BY MARGARET MAGNUS
In India in mid-1956, concentrated preparations had begun for Avatar Meher Baba’s one-month trip to the West. A great deal of correspondence took place regarding plane reservations, days of stay at different places, and other arrangements.
Click here to see Meher Baba in the USA, 1956, the one-hour-and-23-minute film of Meher Baba’s trip to the U.S. was filmed by Charmian Duce Knowles and produced by Sufism Reoriented. There is a six-and-one-half minute section on Meher Baba’s visit to Meher Mount on August 2, 1956. It starts at 50:21 minutes.
Meher Baba’s sister, Mani Irani, worked constantly as the communications intermediary. According to the account in Lord Meher, “Mani’s typewriter was never silent. For the past several months, telegrams and letters had poured in from England, America, Switzerland and Australia, and after receiving instructions from Baba about each, Mani worked tirelessly to reply.” 
FOLLOWERS IN THE U.S. MAKE PREPARATIONS
A follower nicknamed ‘Energy’ — Marion Florsheim of Jackson Heights, New York — was appointed by Meher Baba to make all the necessary arrangements for Meher Baba’s trip.
AVATAR MEHER BABA at the reception for Him at Longchamps Restaurant in New York City in 1956. (Image: Meher Baba Travels)
The Meher Baba Hospitality Committee was formed, with Marion as chairman, Fred Winterfeldt as vice-chairman, and seven other members from Meher Baba's following in New York, with the aim to raise the estimated $12,000 in expenses for Meher Baba and the four men mandali (close circle of disciples) to make the journey.
Committees were also set up by Elizabeth Patterson in Myrtle Beach, Ruth White in Los Angeles, Agnes Baron in Ojai (Meher Mount), and Lud Dimpfl in San Francisco. Ivy Duce and Don Stevens formed a publicity committee.
In Europe, Will Backett made arrangements in London; while in Switzerland, Hedi Mertens and Irene Billo prepared for Baba's stopover in Zurich. In Australia, Francis Brabazon, Bill Le Page and Ena Lemmon set up accommodations, appointments and meetings in Sydney and Melbourne.
On July 16, 1956, Meher Baba and four of His men mandali – Eruch Jessawala, Vinayak Nilkantha 'Nilu" Godse (also known as Dr. Nilu), Adi K. Irani (also known as Adi Sr.), and Meherjee Kakaria – left Bombay on Air India Flight 103 for Europe.
FILMING MEHER BABA’S 1956 VISIT IN THE U.S.
As some point in planning for the trip, it was approved by Meher Baba that 44 of His "doves" (as He called them) were to join Him in the U.S. to journey from New York to Myrtle Beach and to California. This had come about after Beryl Williams, in one of her letters, wrote to Mani that they would "love to fly with the Avatar." The letter was read to Meher Baba, and He gave His permission for those who could afford to go.
AVATAR MEHER BABA arriving at San Francisco Airport in August 1956. With Him (left: Leatrice Shaw Johnston, Bili Eaton (with the white scarf), Kitty Davy (with the black beret), and Adi K. Irani. (Source: Meher Baba Travels)
Among those doves was Charmian Duce Corrinet (later Knowles) who filmed Meher Baba’s journey in the U.S. She started filming as soon as Meher Baba arrived in New York City.
“Early one beautiful morning in July 1956, a group of us drove out to Idlewild Airport to begin what Baba had called a sahavas – time in the intimate company of the Master. I had been given a special charge for this visit… Baba had asked that I make a movie of it,” Charmian explained in her book Spread My Love.
Charmian described her film experience and equipment: “I had only held a movie camera in my hands once before… That and two years of still photography in college were my only training for making a film about the Avatar. I decided that what I lacked in experience, I could at least make up for in equipment.
“We had heard about a new movie camera [16 mm] that had automatic light control and that used film cassettes. It wasn’t even on the market yet, but a friend went clear to the factory in Detroit and managed to deliver one to me in New York City. It was the most technologically advanced camera of its time, but there were still drawbacks.”
When Meher Baba emerged from the airport, Charmian started filming. She said she quickly realized “that if I was going to make a move of Meher Baba, I’d better learn to move fast. He moved so swiftly at times, it seemed his feet didn’t even touch the ground.”
AVATAR MEHER BABA’S FOLLOWERS are hurrying to keep up with Him on a tour of Meher Mount on August 6, 1956. This photograph is a screen capture from the film, Meher Baba in the USA, 1956, by Charmian Duce Knowles and produced and copyrighted by Sufism Reoriented. (Image: Courtesy David Pastor, Sufism Reoriented)
The result of Charmian’s filming and editing is Meher Baba in the USA, 1956 produced by Sufism Reoriented ©1972. In the late 1960s, assisted by Henry Mindlin and Charmian’s future husband, Duncan Knowles, she added a soundtrack. Charmian and Duncan provide the narration.
The entire film is one hour and 23 minutes long. Meher Baba’s visit to Meher Mount starts at 50:21 minutes into the film and continues for approximately six-and-one-half minutes.
After leaving the Los Angeles area, Meher Baba continued to San Francisco, then to Australia, and back to India arriving in Bombay on August 19, 1956.
 Bhau Kalchuri, Lord Meher: The Biography of the Avatar of the Age Meher Baba, Online Edition, pg. 3969, accessed July 12, 2019. ©Avatar Meher Baba Perpetual Public Charitable Trust.
 Kalchuri, ibid., pg. 3969, accessed July 12, 2019.
 Kalchuri, ibid., pg. 3970, accessed July 12, 2019.
 Kalchuri, ibid., pg. 4013, accessed July 12, 2019.
 Charmian Knowles, Spread My Love (Walnut Creek, CA: Sufism Reoriented), pg. 113, ©2004 by Sufism Reoriented.
 Knowles, ibid., pp. 113-114.
“As you all become more intimate with me, with opportunities to come closer to me, all that is good and all that is bad within you comes out in sparks, as it were.
All the impressions of the past, the accumulation of past sanskaras [impressions] of all illusory things, which include both good and bad, come out. My proximity, the intimacy with me, just changes that mass of sanskaras, and sometimes you find sparks of good and bad flying out.” - Avatar Meher Baba
Just days before the December 4, 2017 Thomas Fire struck Meher Mount, well-known Meher Baba artist Charles Mills approached Meher Mount about doing a painting that would represent Meher Baba’s 1956 visit to Meher Mount.
“I didn’t know if a painting was needed,” Mills said later, “I just made myself available.”
In discussions with Board President Sam Ervin, they talked about a painting that would represent the energy of Meher Baba’s visit as captured in the 55-minute film Meher Baba, The Awakener made in 1994 by Tim Thelan. The footage of Meher Baba at Meher Mount starts at 43:22 minutes.
One day while working at Meher Mount during recovery and renewal from the 2017 Thomas Fire, I noticed that the window and door frames needed to be repainted and spruced up. Then I looked more closely. Some of the wooden frames and door sills needed actual replacement.
Then taking a walk through the building, it was clear that many of the 25-year-old wooden-frame doors and windows were damaged due to time, use and weather. Sam Ervin pointed out – particularly without any furniture “hiding” parts of the building – that there were gaps between and under the doors.
The gaps invited dust, rodents, snakes and other critters inside. One night in the kitchen, former Manager/Caretakers Buzz and Ginger Glasky found a baby rattlesnake that had crawled in under the door.
Meher Mount continually welcomes many first-time visitors who know nothing of Avatar Meher Baba and not very much about Meher Mount. They often ask: “What is this place?” and “Who is Meher Baba?”
Followers of Meher Baba often are curious about the history of Meher Mount and how it came to be. Some ask for more details about Meher Baba’s 1956 visit.
All of these questions are part of the Meher Mount story — Avatar Meher Baba, His 1956 visit to Meher Mount, Agnes Baron and the founding of Meher Mount, and the purpose and role of Meher Mount.
In planning discussions, the board has identified the need to tell the Meher Mount story for visitors. But, where to start? How to best use the limited wall space? How to naturally guide visitors through the information?
Baba’s Fireplace was part of the living room of the guesthouse at Meher Mount where Avatar Meher Baba met with His followers and gave darshan (blessing) on August 2, 1956.
Now, as Baba’s Tree’s remains in seclusion for several years while it recovers, Baba’s Fireplace and courtyard area are a more integral part of the visitor experience.
As a result, there is a greater sense of urgency to finalize and implement the plans to preserve Baba’s Fireplace and enhance the courtyard area.
If the Thomas Fire has taught me anything, it has taught me that one just never knows when something will “catch fire” at Meher Mount. Priorities are constantly shifting and even as the list of projects to be done continues to spark more lists of projects to be done, it is always Meher Baba who finds a way to ignite one’s passion at just the right moment.
What seems to be catching fire for visitors, volunteers, and caretakers alike these days is the remnant of a sandstone walkway that begins at the northeast edge of the circular driveway and extends for about 10 feet or so toward the side of the Visitor Center/Caretaker Quarters. Avatar Meher Baba walked on these exact same flagstones.
On Monday night December 4, 2017, sometime after 10:00 p.m. when Manager/Caretakers Buzz and Ginger Glasky evacuated, the Thomas Fire struck Meher Mount.
On December 6 and 8, Buzz and Ginger visited Meher Mount reporting minimal or no damage to structures and vehicles. The water system is out of commission due to the fire damage to pipes, electrical and equipment. Baba’s Tree at Avatar’s Point suffered major damage from wind and fire.
On December 12, Buzz and Ginger, Sam Ervin, Margaret Magnus and Cassandra Bramucci made a follow-up visit. Margaret and Sam share their observations.
Thirty-five years ago, in September 1982, Meher Mount co-founder and lifetime caretaker Agnes Baron took her first and only trip to India to meet with Meher Baba’s mandali (close disciples) regarding the future of Meher Mount.
She wanted the mandali’s advice on what to do with Meher Mount. At the time of her trip, Meher Mount was in her name, and she was wrestling with what to do with the property in the future. She had told Meher Baba in 1952 that she would keep Meher Mount for Him through “hell, fire and damnation.”
Agnes Baron, co-founder and lifetime caretaker of Meher Mount, spent a year living the life of a Vedanta nun before her time at Meher Mount. Vedanta played an important role in Agnes’ life, particularly in helping to prepare her for recognizing and accepting Avatar Meher Baba.
“To the living Christ whose beauty the very heavens cannot contain, but whose presence may be found in every humble, living heart," wrote Jean Adriel in her Dedication for the biography, Avatar: The Life Story of the Perfect Master Meher Baba, 1947
"Besides telling the life story of Baba, the author relates her personal experiences with him, along with those of many other of his close followers. This account of Baba’s life describes many events from ‘behind the scenes’ - it captures the gamut of emotions involved as people struggled variously to comprehend Baba’s unusual ways, to carry out his demanding instructions, to test him, and to love him.” - Back Cover, Avatar
On March 7, 1970, two of Avatar Meher Baba’s closest and longest tenured disciples, Adi K. Irani and Meherjee Karkaria, arrived at the Meher Spiritual Center in Myrtle Beach, SC. It just so happened on that same day an eclipse of the sun was visible along much of the east coast of the US, including Myrtle Beach.
Agnes Baron drove Meher Baba and the mandali from the hotel in her "Woody" station wagon to Meher Mount.
Along the way, Meher Baba admired the rich agricultural land and asked many questions. "What is being grown, how was the land irrigated, are there orchards?"
"Baba was talking as if He were a real estate agent," Agnes cracked.
"…the personal disaster, for some years foretold by me, took place in the form of an automobile accident while crossing the American continent… It was necessary that it should happen in America. God willed it so." - Avatar Meher Baba
When I met Agnes Baron, a co-founder and lifetime caretaker of Meher Mount, I was living in Santa Barbara at the time and had avoided going to Meher Mount in Ojai because I had heard that Agnes was an “an old bitch” from some other Baba lovers.
In my experience, Agnes was tough and even fought the oil companies that were abusing land rights, but she had a softer side. When certain people visited, under circumstances that I didn’t realize, she would be gentle and treat them with kid gloves. Agnes could tune into what that person needed.
In her quest to continually improve the DART (Drug Abuse Rehabilitation Training) program, Agnes Baron asked my then wife, Martha Ervin (now Aubin) and me to drive her in June 1972 to Arizona where she wanted to research several drug rehabilitation programs that were getting good press. We had previously been working as drug counselors with Agnes in the DART program in Ventura County, CA.
Although investigation into drug abuse programs initially led Agnes Baron to Arizona on a research trip, the related events of that trip proved to be the most memorable for me.
“I bullied them into funding it,” said Agnes Baron of her efforts to get funding from the Ventura County Board of Supervisors to start the Drug Abuse Reorientation Training (DART) program.
“Meher Baba said a whole generation of leadership would be lost if they continued to get caught up in illicit drugs, so I told the board of supervisors they would be responsible if they did not do something to show they were serious about offering young people a non-punitive approach to dealing with drug problems,” she said.
“I embarrassed them for not having done anything about the problem, so they shut me up by funding the DART Program with $20,000 to get it started,” she recalled.
In the summer of 1972, Agnes Baron asked me and my wife at the time, Martha Ervin (now Aubin), to drive her to Phoenix, Arizona, to visit some drug programs. She also expressed interest in visiting the Navajo and Hopi Indian reservations.
Driving on the Hopi Reservation, we came to a small hut where an old Hopi man sat in a simple wooden chair, serenely gazing out at the horizon. Agnes said, “Stop. I want to talk with him.” She got out and walked toward him.
My connection to Meher Mount started in 1977 when I first visited and met Agnes Baron. Over the years, that connection has been reinforced by links through my children.
Before learning of Avatar Meher Baba, Agnes Baron, co-founder and caretaker of Meher Mount, lived the life of a Vedanta nun for a year at the Vedanta Temple in Montecito near Santa Barbara, California.
There she learned to love the Vedanta stories that impart spiritual and practical life lessons. One of her favorite stories, whose lesson she tried to incorporate into her own life was "Hiss, But Don't Bite."