright recording this visit to Annisquam wrote, “He walked with a strange, shambling gait, and yet there was a commanding dignity and impressiveness in the carriage of his neck and bare head that caused everyone in sight to stop and look at him; he moved slowly with the swinging tread of one who has never hastened, and in his great dark eyes was the beauty of an alien civilization…”

Annisquam Church

On that chilly Sunday, the Hindu monk was asked to speak at the Annisquam Universalist Church at the invitation of its pastor, Rev G W Penniman. Elva Nelson who researched this visit of Swami Vivekananda had this to say of his first public discourse in America. “It marked the beginning of his unprecedented work in the West. It was in this quiet village, Annisquam, from where ships had sailed to China and India before revolutionary times that another revolution was so quietly begun.”

This first talk given on that Sunday in a little church was to mark the beginning of Swami Vivekananda’s work in the West. This heralded the approach of a spiritual storm which spread across the entire country.

Prof Wright had mentioned that he would be coming with a young Hindu monk whom he had recently met.

Swami Vivekananda, 1893

He knew that he was in the presence of a force, the dimensions of which he could barely fathom but which had captivated him. The melodious voice, the leonine bearing, the spiritual glow in the great dark eyes of this young man of twenty-nine attracted all who approached him and when he spoke, there was a strange and compelling reverberation felt within all who heard him. Mrs Wright recording this visit to Annisquam wrote, “He walked with a strange, shambling gait, and yet there was a commanding dignity and impressiveness in the carriage of his neck and bare head that caused everyone in sight to stop and look at him; he moved slowly with the swinging tread of one who has never hastened, and in his great dark eyes was the beauty of an alien civilization…”

On that chilly Sunday, the Hindu monk was asked to speak at the Annisquam Universalist Church at the invitation of its pastor, Rev G W Penniman. Elva Nelson who researched this visit of Swami Vivekananda had this to say of his first public discourse in America. “It marked the beginning of his unprecedented work in the West. It was in this quiet village, Annisquam, from where ships had sailed to China and India before revolutionary times that another revolution was so quietly begun.” This first talk given on that Sunday in a little church was to mark the beginning of Swami Vivekananda’s work in the West.

Mary Tappan Letter about Swami Vivekananda

Mary Tappan Wright

Mary Tappan Wright was the wife of Harvard Professor of Greek, John Henry Wright and a novelist in 1900’s wrote a letter to her mother about Swami Vivekananda.

“It is not an exaggeration to say Swami Vivekananda conquered the United States spiritually. He taught spiritual things to the Foreigners while back home he wanted young males to stop reading sacred texts and sacrifice for the country by doing work. He is one of the best role models for the youth, even today.”

In a letter to her mother, she writes:

August 29, 1893
Annisquam, Mass.

My dear Mother:

We have been having a queer time. Kate Sanborn had a Hindoo monk in tow, as I believe I mentioned in my last letter. John went down to meet him in Boston and missing him, invited him up here. He came Friday in a long saffron robe that caused universal amazement. He was a most gorgeous vision. He had a superb carriage of the head, was very handsome in an oriental way, about thirty years old in time, ages in civilization. He stayed until Monday and was one of the most interesting people I have yet come across. We talked all day all night and began again with interest the next morning. The town was in a fume to see him; the boarders at Miss Lane’s in wild excitement. They were in and out of the Lodge (the Wright’s cottage] constantly and little Mrs. Merrill’s eyes were blazing and her cheeks red with excitement. Chiefly we talked religion. It was a kind of revival; I have not felt so wrought up for a long time myself! Then on Sunday John had him invited to speak in the church and they took up a collection for a Heathen college to be carried on strictly heathen principles-whereupon I retired to my corner and laughed until I cried.

He is an educated gentleman, knows as much as anybody. Has been a monk since he was eighteen. Their vows are very much our vows, or rather the vows of a Christian monk. Only Poverty with them means poverty. They have no monastery, no property, they cannot even beg; but they sit and wait until alms are given them. Then they sit and teach people. For days they talk and dispute. He is wonderfully clever and clear in putting his arguments and laying his trains (of thought) to a conclusion. You can’t trip him up, nor get ahead of him. I have a lot of notes I made as stuff for a possible story -at any rate as something very interesting for future reference. We may see hundreds of Hindoo monks in our lives-and we may not.

Annisquam

MISS LANE’S BOARDING HOUSE (8 ARLINGTON ST)
August 25–28, 1893

Prof. Wright rented a room for Swami Vivekananda at Miss Lane’s Boarding House near his small summer cottage, called The Lodge, adjacent to Miss Lane’s. (The boarding house is now a private residence.) The boarders at Miss Lane’s were all excited to see this exotic visitor from a far off land. The meeting with Swamiji and Prof. Wright turned out to be extremely significant, since Prof. Wright was so impressed with Swamiji that he wrote a letter of recommendation for him to the Parliament of Religions, commenting that Swamiji was “more learned than all our learned professors put together.”

Most of Swamiji’s weekend was spent informally with the Wright family. On 25th evening Swamiji gave an informal talk at the home of Prof. Wambaugh of Harvard University Law School, who was staying only two houses from Miss Lane’s. The following evening, on 26th, Swamiji visited the home of Prof. Alpheus Hyatt, who was a zoologist. When Swamiji returned to Annisquam the following summer, he stayed at Prof. Hyatt’s house.

Much of what is known about his 1893 visit to Annisquam comes from Prof. Wright’s wife’s diary. She wrote in her diary that Swamiji played with her children, “twirling a stick between his fingers with laughing skill and glee at their inability to equal him.” He was, she wrote, “wonderfully unspoiled and simple.” She concluded an entry with this vignette of Swamiji’s parlor talks: “In quoting from the Upanishads his voice was most musical. He would quote a a verse in Sanskrit, with intonations, and then translate it into beautiful English, of which he had a wonderful command. And in his mystical religion he seemed perfectly and unquestionably happy.”

Swamiji’s first ever public lecture in the West was given here at the Universalist Church (now known as the Annisquam Village Church) on Sunday evening on “The Manners and Customs of India.” The stained glass window behind the altar had not been installed yet in Swamiji’s time. The existing building was built in 1810, but the church was founded over a century earlier.

On Monday, Aug 29, Swamiji left Annisquam for Salem, Massachusetts. He returned to Annisquam for another visit the following summer, in 1894.

On July 28, 2013, a plaque was installed inside the church to mark Swamiji’s visit there 130 years earlier. The event was celebrated with music, talks, a play presented by the village children, a tour of the village, and refreshments.

Swami Vivekananda stayed as Mrs. Frances Newbury Bagley’s guest in 1894 at The Hyatt House, a private residence in a section of Annisquam called Goose Cove. It is about a half mile walk from Annisquam Village via the footbridge over Lobster Cove. Or one can stop to see it from the causeway on Washington Street while driving from Annisquam to Magnolia.

The house is on the waterfront and rather secluded. During his stay, Swamiji joined in swimming and boating excursions, and learned about Victorian era American culture.

Mrs. Bagley of Detroit had rented the house of Prof. Alpheus Hyatt for the summer. Mrs. Bagley was one of the organizers of the Chicago World’s Fair, and had met Swamiji while he was there for the Parliament of Religions. She was the widow of Mr. John Judson Bagley, a businessman who made his fortune in tobacco and also served as the governor of Michigan from 1873-77. Mrs. Bagley hosted Swamiji during his visits to Detroit in February and March of 1894.

MECHANICS HALL (36 LEONARD ST)


September 4, 1894
View fullsizeMechanics Hall (Archival)
Mechanics Hall (Archival)
View fullsize(2009)
(2009)

Before departing, Swamiji delivered a lecture: “Life and Religion in India” on September 4 in Mechanics Hall, a small hall in the center of Annisquam village. It occupied the second floor of the Annisquam Village Hall. Centrally located, it was the place in the village for almost all functions. On that spot today are businesses and a small library. The Annisquam Historical Society is next door.

When Swamiji spoke at the Mechanics Hall, the hall was full. He was introduced to the audience by Prof. Wright, who was staying at Miss Lane’s that summer with his family. Swamiji’s visit was covered by both the Cape Ann Breeze as well as the Gloucester Daily Times.

Magnolia (Aug 24-26, 1894)
During his 1894 visit to Annisquam, Swamiji made a side trip to Magnolia, another district of Gloucester. He was invited there by a lady from Chicago and her daughter, Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Sawyer. They also arranged a lecture for him at the Magnolia Library (CW, 9. 35).

MAGNOLIA LIBRARY (1 LEXINGTON AVE)
August 24, 1894
Swamiji spoke in the Library Hall on “Life in India” on Friday the 24th. The hall is on the second floor of the Magnolia Library.

MAGNOLIA BEACH
Swamiji went swimming at the beach here, as we learn from a letter he wrote from Magnolia to Mrs. Hale of Chicago. In his letter Swamiji wrote, “Magnolia is one of the most fashionable and beautiful seaside resorts of this part. I think the scenery is better than that of Annisquam. The rocks there are very beautiful, and the forests run down to the very edge of the water. There is a very beautiful pine forest.” Swamiji also said that Magnolia was a good bathing place and that he had “two baths in the sea.” (CW 9. 36)

Vivekananda’s Return to Chicago

When he got back to Chicago, to his horror Vivekananda found he’d lost the addresses of his contacts. Alone, ignored and not knowing where to go, he spent the night in a boxcar and the next morning, forgetting he wasn’t in India any more, ventured out to knock on doors and beg for breakfast. Just imagine the reaction of the average Chicagoan, circa 1893, who opened the front door to a dark-skinned, unshaven stranger wearing a rumpled orange bathrobe and yellow towel wrapped around his head. After being repeatedly turned away, hungry and tired, Vivekananda decided to take the only reasonable course of action: he sat down on the street curb and resigned himself to God’s will. Within minutes God responded in the person of a Mrs George Hale–Kate Sanborn’s fairy godmother successor–whose upscale home was just across the street from Vivekananda’s curb. Chancing to look out a window, Mrs Hale perspicaciously surmised, based on his out-of-the-ordinary attire, that he was a Parliament delegate. She thereupon offered her help and in a trice, Vivekananda was cleaned up, fed, and introduced to the Hales’ good friend, Presbyterian minister John Barrows, who was the chairman of, yes, the World’s Parliament of Religion.

And so through a seemingly miraculous chain of events, self-proclaimed Swami Vivekananda had his ticket to the Parliament.

The “East Indian Group” at the Parliament of the World’s Religions. From left to right are Narasima Charya, Lakshmi Narain, Swami Vivekananda, Hewivitarne Dharmapala, and Virachand Raghav Gandhi. Meeting with Jamsetji Tata.

Arriving in Chicago