The Great Summer Part 9

Josephine MacLeod went down to New York on September 17 to meet Nivedita’s ship–so one learns, among other things, from the following letter written by Betty Leggett to Mrs. Bull:

19 Sept.

Dear Saint Sara,

The other sanyasin comes today no doubt as Joe went to fetch her Sunday evening.

We are all in waiting–and the week promises a look at you all–including Dr Helmer. Let naught prevent an early arrival. I hope 01ea is mending rapidly & when she can hold together let her come and be upon the couch in the great hall–or the loggia & listen! How I regret it all–and wish we had sent for her to come when we learned of Swami’s departure from England as we were sorely tempted to do…. We expect Mrs [Florence] Adams the 22nd. Swami needs Dr Helmer badly–he needs to be told the end is not yet. There are many hours when he thinks It is near, as symptoms are graver, in his mind, by heredity.

Joe arrives today. The big cottage awaits you–and is ready.

Swami & Turiananda are in yours–to be more cozy. Swamiji is writing a book on Modern Hindoos–to make some independent means–and to keep busy. He is grand in type as ever.

It was not until the following day, Wednesday, September 20, that Joe and Nivedita arrived from New York. The day after that they wrote jointly to Mrs. Bull, whose ill luck at being detained for so many weeks is, one cannot help but note, our good luck, for we learn considerably more about events and people through the letters written to her from Ridgely Manor than we would otherwise have known. The letter of September 21 read:

Dearest S.S.

Margo & I arrived at 3 P.M. yesterday after a joyous 24hours together.–I am beginning to feel that I am almost as glad to know her as Swamiji.

Today we decked her in our finery–then came down to Swamiji for criticism–which never came. He put the decision entirely into Margot’s care and she said “If I may do as I choose, I shall wear my brahmacharini gerrua always–while on the platform–black otherwise,” & so it is decided–and tomorrow we will go to Kingston to see what can be bought in the way of tough material.

She never was greater, & Betty approves in each detail of her attitude to Swami. Not one thing wld she have Margot change–& her verdict is final in social matters as Margot’s is in spiritual.

Your telegram was a blow–last night–10 days longer away-but “Mother knows best” I have no servants for you yet.

Dr. Helmer will decide what Swamiji is to do and in this his verdict will be final.

Hearts love to my child [Olea] & her mother

[Nivedita added a line:] My sweet Grannie–no idea had I that post time had come. It was the desire of my heart to write to you this morning. Here I am–Plans are growing like flowers. I long to see you & begged Y.Y. to let me come & try to carry off Mrs Vaughan & you! But of course I saw that that was a wrong suggestion–anyway, you will be here directly. Lovingly your Child, Margot.

(It is probable that Nivedita’s “Grannie” as applied to Mrs. Bull had a different origin than Swami Saradananda’s “Granny.” The relationship in Nivedita’s case was no doubt through Swamiji, her spiritual father, who looked upon Mrs. Bull as “mother.”)


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 8

The three Swamis lived, of course, in “Swamiji’s Cottage.” In Vivekananda, a Biography in Pictures, one finds a photograph of the Swamis, together with Mrs. Leggett, Miss MacLeod, Alberta, and a friend of Alberta’s, whose name is not known. In another photograph of the same people, taken on the same day, at the same place (the circular portico at the back of the main house) one sees Swamiji standing and looking unwell and Alberta with her face in her hands, shielding her eyes from the afternoon sun.

Swami Abhedananda stayed at Ridgely for about ten days, leaving on September 17 or 18 for New York, where (before going on to Massachusetts) he met Sister Nivedita, who arrived from England on September 19, her voyage paid for with money from Joe. As Mrs. Ashton Jonson had predicted, Nivedita had not fared well in England as far as raising support for or interest in her girls’ school was concerned. Nor, it would seem, had she been able to reawaken enthusiasm for Swamiji’s work. “One thing I am sure of,” she had written to Miss MacLeod on September 1, “however little the drones think they worship success, they soon drop off from a cause that fails. One must show life and growth, if one is to keep even the hearts that are won.” In her small 1899 diary (the first 253 days of which are missing) the sole entry (September 10) for this brief English interlude reads, “No use,” from which one might gather a certain despond.


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 7

Over the stables in an apartment of some four or five bedrooms lived Hollister Sturges, Alberta’s brother (younger than she by two years), and a number of their friends and cousins — all bursting with high spirits. Francis Leggett’s nephew, Theodore Whitmarsh, whom he looked upon as a son, his wife, and their three young children occupied the “Inn” until early September. Housed in the village of Stone Ridge were Maud Stumm, a Miss de Kobel, and a Mr. Goodby, all three of whom came daily, as Miss MacLeod was to write to Mrs. Bull, “to drink deep.”

Other guests no doubt came and went, or, in some cases, stayed on for a week or more. Their names, for the most part, are lost to us; but among those whose visits gave Swamiji particular pleasure were the two McKindley sisters, Isabelle and Harriet, cousins of Mary and Harriet Hale and an inseparable part of that family whom Swamiji loved above all others. (“By the by, Mary,” he was to write in September from Ridgely Manor, “it is curious your family, Mother Church [Mrs. George Hale] and her clergy, both monastic and secular, have made more impression on me than any family I know of. Lord bless you ever and ever.”) Very probably it was through Swami Abhedananda, who was lecturing at the Greenacre School of Comparative Religions in Maine and to whom Swamiji had sent a telegram that the McKindley girls, attending the school, learned of his arrival in America and of his presence at Ridgely Manor. Isabelle, the older sister, wrote to him at the end of August. Swamiji’s reply, not heretofore published, was immediate:

My dear Isabel-

Many thanks for your kind note I will be so so glad to see you. Miss Macleod is going to write you to stop a day and night here on your way to the west.

My love to the holy family in Chicago and hope soon to be able to come west and have great fun. So you are in Greenacre at last. Is this the first year you have been in? How do you like the place? If you see Miss Farmer [Miss Sarah Farmer, the founder of Greenacre] of course kindly convey her my kindest regards and to all the rest of my friends there.
Ever yours affly

Miss MacLeod sent off an invitation to the two girls on the same day. Her letter, interesting, I believe, for its directions and time tables, read:

August 31, 1899

My dear Miss McKinley–

Your letter this morning was a great pleasure to our household. We should be so pleased if you and your sister will stop over with us a day and night on your way home–If you will let me know the date, I will arrange to have a free place for you and to meet you at the Station Binnewater: four miles off. You can take a train at Boston for Kingston–changing at Albany–and at Kingston take a train to Binnewater–I think the best train leaving Boston is at 11 P.M. Of course if you are in or near New York–we are very accessible, being 3 hours by train from there.

If you have never taken the [boat] trip on the Hudson River, it is well worth the day given to it–leaving New York at 9–to Kingston–arriving at Binnewater at 4:30.

Swamiji is delighted at the thought of seeing you and your sister.

He was indeed. “I am dying to see Isabel and Harriet,” he wrote to Mary Hale. But for one reason or another, the two girls were long in coming. Swami Abhedananda arrived at Swamiji’s call two weeks before them, as attested by his diary. His entry for September 8 reads:

Arrived at Kingston at 7:30 P.M.–drove to Ridgely and arrived there at 9:30 P.M. Saw Swamis V. and T. and lived with them.


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 6

The “Big Cottage,” which stood farther from the Manor than the “Little Cottage”- though in the same direction, was a commodious house with ten bedrooms and a curving driveway of its own. It was to be assigned to Mrs. Bull and Olea and very probably Mrs. Marian Briggs, a close friend of Mrs. Bull’s, with a pair of servants to take care of them. But big as the “Big Cottage” may have been, it was dwarfed–in impressiveness, at least, by the Manor, which encompassed several living rooms, seven second-story bedrooms, and, on its top floor under the roof, quarters for a staff of servants.

The Manor accommodated the family–Mr. and Mrs. Francis Leggett;Josephine MacLeod; Alberta Sturges, Mrs. Leggett’s twenty-two-year-old daughter by her first marriage; the baby, not-yet-three-year-old France Leggett, and her nurse, Miss Looker–and at one time or another during that summer and autumn various transient house guests, such as Mrs. Coulston, whom we have already met; Sarah Ellen Waldo from Brooklyn, who was invited for a day in early October; Mrs. Florence (Milward) Adams an old friend from Chicago and well-known lecturer on dramatic arts, physical culture, and metaphysics; Miss Florence Guernsey, the daughter of Swamiji’s good friend Dr. Egbert Guernsey of New York; Emma Thursby and her sister Ina; and a Dr. Helmer, a practitioner of osteopathy, which science, then coming into vogue, was Miss MacLeod’s most recent enthusiasm.

Other guests were more or less permanent–Sister Nivedita, for instance, and a professor Marchand, who had been brought by the Leggetts from France to help the family polish up its French in preparation for the following summer, when everyone, including Swamiji was to go to Paris for the International Exposition. (An old man, Professor Marchand fell ill during his stay at Ridgely and there died. During his illness, as Mrs. Frances Leggett tells in Late and Soon, Miss MacLeod had visited the old man in his room, and he had embraced her and said to her, “This is the house of God!” And one cannot but think that Ridgely Manor was indeed that summer a veritable Benares in which to die.)


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 5

He [Swamiji] and Swami Turiyananda were given the “Little Cottage,” which stood about a five-minute stroll from the main houseacross the generous and open lawns in a northwesterly direction. This “Little Cottage” (afterward always called “Swamiji’s Cottage” by Miss MacLeod) contained five small bedrooms on the second floor, all with pitched ceilings. On the ground floor were two small sitting rooms with fireplaces, a sizable dining room, a large kitchen, a small laundry, and a wide front porch. Almost certainly, Swamiji occupied one of the two front bedrooms and Swaim’ Turiyananda the other. The three back bedrooms were not so comfortable and ran, moreover, one into the other, the far two having no alternate means of access. In connection with the Swamis’ sleeping quarters a charming story was told in later years by Miss MacLeod to Swami Nikhilananda, who pass it on to me. Mrs. Leggett, coming to inspect the accommodations in the cottage, found Swami Turiyananda’s mattress and bedding on the floor of his room. “What is the matter, Swami?” she exclaimed. “Is something wrong with the bed?” “No, no,” he assured her; “the bed is fine. But, you see, I cannot bring myself to sleep on the same level with Swamiji–so I have put the mattress on the floor.” One might add here that so great was the love and reverence that Swami Turiyananda, always showed for Swamiji that Mrs. Leggett thought (at first, at least) that he was Swamiji’s disciple. Writing to Mrs. Bull on September 2, she commented, “This rest is Peace to [Swamiji]. He loves being away with his disciple–who watches every gesture and is interesting in his devotion to his Master.”


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 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.

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.

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.

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.