The Great Summer Part 4

This was not Swamiji’s first visit to Ridgely Manor. He had been here twice before: once in April of 1895, when he had taken a short vacation from his New York classes, and again in the Christmas season of the same year, at which time he had been the guest not of Frank Leggett alone but of both Betty and Frank, they having been married in Paris that September. In 1899, the “heavenly pair,” as Swamiji called them, were still just that, rhapsodically in love, regretting the days when Frank Leggett’s business in New York took him from Ridgely to the city, still cherishing their long weekends together. It was all harmony and joy at Ridgely that summer of 1899– “the great summer,” as it came to be called. And a great summer it was (though strictly speaking, it was autumn, too), for the group of people that centered around a saint and prophet of the highest magnitude formed a house party such as the world had probably never known before and very likely will not know soon again. Indeed those ten weeks were rare even for Swamiji, as seldom (never before in the West) had he spent so long a time vacationing in one place.


Burke, Marie Louise. “Ridgely: The Great Summer,” in Swami Vivekananda in the West: New Discoveries, A New Gospel, vol. 5, chap. 3. (Mayavati, India: Advaita Ashrama, 1987), 107–143. Reprinted by permission from Advaita Ashrama.

The Great Summer Part 3

Mr. Leggett had acquired the property in Ulster County in 1892, before he had even dreamed he would be bringing Besse MacLeod Sturges there as his bride. It consisted of several small farms, so that the estate, when it became all of a piece, included within its 130 acres, two substantial buildings. These were the so-called “Little Cottage”–actually a fairly large house–and “The Inn,” which had been a select boarding house run by two maiden ladies. In a position more or less between these two houses Francis Leggett had built the Manor, an imposing mansion of clapboard siding, tall-columned porticos and loggia, hip and saddle roofs, and massive chimneys, its architecture reminiscent, on the whole, of the gracious mansions of the old South. In addition, he had enlarged the “Little Cottage” and had built a few small farm buildings, a stable and carriage house, with a roomy apartment above, and, for the entertainment of his guests, a large playhouse known as the “Casino.” This last was equipped even to bowling alleys, and was adjoined by a tennis court.

As though this were not enough, he had built a large house, known as the “Big Cottage” and also as “The Clematis”–a name more becoming to its size and dignity. This house was originally meant for his architect’s use, perhaps in part payment for architectural fees, perhaps simply as a gesture of friendship. Between the various and widely scattered houses lay some ten acres of sweeping lawns, cool to the eye but in 1899 largely unshaded, for the trees planted by Frances Leggett were still small. Only two old chestnuts, huge and spreading, and an enormous maple (which still stands) gave relief in the hot summer afternoons. Around the house were shrubs of all sorts, but these, too, had been selected by Mr. Leggett and were not yet luxuriant. Indeed the house and grounds still had the bare look of newness, but by the same token one had an unobstructed view of fields and wooded hills and, beyond to the west and north, some twelve to twenty miles distant, of the blue Catskills and, to the south, much closer and clearer, of the Shawangunks. The height of neither of these ranges (Mohonk, the tallest peak of the Shawangunks, rose 1,542 feet above sea level) would have impressed Swamiji, for both – particularly the lattcr-were geologically ancient, honed down and buffed, by millennia of rain, snow, and wind into mountains barely higher than foothills of Himalayan foothills. But they were lovely nonetheless, with their soft, many-folded contours that seemed to move with the passing day, changing color and form.


Burke, Marie Louise. “Ridgely: The Great Summer,” in Swami Vivekananda in the West: New Discoveries, A New Gospel, vol. 5, chap. 3. (Mayavati, India: Advaita Ashrama, 1987), 107–143. Reprinted by permission from Advaita Ashrama.

Durga Puja Sat., Oct. 17 11am

Join us for the worship of the Divine Mother in the form of Durga. There will be a puja, flower offering, homa fire and prasad meal. All are welcome to attend any part or all of this celebration.


Kali Puja Wed. Nov.11 10pm

This is our annual very elaborate worship of the Mother as Kali Bhavatarini, the form worshipped by Sri Ramakrishna at the Dakshineshwar temple in Kolkata. There will be the traditional puja, flower offering, homa fire, shanti jail (water of peace) blessing and, finally, a prasad meal at around 4am when the celebration concludes. All are welcome to attend part or all of this event.

Durga Puja (10/17) and Fall Foliage (10/12-10/26)

This Saturday (10/17) Durga Puja at 11am

We will be celebrating Navaratri on Saturday with a traditional puja,flower offerings, homa fire and prasad meal. Festivities begin at 11am but you may arrive at any time. We are inviting our bhajan and kirtan singer friends to make offerings.If you do,please choose songs that all may sing. All are welcome to attend. This year we are short-handed so we are looking for friends to volunteer during both Durga and Kali Puja in November. Please let us know if you wish to help out.

Fall Foliage for the next two weeks

Fall is possibly the most beautiful time here at Ridgely. This week and next the fall foliage will be at its most beautiful. Fall is also one of the most busy times for us as we prepare our grounds for winter. There are many tasks to be done in October and November-raking leaves, setting up deer fences,putting up storm windows, cleaning roof gutters etc.This year we are quite short-handed thanks to injuries, absences and departures of our staff members I am looking for able and willing volunteers to help me (Gitaprana) with these tasks. Please let me know if you would like to help out.

The Great Summer Part 2

The train trip from New York to Ridgely, or, more precisely, from Weehawken, New Jersey, to Kingston in Ulster County, New York, 100 miles or so up the Hudson, was a lovely ride. On the right lay the broad, deep river, straight almost as a canal, with its traffic of ships and ferries and its lighthouses in midstream, like Victorian dwellings set adrift; on one’s left rose the tall Hudson Highlands pressing close at first to the water’s edge, later on flattening out into the wide river valley with its farms and pastures, its orchards, its green, sun-splashed woods, its little towns, its steepled churches and its distant mountains.

At Kingston one boarded another train for Binnewater, a tiny station some seven miles west. Here the party was no doubt met by a surrey and spanking pair and driven the four miles to Ridgely Manor along a gently rolling country road, past apple orchards, corn and pumpkin fields, wooded hills, and occasional farm buildings. Most of these last were of the nineteenth century–neat red barns and white houses scalloped along the eaves with wooden rickrack called Hudson River Bracketed; but here and there a small weathered stone house, dating back to pre-Revolutionary days, stood half hidden among protective elms and chestnuts. Half a m ile beyond Stone Ridge, the small village through which the road passed, the horses turned into the avenue of Ridgely and trotted up to the Manor–a graceful and welcoming house said to have been designed by a pupil of the famous architect Stanford White and as dignified, substantial, and unassuming as its owner, Francis Leggett.


Burke, Marie Louise. “Ridgely: The Great Summer,” in Swami Vivekananda in the West: New Discoveries, A New Gospel, vol. 5, chap. 3. (Mayavati, India: Advaita Ashrama, 1987), 107–143. Reprinted by permission from Advaita Ashrama.

Ridgely featured on the BBC

In January, 2013 the BBC produced a short documentary piece on Ridgely, along with a feature piece on Swami Vivekananda.  This post contians an excerpt, and you can find the full piece (including video) below:

Few in the west have heard of Swami Vivekananda, who was born 150 years ago this week. Yet this Bengali intellectual, still revered in India, introduced many people to yoga and meditation.

The crunch of car tyres on gravel, the heavy smell of an imminent thunderstorm, swaying elm trees – random childhood memories of my grandmother’s house, Ridgely, in upstate New York.

I also dimly remember casual references to a Swami. “That was Swami’s sofa.” “The end room – that is where the Swami used to sleep.”

Click here to see it. (opens in a new window)

The Great Summer Part 1

“Swamiji is starting today Allen Line [Allan State Line]. Numidian. from Glasgow. a telegram just received says!” Thus Josephine MacLeod wrote to Mrs. Bull on August 17, 1899. Her letter, full of heavy underscorings, continued:

Do what you choose. Come at any hour–you are always welcome.

You better meet me in New York & we will go together to meet our Prophet. He ought to be 10 days en route–but I will write you definitely tomorrow the day the ship is expected & you meet me in town.

Do not tell Mrs Crossley a word. Let her stay in Princeton so we can have our Prophet without one thorn or criticism–in all his holiness.

I think I may keep Miss Stumm over–she has her worth.

I am in Heaven.

Lovingly Jojo

(Mrs. Crossley was a London friend of Mrs. Bull’s who had crossed the Atlantic with her in June. She was not well and not, it would seem, in full accord with Swamiji’s views. The more fortunate Maud Stumm was an artist in her late twenties who had met Swamiji once or twice during his first visit to the West and who evidently had admired him. She was now visiting Ridgely.)

Five days later, Miss MacLeod again wrote to “Saint Sara,” telling her, with more underscorings, the exact date of Swamiji’s arrival in New York:

Swamiji’s boat the Numidian sailed on August 17th & is due in New York on Monday August 28th [double underscore] so a letter just announced. So you take the midnight train on Sunday, arriving at 6.–go directly to 21 [21 East Thirty-fourth Street, the Leggetts’ town house]–where a telegram is to be sent me announcing the day & hour of arrival.

Betty [Besse Leggett] goes to East Hampton on Friday & will meet you in New York on Monday, and I also will be in town that day by noon.

Our Prophet again with us!

I have invited Mrs. Coulston to go to 21 & to come up here for 3 days visit–not one uncongenial element!

God is kind.

If quite convenient you might bring up a trunk of blankets-in case 18 single ones aren’t enough–besides 10 eider down quilts.

What do you think?

I can easily bring a few pairs from our town house & this will be less complicated so do not worry or trouble about it.

I am so thankful to know you are coming to us alone.

The word alone was underscored five or six times, as though to ward off the uncongenial element. But as things happened, Miss MacLeod’s whole exuberant plan for her fiend miscarried. Just at that time Olea, spending a week or so at Camp Percy, Mr. Leggetts’ fishing camp in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, became ill. She returned to her mother’s home in Cambridge, where Mrs. Bull could not, or would not, leave her, and thus almost six weeks were to pass before they arrived at Ridgely Manor. Even Miss MacLeod’s own long-dreamed-of plan to meet Swamiji’s ship, to see him walking with his wonderfully majestic stride down the gangplank, his face breaking into radiance at the sight of his old friends, was not fulfilled, for the Numidian steamed into the New York harbor two or three hours earlier than scheduled. Fortunately, three people were at the dock to meet Swamiji and Swami Turiyananda–Maud Stumm, who had come down from Ridgely, Mrs. Coulston, acting treasurer of the New York Vedanta Society (Swami Abhedananda was out of town), and a Mr. Sydney Clarke, to whom Miss Stumm had telegraphed, asking him to take care of the Swamis’ baggage.

He was “tired and ill-looking,” Miss Stumm wrote later of Swamiji’s arrival. “He was carrying most carefully a big bottle wrapped in papers that were torn and ragged; this precious bottle, which he refused to relinquish before reaching Binnewater, contained a wonderful kind of sauce like curry; brought thus by hand from India. ‘For Jo!’ he said.”

Miss Stumm mentions that “the party from Ridgely” (presumably Miss MacLeod and the Leggetts) did not arrive until ten o’clock that morning, “and so disappointed!” ‘we all went back [to Ridgely Manor] together,” she wrote’ but whether “all” included Sister Christine and Mrs. Funke, one does not know. It is certain, however, that Swamiji spent almost no time in the hot, humid city, but after a stop at the Leggetts’ town house was whisked away with all speed.


Burke, Marie Louise. “Ridgely: The Great Summer,” in Swami Vivekananda in the West: New Discoveries, A New Gospel, vol. 5, chap. 3. (Mayavati, India: Advaita Ashrama, 1987), 107–143. Reprinted by permission from Advaita Ashrama.

Ridgely Concert Sat. Oct. 3, 2015

Thumri Ki Kahani: a musical journey since 18th century

Featuring Pandit VIJAY KICHLU & Vidushi SUBHRA GUHA

Date: October 3 (Saturday) , 6 – 9-30 pm
Venue: MAMA (Marbletown Multi Arts)
3588 Main Street, Stone Ridge, NY 12484

Pandit Vijay Kichlu is a recipient of “Sangeet Natak Akademi Ratna” – the highest award for a performing artist by the Government of India. He is internationally recognized for promoting Indian Raga music for decades. He belongs to Agra gharana style of gayaki.

Vidushi Subhra Guha is one of the finest exponents of Agra gharana. She has been teaching & performing internationally since early 80s. Recently awarded the “Girija Shankar Purashkar” by West Bengal govt.

Suggested Minimum Donation – $25 per person
($15 for Students – ID Required)
Sponsors & Donors Welcome!
Please write checks to: “Vivekananda Retreat, Ridgely”
(all contributions are tax exempt)

For more information, contact:
845 687 4574 / 845 478 2042 / 347 496 3062 / /

The Great Summer: Introduction

As part of our new blog series, Swamiji at Ridgely, we begin with a series of posts documenting  his multiple stays at Ridgely Manor.

Swami Vivekananda visited Ridgely, an estate in the Hudson Valley owned by his friends Mr. and Mrs. Francis Leggett, three times during his two visits to America. The first two times were in 1895. Both those visits were short–about ten days each. His third stay at Ridgely took place at he very beginning of his second visit to America. It lasted for ten weeks, from August 28 to Novemeber 7 of 1899. During those golden weeks of late summer and early autumn, the great swami was free from the pressure of engagements, as never before in the Western World. He was free to talk, to be silent, to meditate, to laugh, and to simply live the exalted life that was natural to him.
The chapter “The Great Summer,” which is a part of the fifth volume of the six volume work SWAMI VIVEKANANDA IN THE WEST: NEW DISCOVERIES by Marie Louise Burke (or Sister Gargi as she is known) tells in detail of these ten extraordinary weeks, during which Ridgely became, through his presence there, a place of pilgrimage. In this series of posts, we share excerpts from this chapter.

Welcome to our new website design

Our webmaster, who goes by the online name Bhairav Jr. (!), and I have redesigned Ridgely’s website. We wanted it to be simple to use for those who are viewing on smartphones and tablets as well as computers. We analyzed the data from our previous website and our other social media platforms to see which pages and platforms were the most popular. We kept those and either deleted or moved the others to a subsection of another category. As an example of that, you will now find most historical information under the About Ridgely section. You will find those sections and subsections listed in the column on the left of the main post.

One of our most important changes was to create a user- friendly blog section. We will be posting to the blog regularly along with photographs from Ridgely. We will also post podcast episodes every other Monday starting September 7, 2015. Be sure to check in every week to see new content, and to subscribe to our podcast.

Vivekananda Retreat has a busy presence on Facebook. We are hoping to move at least part of that audience to our blog and are working on a way to enable comments to be posted to our new blog after registering. We hope you will take the time to read, listen and comment on some of our blog posts.

A link to our overnight retreat application can be found on the Visit page in 2 places. Please read the information carefully before applying.

Enjoy our new simplified website. If you have any feedback about how it could be improved or would like to help us maintain some our of online platforms, please let us know.