In God Passes By (page 180) the Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith, Shoghi Effendi Rabbani (1897-1957), identifies seven historic events associated with the travels of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in North America. Two of these seven occasions took place in the vicinity of Chicago.
First, and foremost, was the “laying, with His own hands” the “dedication stone of the House of Worship” in Wilmette, Illinois. And the second was His address to the fourth annual Bahá’í Temple Unity convention—the forerunner of America’s yearly Bahá’í gathering to elect its National Spiritual Assembly.
The first step to the construction of a Bahá’í Temple in North America began in late 1902 when eleven Bahá’ís met in Chicago and drafted a petition requesting ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s permission to erect such an edifice. In May of 1903 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s letter of encouragement was received; He wrote in part:
“Exert your energy in accomplishing what ye have undertaken, so that this glorious Temple may be built, that the beloved of God may assemble therein, and that they may pray and offer glory to God for guiding them to His Kingdom.”
Bahá’ís around the world began to send money to the Temple Committee treasurer that the dream of a Bahá’í Temple might become a reality. Among those who longed to share in this dream was a humble seamstress named Nettie Tobin. Nettie had no cash money to contribute for the Temple but thought she might find a stone for its construction.
Nettie begged a stone from the foreman of a construction site. He pointed out to her a pile of rejected stones from which to make her choice. With the help of a neighbor she got the large limestone home and sometime later, through an even greater effort, deposited it on the Temple grounds.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá arrived in Chicago on 29 April 1912 and took rooms at the Plaza Hotel at the corner of North Clark Street and North Avenue across from Lincoln Park near Lake Michigan.
The next day He spoke to over one thousand souls gathered for the “public session of the Bahá’í Temple Unity convention” on the subject of building the Bahá’í Temple. At the conclusion of His talk He donated 2,000 francs to the Temple Fund.
May 1st was chilly, blustery and overcast. A tent had been erected on the Temple grounds and hundreds were gathered for the dedication of the first Bahá’í Temple of the West.
Nearly 300 people took seats inside in three concentric circles. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá stood in the center of the tent and made His address, making reference to the first Bahá’í Temple, which had already been erected in Ashkhabad, Turkmenistan. He declared that a Bahá’í Temple must be circular in shape and have nine sides.
When the time for the dedication arrived ‘Abdu’l-Bahá called for Nettie Tobin’s stone. The ground was so hard that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá swung an ax to break through the rigid topsoil. Then representatives of the various races and countries came forward to share in the digging.
After ‘Abdu’l-Bahá rolled the cornerstone into the ground He prophetically pronounced, “the Temple is already built.”
Nettie Tobin’s humble offering suggested to many the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy: ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.’ (Psalms 118:22)
Click here for a map showing all the sites visited by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Chicago.