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, I heard Sam Ervin call to me, “Margaret, come look at this.”
Feeling it wasn’t something I wanted to see, I said, “No.”
Sam replied, “Yes, you have to come look at this.”
Again, I said, “No.”
He insisted, “Come look at this it.”
After six months of repairs, clean-up, and small fix-it jobs turning into big fix-it jobs following the 2017 Thomas Fire, I just didn’t want to discover one item that needed attention. But, I knew I couldn’t escape. I went to take a look.
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?
Fire has been a visitor to Baba’s Tree and to Meher Mount more than once. The Thomas Fire shattered the tree’s crown and much of the trunk on December 4, 2017.
On October 14, 1985, fire ravaged and destroyed nearly all Meher Mount. A month after the New Life Fire, Baba’s Tree looked dead. It was black, leafless, and terribly scarred. The main trunk was hollowed out and black inside. Limbs over 30 feet in the air had burned. The great limb above Meher Baba’s seat had burned nearly through by the trunk with its furthermost branches fallen to the earth.
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
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.
In 1956, Avatar Meher Baba circled the globe in 30 days and flew 30,000 miles crossing five continents. This journey included a three-day stop in Southern California with a visit to Meher Mount on August 2, 1956.
Because 1956 is such a significant year in the history of Meher Mount, there is a “1956” board on Pinterest to identify other memorable events around the world that year.
The following are photos of some of the 1956 events that intersected with Avatar Meher Baba.
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.
Bunty Kelley Bernstein was one of the dancers trained by ballet professional and instructor Margaret Craske, a close disciple (mandali) of Avatar Meher Baba. In the Winter 2014 issue of Glow International: A Journal Devoted to Meher Baba, Bunty shared her own stories of being with Meher Baba.
The following excerpt is about her time in 1956 when Meher Baba visited Meher Mount during His three-day trip to Southern California. He stayed at at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood and went to Meher Mount on August 2, 1956.
In 1949, Avatar Meher Baba asked His mandali (close disciples) in Meherazad, Ahmednagar and Meherabad, India, as well as His close lovers and followers everywhere in the world to keep silence for the entire month of July. Meher Baba had been silent since July 10, 1925.
One of Meher Baba’s followers in the West, Marguerite Poley wrote about observing that month of silence at Meher Mount. The following is her account reprinted with permission from “Meher Mount Memories: The Month of Silence, July 1949,” by Marguerite Poley, Love Street Lamp Post, January 2006 (1st Quarter 2006), pp. 43-44. ©Avatar Meher Baba Center of Southern California.
The article, "Meher Mount Is a Gateway to the Divine," originally appeared in the Winter 2014 edition of the Meherabode Gazette published by the Avatar Meher Baba Center of Southern California. It provides an good overview of Meher Mount.
Agnes Baron (1907-1994) is remembered because of her dedication to Avatar Meher Baba, for her role as a founder and lifetime caretaker of Meher Mount, for her fiery nature and no-holds barred approach to life, for her selfless service, and for the many lives she touched.
A humorous story wherein Margaret Magnus and Sam Ervin attempt to get a new car for Agnes Baron at Meher Mount sometime in the late 1970s/early 1980s..
Jeanne Shaw shares her experience in 1956 of Meher Baba sitting under the tree that became Baba's Tree.