Bahai News - Bahai woman in elite group dedicating gardens in Israel
Published Tuesday, May 22, 2001, in the San Jose Mercury News
Bahai woman in elite group dedicating gardens in Israel
How to view event
The ceremonies in Haifa will be broadcast on KBHK (Ch. 44) from 2 to 4
a.m. and from 11 a.m. to noon on Wednesday. They will be Webcast today
from 8 to 10 a.m. and tonight from midnight to 1 a.m. at www.bahaiworldnews.org.
BY RICHARD SCHEININ
Harriet Wolcott of Santa Cruz is home this morning -- in Haifa, Israel.
She is 96 years old and one of only two dozen or so Americans invited to
grand ceremonies on the slopes of Mount Carmel. There, the founder of
Wolcott's Bahai faith is interred in a golden-domed shrine that's visible
throughout much of the seaside Mediterranean city. There on the mountain, 5
million Bahais have their world headquarters.
And there, today, thousands will celebrate the opening of gardens that span
Mount Carmel -- an epic construction project that has taken 10 years. The
gardens complete the adornment of a place that's as holy to Bahais as the
sacred spots of Jerusalem are to Jews, Christians and Muslims.
It's as if the ancient Gardens of Babylon have returned and Wolcott gets to
attend the opening. "It is a dream for me," Wolcott said before her
departure. She and her late husband, Charles, lived in Haifa for 26 years,
arriving in 1961, toughing it out through two wars, and feeling blessed to
be so near the Shrine of the Báb, the Bahai prophet who was martyred in
1850 in Tabriz, Persia, and his body thrown in a moat. Rescued by some of
the faithful, his remains were moved to Haifa in the 1890s.
From L.A. to Haifa
In the 1950s, Charles Wolcott was music director for MGM Studios. "Nobody
leaves MGM," Variety said after he announced in 1960 that he would quit
and move to Wilmette, Ill. He had been elected to the Bahais' national
administrative council, which meets there. A year later, the Wolcotts moved
to Haifa after his election to the Universal House of Justice, the Bahais'
supreme administrative body, which sits on Mount Carmel.
"Nobody could ask for a better life than working at the world center,"
Harriet Wolcott said in an interview at her Santa Cruz home. She seemed
enlivened by the memories: "I was 56 years old, a housewife, and the mother
of two grown girls -- and suddenly I was in this other world. I was close to
the holy places and the pilgrims would come and I would guide them to the
sites. And Charles and I enjoyed ourselves so; sometimes we went to parties
with the mayor.
"But you don't get wealthy working for religion. The House of Justice members
received the same monthly stipend as the people who worked in the gardens."
Succession of prophets
Bahais claim about 140,000 followers in the United States, including about
3,000 in the Bay Area. The monotheistic faith teaches that humanity's
spiritual faculties have been nurtured by a succession of prophets --
Krishna, Moses, Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad among them. In 1852, two years
after the Bab's martyrdom, a Bahai prophet named Baha'u'llah -- meaning
"Glory of God" in Arabic -- is said to have had a vision while living in
Persia and declared himself to be the divine manifestation for the modern
He commenced writing the Bahai scriptures, which encompass about 100 books
and tablets. Regarded as revelation, their spiritual and social teachings
are studied and interpreted by many Bahais. This complex theological side of
the faith isn't well known outside the Bahai community, where the faith is
often perceived as one that simply honors all the great religions. That view
arose in the 1960s, when the Bahais attracted civil rights activists and
others who admired its emphasis on the essential oneness of humankind, its
rejection of racism, and its promotion of world peace.
The Bahais "main goal for the future is unification of the world," Wolcott
said. "And you start with one person and you recognize the immensity of the
job to be done. Other people say, `Impossible.' Bahais don't think so."
Wolcott "keeps a calendar, writes in a little diary, and tries to stay
focused," said her daughter, Marsha Gilpatrick, who shares her mother's home
and accompanied Wolcott to Haifa. A former schoolteacher and principal in
San Jose, Gilpatrick is also active in the Bahai community. She and her late
husband, Ronald, formerly superintendent of schools in Belmont and Pacifica,
for years ran the Bosch Baha'i School and retreat center in Bonny Doon.
The Wolcotts grew up in Flint, Mich. Charles Wolcott was raised an
Episcopalian, his wife a Presbyterian. As a young married couple, they moved
to New York in the early 1930s. The managers of their apartment building
were Bahais and invited the couple to a "fireside" meeting for seekers. "I
was not seeking, personally," Harriet Wolcott recalled. "I was happy. My
husband, he had a more open mind, I would say. He had been searching. He
investigated what Rosicrucianism is, for instance. All paths lead to God,
you might say."
Charles Wolcott died in 1987, and his widow hasn't been back to Haifa since
1992. She is anxious to see the gardens and to visit an old friend, and maybe
she'll travel to the nearby city of Acre. Baha'u'llah was imprisoned there
when Palestine was controlled by the Ottoman Empire. His remains are buried
in a shrine in a garden.
"Baha'u'llah came to unite a planet through the recognition that we are one
human family and that we have made many divisions," Wolcott said. "There are
many paths to God. Baha'u'llah is the latest, but not the last."
Contact Richard Scheinin at (408) 920-5069 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
©Copyright 2001, The Mercury News
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