Garden of Remembrance at Olcott

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Garden of Remembrance, 2002.

The Garden of Remembrance is a serene setting for meditation and for remembering loved ones who have passed away, located on the campus of the Theosophical Society in America, Wheaton, Illinois. The concept was modeled after the garden of the same name at the international headquarters at Adyar, India. Another Garden of Remembrance was established at the International Theosophical Centre at Naarden, The Netherlands.


Annie Besant tree

Events that foreshadowed and inspired creation of the garden occurred in the 1930s. International president Annie Besant died on September 20, 1933 and was cremated in Adyar at a site near the Adyar River. Two years later, the ashes of her coworker Charles Webster Leadbeater were added, and the site was dedicated as the Garden of Remembrance. In 1939, The American Theosophist published an article about commemorating Annie Besant:

Plaque at Annie Besant tree

In 1937 when Mr. and Mrs. Henry Hotchener were at Adyar assisting Dr. Arundale and were returning to America, he gave them permission to take with them a little of the sand from this shrine. The exact spot of Dr. Besant's cremation was pointed out to them, and they gathered the sand from there.

At the [American] Convention in 1938 they brought some of this sand to Mr. Cook and suggested that it be placed in the gardens at Olcott. Mr. Cook thought the most suitable place for it would be at the base of what is known as the Annie Besant tree in the Annie Besant Grove, but as there were to be some alterations of that grove he preferred to wait until they were completed before the sand should be placed there with a suitable tablet. This [1939] Convention provides the opportune time.

While between Olcott and Adyar there is an imperishable super-physical bond, we rejoice that this comingling of the soil of Adyar with that of Olcott creates an additional physical bond. May its radiations be an ever-present benediction upon us![1]

Thus on July 19, 1939 the Annie Besant tree was planted at the place where she last spoke on the Olcott campus, incorporating soil from Adyar. The Olcott Garden of Remembrance was later created very near that tree. Unfortunately, after eight decades the tree succumbed to an illness, and was removed in June, 2018.

Garden of Remembrance, Olcott campus. Photo by Glenn Kujansuu.

Dedication of the garden

The garden was established during the administration of John Algeo, and the dedication took place during the annual convention in July, 2001. Marie Minor worked at the TSA headquarters for more than 35 years, until retiring in 1997. After she passed away on May 8, 2001, her ashes were delivered to the Olcott campus to become the first interred in the new garden.

A low curving stone wall defines the space of the garden, and near the center of the plantings is a large rock with Annie Besant's Universal Invocation on a plaque.

Ash ceremonies in the garden

Some of the Theosophists whose ashes were placed in the garden include Ruben Cabigting, Clarence "Pete" Pedersen, Vera Bruce, Vernon Schwartz, Adolphe J. Michel, John Shelton Davis, Camilla Doris Huff Connell, and John and Lillian Hunter. Ceremonies have varied from simple family remembrances to Co-Masonic and Liberal Catholic Church rites.

One memorable ash ceremony took place on August 15, 2010. The life of Adele Algeo, the wife and coworker of John Algeo, was celebrated with a major Co-Masonic procession and service in the garden, followed by a formal service in the auditorium. During the procession to the garden, onlookers witnessed a hawk stooping low over the celebrants.

During the July 2015 summer convention, another special event took place. International Theosophical Society president George S. Arundale had died in India on August 12, 1945, and someone brought a small portion of his ashes to Olcott in a small brass urn that was kept safely in the library. The ashes were finally buried by Dr. Arundale's great-niece Ananya Rajan in a Liberal Catholic ceremony conducted by Ruben Cabigting during summer convention. Tim Boyd and Barbara Hebert assisted.

Ashes scattered in Fox River

One prominent person whose ashes are not in the garden was Curuppumullage Jinarājadāsa. After retiring from the international presidency in 1953, he came to Olcott on a lecture tour and suffered a fatal illness during his stay. His ashes were divided, with some returned to India for placement in the Garden of Remembrance at Adyar. The remaining ashes were sprinkled in the Fox River by James S. Perkins, Kathrine Perkins, Helen Zahara, Caroline Tess, and Geoffrey Hodson, according to Brother Raja's specific instructions.


  1. Anonymous, "The Besant Commemoration" The American Theosophist 27 no. 9 (Sep 1939): 214.