VALPARAISO - On a winter day in 1894, a train dropped off a lone Hindu monk in the area where Von Tobel Lumber is now located.
Finding no on there to meet him, Swami Vivekananda made his way to a nearby hotel at the site of what is now The Franklin House tavern. He later met up with his host and was taken to the nearby Memorial Opera House, where he gave a talk to what was described in the local Messenger newspaper as the largest audience ever assembled at the theater.
Despite the popularity of the one-day visit, memory of it had nearly disappeared until it was recovered during an intentional search just more than two years ago, said local physician Arjun Gupta.
Gupta and others now hope to share the memory and celebrate its importance with an evening of devotion and entertainment Saturday at the opera house, 104 Indiana Ave.
The evening will include prayer, storytelling through dance and song, and a keynote address by Asim Chaudhuri, author of "Swami Vivekananda in Chicago, New Findings," said Gupta.
Vivekananda had been invited to the area by the Northern Indiana Normal School, a precursor to Valparaiso University.
His Feb. 27 appearance was part of a nationwide tour and came on the heels of a popular talk he gave the year before during The World's Parliament of Religions in Chicago, said Gupta. The Chicago appearance took place Sept. 11 and Vivekananda spoke about the same types of threats that led to the terrorists attacks in this country on the same date more than a hundred years later in 2001, said Gupta.
"Sectarianism, bigotry and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful Earth," Vivekananda is quoted as saying during his address in Chicago. "They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization, and sent whole nations to despair."
He goes on to voice hope for the end of fanaticism and its violence.
Gupta finds Vivekananda's words remarkable.
"Obviously it's a coincidence," he said. "But it's very significant for us after what we've been through."
The upcoming celebration is sponsored by the Valparaiso Vedanta Study Society, in cooperation with the Vivekananda Vedanta Society of Chicago. It begins with a book fair at 5 p.m. and the presentation at 6 p.m.
Tickets are $25 for the general public and $10 for students. They are available ahead of time at 464-3334 or at the door.
Bob Kasarda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (219) 462-5151, ext. 345.