Major Robert W. Imbrie, a U.S. Army officer and a diplomat, stopped at a fountain in Tehran, Persia, present day Iran, to take pictures in July 1924 with his companion Melvin Seymour, a civilian. Little did they know that picture-taking was considered sacrilegious by Persian Moslems who had gathered around the city’s sacred fountain, a devotional site for purported miraculous healings, to discuss their dreaded religious enemies, the Baha’ists.
As the two Americans innocently snapped a few pictures, the Persians accused the pair of being Baha’ists and dragged them from their carriage. The angry mob cut, kicked and beat Imbrie and Seymour. Several hours later, Imbrie died from his injuries. Nearby soldiers and police made only feeble efforts to rescue the unarmed Americans and may have in fact participated in the deadly riot. Persian police eventually arrested hundreds of people in connection with the murder, but Americans back home demanded to know why local authorities had done little to prevent the violence.
A number of newspaper articles speculated that Imbrie had been killed as part of a British oil-related plot to stir up bad blood between the United States and Persia. In October, an army private named Morteza was executed for the murder of Imbrie and the Persian government gave Imbrie’s widow $60,000. One month later, two other suspects came to trial for the murder of Imbrie, but their death sentences were not carried out.
For the protection of citizens abroad, U.S. Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes insisted the two prisoners be put to death, and the Persian officials complied by killing them.
Imbrie was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.
Officially called the Islamic Republic of Iran today, the country was named Persia until 1935. Teheran is the capital.
Baha’ism has a small following in Iran. It stresses the unity of all religions, universal education, world peace and the equality of men and woman. Followers also advocate an international language and government. Baha’i teachings have spread across the world and have especially taken root in Africa in recent years.