VIVEKANANDA ROCK MEMORIAL DEDICATION
Thousand Island Park, New York
Friday, July 31, 2009
Remarks by Kevin Kieff, Thousand Islands Regional Director,
New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation
I want to thank Swami Yuktatmananda and the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center for inviting me to participate in today’s ceremonies. This is a very special and a very beautiful place and the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is very pleased to partner with the Center in memorializing the events that took place here almost 114 years ago.
As I thought about the visit to the 1000 Islands by Swami Vivekananda, that we are recalling today, I realized that this event is all about “connections.”
The Center, and all those associated with it, are connecting to the visit of Swami Vivekananda and to the importance that his visit to the 1000 Islands had as he meditated with his disciples at this very place.
The residents of TI Park are connecting to their past and the true reasons why this special community came into being. A kind invitation by TI resident Elizabeth Dutcher was an act of religious tolerance, that, while probably not embraced by all at the time, can now be seen in the light of its full and lasting impact.
State Parks is connecting to its long and important history here in the 1000 Islands. While we didn’t own this property at the time of the Swami’s visit (that was to come some 60 years later) it was just 2 years after the Swami’s visit that the first State Parks were established here in the Thousand Islands. Canoe Point, just across the River on Grindstone, being one of the first.
And this event allows individuals to connect to their ancestral past. In reading through a copy of “Inspired Talks” I noted the reference to TI carpenter, Tom Mitchell, and his connections to the Dutcher cottage and the Swami’s visit. And I learned this was Nellie Taylor’s grandfather and our Regional Safety Officer, also a Tom Mitchell, our Tom’s great-grandfather. These reminders of how small and interconnected a world we share reflect the Swami’s inspired teachings during his visit 114 years ago.
And, for me, on a personal level, TI Park is a special place as well. My ancestors were originally associated with the Methodist Society that founded
this community back in the 1870s. My great-great-great grandmother’s twin sister, Elvira Fox Cooper, was long associated with TI Park and had a cottage on Coast Road. She died 3 years before the Swami’s visit, but I would like to think that she, and the family members who stayed on at TI Park for generations after her passing, would have embraced the spirit of ecumenism that lives on and allows us, Hindu and Christian, Jew and Muslim, to live in relative harmony in this wonderful country we call America and to enjoy this celebration, together, today.
Presentation of scrolls:
I have one more connection to share with you today. Rock Island Lighthouse has been a life-saving beacon on the St. Lawrence River since 1848. TI Park has been connected to this picturesque island since Methodist tents first appeared on this point. The Lighthouse Keepers on Rock Island kept detailed logs of daily activity on the River and we are fortunate to have copies of those logs dating back to the 1870s.
I want to present Swami Yuktatmananda and the Center with copies of two lighthouse keeper’s entries that connect to Swami Vivekananda’s visit to America.
The first is from June 25th, 1893 and reads as follows: “The models of Christopher Columbus’ fleet passed Station about 2:30 in route for Chicago’s Columbian exposition on the Worlds’ Fair.” I’d like to think they were seen by the Swami as they arrived in Chicago and when he visited the Fair.
And, the second log entry I am presenting connects directly to Swami Vivekananda’s time of meditation at this very spot. As the story is related on this beautiful plaque…”He became still as a bronze statue. A thunderstorm came up and it poured, but the Swami did not notice anything.”
Well, lighthouse Keeper Michael Diepolder noticed. In his log entry of August 7, 1895, it reads….with respect to the weather: “Southwest Fresh [winds]…rainy A.M.”
Thank you for allowing me the honor of speaking.