Interview with Hilda Galbraith, 70 Meernaa Ave., Fairfax, California—April 21, 1976
QUESTION: When did you first meet Samuel Lewis?
HILDA: In 1938. When we moved here, I was working 5 days a week and a half day on Saturday. He would come up on Saturday mornings and play with my two daughters. When I came home around 2 or 3 o'clock, why of course, he was gone. It upset me because I hadn't met the man and there was no one home. I didn't know what to make of it. The girls didn't know exactly where he lived. They knew he lived down the hill somewhere. Then we had a neighborhood party and I think it was around Christmas time. It was down on Creek road at Marie Harris's house. And I met him there. Then I knew that it would be alright. My words to myself at that time were "he's harmless." And then later my son was born, in 1940, and of course they became great friends.
I don't know if you know any of the Sufi School members. There was Ted Reindollar, he died about 10 or 11 years ago and also Hazel Armstrong. She was involved with the Sufi school and there were others whose names I have forgotten. Her mother was also involved. I understood at that time that it was actually Hazel Armstrong's and I guess her mother's money that built the school. But in those years I was not too interested in philosophies and things of that nature, so I never inquired. If you inquired they would tell you; other than that, they didn't press the issue. And even though Hazel Armstrong and I became very good friends, I didn't learn too much about the Sufi movement until sometime later. Now Samuel was very much involved in this and yet, he didn't get along very well with those people. He had his own ways and he was headstrong. And I do know that when Hazel died she left some of her personal belongings to me. There were some rings and maybe a watch or something. I've forgotten now. Samuel became very very angry and said that those were to have come to him. At that time, I said to the young man who was more or less in charge, I said "give him the whole thing, I'm not going to fight about anything of this nature", but he said "No, that's Hazel's wish that you have them" and I said "Well, I'm not going to get involved in any arguments." And so then they compromised and gave him the watch or the ring or whatever it was and I took the rest of it.
QUESTION: Whose rings and watch were they, originally?
HILDA: I don't know. It had some meaning, I presume with the Sufi school. It might had something to do with the, oh, I've forgotten the name of the east Indian who was their teacher.
QUESTION: Was it Hazrat Inayat Khan?
HILDA: Yes, I believe that was the one. And they had a rock up there that they worshiped or it was sacred. The children, when they played on it, were told not to do that. It was sacred and maybe it had something to do with him, I have no idea. But at any rate it was then after Hazel died that Samuel left the school. As I understood it, they had bounced him out of it. After that came the trips to the Orient and he'd come back with tales of how well the Sufi's in the Orient had accepted him and all. I suppose he made some approaches to the Sufi movement here but I don't believe he got very far.
QUESTION: Did you see him after he had gone to the Orient?
HILDA: Yes. I don't know if this is anything you want on the tape. You can eliminate some of this, but … Samuel, how well did you know him?
QUESTION: He was my teacher.
HILDA: He was your teacher. I don't know how he managed in teaching young people like yourself, maybe in some things he was very good. Well, when he came back from his trip to the Orient he asked me to get together all the neighbors and come up there. He wanted to tell them all that had occurred. And we were interested. But, he had, at times, difficulty getting things out and over. My own personal feeling was that he was a highly intelligent man but that there was a little clog that didn't work quite right. So, as I say, he was very popular. He came here to this house (when Hilda first met Sam she lived on Woodlane above Kaaba Allah, years later she moved to Meernaa Avenue which is still in the same neighborhood but below the old Sufi school) three or four times bringing about 20 people from Novato, what is it called? Olompali? What do they call that ranch in Novato where he stayed? It was a commune.
QUESTION: You are talking of his later life?
QUESTION: The Khankah?
HILDA: No. I read the name every now and again.
QUESTION: The alhamdulillah ranch?
HILDA: No, it is still up there but I can't think of the name. He was involved up there until the time that he died. When he'd be with children it was all games. He was able to bring himself to their level. Children enjoyed him. And with them he got along just beautifully. He would play their games in their way as another child would play. So they got along very well. My son, to this day, thinks very highly of him and remembers the good times they had together.
QUESTION: You felt there was something in his logic when he was trying to share his experiences that was difficult to grasp?
HILDA: He was going to expound and tell us what had happened to him and about his journey to the East, but we didn't learn anything really. There was some difficulty, either that or his mind was wandering at that time.
But he also used to dance. He had a broom dance and he had this whirling dervish dance. Now I never did see the whirling dervish dance. But he fancied himself a very graceful dancer and he was not. He was very awkward. I don't know whether you had occasion to notice, but he really thought himself graceful. Now this is what I mean. He had the intelligence. He used to come on occasion and he'd stay overnight in our home and he'd have these books. I'd open them up and I'd read a paragraph and it would take me hours to study and maybe then I'd begin to grasp what it was all about. But evidently he got along alright with them. He used to come here up until the last two or three years of his life. He came every birthday, my birthday is in March and he'd take me out to dinner. And always to a very nice restaurant. And then I have a travel agency in Northgate and he used to come there. One day, I think I missed it, or came in at the end of it, or was busy with a client, but he came in and walked around the office and he had the camera man, I think from Channel 9 following him around. He used to go next door to Swensen's ice cream parlor. He was very fond of ice cream. And as I say he always had some of these young people in tow, I presume they were hippies. They looked more or less unkempt, nice though, nice people, but unkempt and all. And he was right along with them shaggy beard and hair. So, as I said, he had this facility of being able to meet these people on their own level. Whether they were this high or grown.
QUESTION: You mentioned a Broom dance, could you describe it?
HILDA: Well, it was something where he was dancing and he balanced the broom handle on the palm of his hand and he would dance. He did that successfully, but as far as the grace, which he seemed to feel he had, this extreme grace, well, he was very awkward. It was really a very comical dance. If he had just said this is a humorous dance it would have gone over big.
QUESTION: What exactly did he do, improvise steps while he balanced a broom or was he....
QUESTION: to music?
HILDA: Yes, whatever was playing. This was a source of amusement and also, I don't know for sure, but my feeling was, that he did this because he was very proud of his accomplishment. No one had to invite him to do this. If there was music playing and there was a place on the floor, well, he'd do this dance. I believe he made two trips to the Orient if I remember correctly. I think it was on the second trip that he became involved with the Whirling Dervish beliefs. And when he came back I understand that he did quite a bit of the Whirling. Now, maybe he was very good at that? I don't know.
QUESTION: He taught his disciples to dance.
HILDA: One other thing that I know about him was that, if I recall, I wish I had a better memory for names, but he had at various times people who he called his secretary. Two or three of them were men and I think there also was a woman, I'm not sure. But he had told them, you see he was a heir to a—his father worked for Levi Strauss and I understand they were very well to do. And when the father passed away he left the money to his brother and his mother, and Samuel's was put in trust because the money would just go right through his fingers. Well, his brother passed away, and his mother passed away, and I believe there was a brother who passed away last and not too long before Samuel had his accident and died as a result. He used to come into the office and he could hardly wait to get all that money because with his mother's passing his brother got it and his brother was very ill for awhile and Samuel was waiting for him to pass away so that he would have this fortune. And all these people on this ranch, why, he had promised that the money would, or at least a portion of this money would go for developing this and there was someplace I believe in either New Mexico or Texas where they had developed something, and money was suppose to go there. There were also several of the boys, including my son, who were to have had a small legacy. And in fact when the will was probated, no there was no will as I understand it, so in the probation there must have been names or something because I received a notice on behalf of my son which I sent on to him and it gave notice that it was being probated and that there would be a hearing at a certain time. Well, of course, he was back East and he didn't go or do anything about it. I had figured if anything would develop certainly we would hear since they had sent this. We never heard anything from that day to this. Later one of the young men, who had been his secretary and who had gone at one time to Switzerland with Samuel came in and said there was no will, that the whole thing had fallen through. And he came in also to apologize to us because it had been Samuel's desire that we should handle all air ticketing or travel arrangements. Some of the young people did come in. My partner worked with them so I don't know their names. They came in and they bought tickets from time to time. Then one time, I don't know what happened, something with the flight and they were of course upset. It was nothing that we had any control over, but to my knowledge they never came back. But it's really a shame. I don't know where that money went to, it's suppose to have been quite a fortune.
QUESTION: Do you know anything about his relationship with the others at the Sufi School (Kaaba Allah House)?
HILDA: I don't know exactly, but evidently he was a disturbance to them. I had a visit from Ted Reindollar and we went out. I was working at the other agency at the time and he came into the office to see me and we went out for coffee. We were talking and I told him I had quite a few visits from Samuel and he said to me "Be careful of that man, he is a very evil man." And I said, "Well, I don't know. I don't have any fear of him". Which I don't because I have my own ways and knowledge of protecting myself. By that time I knew a little bit more too. But, I don't know what it was, but evidently this might have been a co-census of opinion among them, because Ted was at the Sufi school also at the time of this disturbance.
QUESTION: There was some kind of breaking away? The school members felt they couldn't live with the "disturbance," was Samuel causing this?
HILDA: Evidently. Now, I know Hazel. She never said very much about it. The only way that I knew that she would be disturbed by this, whatever was going on, would be her own actions. She would get rather nervous and fussed over these things. I have no idea what was going on and as I say I never inquired of Hazel.
QUESTION: Can you remember any other occasions during the time Samuel lived at the Sufi school when you all got together?
HILDA: Well, there were not many neighborhood parties, the only one I actually recall was the Christmas party when I met Samuel. That was at Marie Harris's house on Creek Road. But I also know this, he used to leave the Sufi School from time to time and go back somewhere in the South, I believe. And he did some teaching or worked with children there. But what that was I don't know. So he did that a least once each year. Until such time as he left the Sufi School. Did you ever visit at the Sufi School? We lived right above it on Woodlane. I used to visit with Hazel Armstrong there, but I never went into any of the meeting room, where they held services or whatever. Evidently those rooms were only for the Sufi members. But into the kitchen and into a little porch living room, this is where Hazel would entertain when I'd come. It was rather a rambling type of home.
QUESTION: Are you still in contact with any of the people who did live there then?
HILDA: No, because Ted died a few years back and I just read last week where his brother died in Hawaii, Charlie Reindollar. We got involved in folk dancing there and Samuel, of course, wasn't involved in that part of it, but he was there doing his broom dance.
QUESTION: He didn't do any folk dancing?
HILDA: Oh, he did a little bit, but I don't think people wanted particularly to be partners with him.
QUESTION: So, he was kind of an outcast, or they put him in a position of being an outsider while inside the school?
HILDA: Yes, yes. I believe so. Of course, he blamed it all on this young man who came in. I think their headquarters were in S.F. and there was some woman at the head of it.
QUESTION: Mrs. Martin?
HILDA: Yes, Mrs. Martin. And, I wish I could remember that young man's name that came in there. I think she was the one who put him in charge of the School here in Fairfax. And it was when she put him in charge, that was the time that Samuel was thrown out. He was fighting about that because it was his feeling that he should have been put in as the head of the school. And of course that lead to daggers among them. But prior to that there had been differences of opinion. I know that not any of them cared too much for Samuel. As I said, Hazel never said anything but she was upset by this discord. Samuel could be erratic to be around and this was probably some of the difficulty. And I do know that in incidents of that nature he had a very vicious temper. I had evidence of that over the little things that Hazel left me which he felt should have been his. He was very angry and really viciously so. And that's why, well I wouldn't argue about anything like that anyhow. But very definitely, the viciousness of his attack was … why, I said I don't want any part of it.
QUESTION: But in your first impression, when you thought of him taking care of your children, you said that you felt he was harmless. Can you tell us anything more about that first impression?
HILDA: Well, my feeling was that he was harmless, but I didn't feel that he was all together there. That was really my first impression.
QUESTION: Did people at the school feel this way too?
HILDA: Yes, probably. But I really do, to this day, feel that he had an ability that he was unable to express fully, just as he was awkward in his physical actions. I don't know if you ever noticed but he was never a graceful man and it was the same thing with his mental capacity. The capacity was there but there was something that he couldn't express as you or I would. Some sort of shortcoming there. I wouldn't begin to try to analyze why, it was just what I felt. But other than that we enjoyed him and just accepted him. He was kind of a character. Eccentric, you might say.
QUESTION: Do you think there was a change in him after his trips to the East? Outwardly, that you could have noticed?
HILDA: No, I don't really think so, except perhaps that he might have regained or gained more confidence. He felt more sure of himself and he felt that he had accomplished something and he was very proud of this. He had accomplished some sort of rapport with those among the whirling dervishes and the other religions, the people who he contacted. He told me that they thought very highly of him and that he could go almost anywhere among them, that most Caucasians would not be able to do this. It did establish a feeling of worthiness. He went into Zen in Japan and all. Too bad I didn't save his letters. There was another thing with the letters. He would type one letter and send it to as many people as the typewriter would make carbon copies for him. And his letters were always on the jolly key. He was never down or depressed, really. He was more or less exuberant most of the time. And his letters would give forth the same feeling. But he never really said much in the letters either. You didn't get much information.
QUESTION: You personally had good times with Samuel?
HILDA: Yes, we didn't do too much. He used to love to bake cakes. And his cakes were like his dancing. He'd bring them up and they'd well, they weren't baked long enough or they'd be collapsed. And he'd bring up these delicious cakes. I don't know how the others did, but I'm sure they did the same thing; we never tried to hurt his feelings in any way, we always accepted the cakes and if we must, we sat down and had toffee and cake. That seems to be more or less the pattern, that it wasn't always just as it should be. But nothing harmful about it that I could see. Although Ted was concerned. He told me not to become involved with him, that in other words, he felt that Samuel had an evil power that he could exert.
QUESTION: So right up to the very end of his life at certain points he connected with you, either at your agency or on your birthday; he always remembered you. He must have very fond feelings for you.
HILDA: Yes, I believe so just as I did for him. I reciprocated also. But as far as any parties or anything like that, we didn't do that. He was always welcomed here. In fact, he compromised me one time, or at least to all appearances. I was still living on the hill and my husband was going to Nevada to visit his sister and I didn't want to go, I had things to do. So I said go ahead without me. Just before he left, Samuel turned up. And he stayed the night. There was just Samuel and me, the kids were grown and gone. The next morning I was out digging in the garden and who should come by but my husband's brother. He was also going up to Nevada and had come by to see if Bing wanted to go. I told him that he was already up there. So he said," do you want to come with me?" and I said "no," and with that, Samuel walks out of the house and out into the garden. Well, I didn't explain his presence or anything, I thought it was none of his business. I've never forgotten that, it's always tickled me.
QUESTION: Some of the neighbors I’ve talked to had the impression that Sam was a ladies' man. Did you ever see him in that light?
HILDA: No, but he was always talking about a fiancé. He always had a fiancé most of them were East Indian girls. I never saw them, or met them. But he always had a fiancé and he was always going to be married within a year's time or whatever. And this went on for years. And of course, nothing ever developed. Now, whether this was in his mind or what, I have no idea. I hadn't thought of that for a long time. But as far as being a ladies' man, the one that they considered the ladies man was Ted Reindollar.