On May 24, 1952, near the small town of Prague, Oklahoma, Avatar Meher Baba shed His blood on American soil. With Him and sharing in His sacrifice were some of His closest disciples, including His cherished and most beloved Mehera.Meher Baba explained that this American accident would “result in benefit to the whole world.” He said on other occasions that during this Advent it would be necessary for the Avatar to undergo this Self-sacrifice. Baba was seriously injured as a result of this event, and combined with the more severe injuries sustained in the 1956 automobile ‘accident’ in India, was never able to walk without pain again for the rest of His life.
The date of this event was foretold by Baba many years earlier. At Harmon on Hudson, in 1932, Meher Baba gave Elizabeth Patterson a small pink wildflower and told her to always keep the flower and write down the date, that some day she would know the meaning. It wasn’t until years after the accident that Elizabeth discovered the flower He had given her that day, and written next to it in her Bible, the date, “May 24, 1932,” exactly 20 years to day that she would be driving the accident vehicle.
The following story of Meher Baba’s accident was excerpted from the article “Meher Baba’s Accident in America” by Jeff Maquire, originally published in The Broken Down Furniture News, and reprinted by permission of the author. Portions of the article were based on research and writings of Julia Ross, David Fenster, Adele Wolkin, Kitty Davy, C. B. Purdum, Filis Frederick, and Philip Lutgendorf.
On the morning of May 24, 1952, Anthony Joseph Palmieri was driving east on Oklahoma’s Highway 62 with Billie Hanson, who would soon be his wife, and her mother, Jane Hanson. Anthony had lost both legs in the Korean War. That day he was driving for the first time a new, specially equipped Mercury sedan. The two-lane highway was slick from rain the night before. About 10:00 a.m., at a spot that is nearly the geographical center of the United States, their car was climbing a rise where, according to Anthony, a mail truck was blocking the right lane. He pulled around the truck and into the path of an oncoming blue Nash with South Carolina plates.
As the Mercury flew towards the Nash, a collision unavoidable, Jane cried out, “Please , God, don’t let us die!” She had no idea that at that moment God, in the human form of Meher Baba, was stretching out his hand to point at her car. As Anthony applied the brakes, the Mercury spun across the road and the Nash smashed head on into its side. Anthony, Billie, and Jane were unhurt.
As with all occurrences in the life of Meher Baba, the Godman, this “accident” was anything but.
In a circular sent out to His lovers on New Years Day, 1949, Meher Baba had warned of a great personal disaster to Himself. On August 15 of that same year, he again foretold of a personal disaster. On June 28, 1951 he added that He would “in the natural course of events, be facing physical annihilation as well, without actually seeking it.”
In 1952, Baba made arrangements to visit the West. He arrived in Myrtle Beach on April 20, and on May 20, most of the men mandali left in advance for Meher Mount, California, to prepare for Baba’s visit there.
It rained the following day. The cars transporting Baba’s party were not loaded until the sun broke through, at 2:30p.m. Elizabeth Patterson, driver and owner of the Nash, was behind the wheel, ready to go, when Baba asked if she had her insurance policy with her. She didn’t, but said she knew where it was at her home. Baba told her to stop on the way and get it. She packed it at the top of her suitcase.
Baba sat in the Nash beside Elizabeth. Mehera, Meheru and Baba’s sister, Mani, were seated in the back. Following them was a station wagon driven by Sarosh Irani, with passengers Dr. Goher Irani, Kitty Davy, Delia DeLeon and Rano Galey. They spent the first few days sight-seeing, spending nights in Columbia, South Carolina and Murphy, North Carolina.
On May 23, they spent the night at the Pond Crest Motor Court in Ozark, Arkansas. Baba and the Eastern women stayed at the motel and dined on bread and milk. Sarosh and the Western women were sent out to a small restaurant. The next morning they arose early as usual, and Baba again sent Sarosh and the Western women out to eat while he stayed with Mehera, Meheru, Mani and Goher.
Kitty Davy would later write, “I think of Baba, knowing what was to happen before the day was over, spending the last few hours with that small, close group whom He had known since they were children and who had loved Him for so many years; finding in their presence the comfort and love He so much needed in that fateful hour.”
After breakfast, the group stood waiting in front of the motel for Baba’s signal to get into the cars. But Baba delayed the start, standing for a long time on His doorstep. Kitty remembers, “He was sad, withdrawn and unusually still.” There were no last minute questions, no hurry to be off. Finally, after 10 minutes, He walked to the car with the Eastern women.
As He had many times before, Baba admonished Sarosh to follow closely and not lose sight of the lead car. Referring to an occasion earlier in the trip when He had been forced to wait for the station wagon in the intense heat, Baba warned that this should not happen again. When Sarosh asked if his group might stop along the way for drinks, Baba answered, “Yes, but do not linger.”
They had driven only a short distance when Baba had Elizabeth stop the car. He got out and paced up and down the right side of the road without explanation. Delia DeLeon remembered, “He seemed very depressed and haggard. He walked ahead with His head bent, seeming very far away.”
Later, Sarosh and his passengers stopped in a small town for coffee and cokes.
“We then put on speed to meet Baba at the appointed place,” Delia recalled. “We could see no sign of His car and were beginning to get worried. It was about 10:05 a.m. We heard an exclamation of alarm from Sarosh. We turned our heads to the right. At first we could not take in what had happened; we could not see clearly from the car. We saw people standing ’round Baba who seemed to be lying on the ground. The women were lying in various directions. Sarosh exclaimed, ‘Oh, God, there’s been an accident.’
“With lightning speed we jumped out of the car and rushed forward. The anguish of that moment is unforgettable…Baba’s face with blood pouring from His head, the extraordinary expression on Baba’s face, His eyes just staring straight ahead as if into unfathomable distances. He made no sound or sign…just lay there motionless…. Elizabeth was in the car, doubled over the wheel. Her first question had been, “Is He alive?'”
The rain that had made the road so slippery also blessingly made the road’s shoulder soft and muddy, cushioning the impact of Baba and the Indian women.
Delia placed her pillow beneath Baba’s bleeding head. (The blood-stained pillow, unlaundered, remains displayed at the Meher Spiritual Center in Myrtle Beach.) The farmer whose home was in front of the accident heard the terrible sound of the collision and rushed to assist. He lovingly covered the victims with his own blankets. The farmer’s wife was made so distraught by the sight of the victims that she retreated back inside her house.
The first car to pass was that of a man who was taking his wife to the Prague Clinic, seven miles away, to have a baby. He summoned a pair of ambulances to the scene.
Seven miles east of the accident site, Dr. Ned Burleson was making his rounds at the clinic he had founded and maintained since1950. The first person brought into the clinic was Elizabeth, who had a broken arm and eleven broken ribs. Mehera’s injuries were the most critical of all. In 1970, Dr. Burleson said she had suffered “the worst skull fracture I’ve ever seen. Like an egg you’ve dropped on the floor.” He hadn’t expected her to live.
Of the others in the car with Baba, Meheru’s wrists were both broken, while Mani, who’d been sleeping at the time of accident, sustained only minor injuries.
Dr. Burleson was picking particles of glass out of Mehera’s frontal bone when Dr. Goher rushed in and frantically urged him to come and see about Baba. “They were saying ‘Baba this, Baba that.’ I didn’t know what they were talking about…
and barely heard Dr. Irani because of the concentration on what I was doing.”
When Dr. Burleson finally got around to attending to Baba, he was most surprised: “As soon as I came in the doorway, he starts grinning at me and smiling away, so I figured he can’t be too badly hurt! Till I found out later…I was also astounded to
find that he did not speak or make any sound denoting discomfort. I assumed that he could not, but was soon informed that he did not speak because of a willful act.
I knew we were going to have to give him a general anesthetic…to set his
fractures and I suspected that he would say something at that time, but he didn’t.”
In a message Baba dictated on June 13, He said, “The personal disaster, for some years foretold by me, has at last happened while crossing the American continent, causing Me, through facial injuries, a broken leg and broken arm, much mental and physical suffering. It was necessary that it should happen in America. God willed it so.”
Why was it necessary that it happen in America? Perhaps a clue lies in a statement Baba made 20 years before: “America forms the best foundation for the spiritual upheaval I will bring about in the near future. America has tremendous energy, but most of this energy is misdirected. I intend to divert it into spiritual and creative channels.”
Dr. Burleson wrote of Baba the next year: “The most attractive quality of personality that first day was the way he would look at me with those big brown eyes, as if he were reading my mind. Later I determined that the most astounding quality was that something which made it possible for him to receive such profound devotion and loyalty from so many fine and educated people. That quality cannot be forced. Such devotion can only be possible because he deserved it or earned it.”
Years later Elizabeth Patterson, who had received the small pink flower twenty years before, said, “Through the experience of sharing Baba’s suffering to a degree, I feel my life, instead of being nearly cut off, was extended for a purpose; the gift of the little flower was grace from the Master to be treasured in the heart.” The gift of the flower, like the accident itself, was but one tangible thread of the Beloved’s compassion…one thread in the vast invisible tapestry that sustains the Universe.
[Excerpted from the article “Meher Baba’s Accident in America” by Jeff Maquire,originally published in The Broken Down Furniture News, and reprinted by permission of the author. Portions of the article were based on research and writings of Julia Ross, David Fenster, Adele Wolkin, Kitty Davy, C. B. Purdum, Filis Frederick, and Philip Lutgendorf.]