Fighting for Survival
In the short time of Harriman's rise he has succeeded in making himself the most cordially disliked man, personally, in the whole financial community. Men who are associated with him in great enterprises make no bones of commenting on it, probably because no one has ever heard that Harriman cared whether people liked him or not. His brusqueness of manner, inversely proportional to his physical size, has gone along with an absolute intolerance of dissenting opinion and a sheer inability to see that any one else cannot grasp a point as quickly as he does, to make a board meeting with Harriman at the table something to be looked upon in the same light as a visit to the dentist. Having jumped to his conclusion by performing in a minute the mental processes that might require a day in average men, he considers it time wasted to sit around while other slower mortals are pondering the things out, and the marvellous clearness of perception and accuracy of his thinking have made his conclusions right so often that the possibility of being mistaken does not enter his mind.
—New York Times, May 13, 1906
All the disparate forces bearing down on Harriman in this worst year of his life came together in December 1906 like strands of a tapestry woven by a malevolent fate. Against this inescapable weave Harriman fought with dwindling strength but undiminished resolution. To his friends he made no complaint regardless of how much pain and frustration he endured, but those near him saw the agony in his eyes and the drawn, pinched features. The fight was taking its toll; for the first time Harriman began to look like an old man.
The month opened on a gloomily prophetic note with the funeral of Samuel Spencer, the brilliant president of Morgan's Southern Railway, who had died in a shocking accident when one of his passenger trains smashed into the rear of another. Harriman had known Spencer for years and thought highly of him. On a crisp December afternoon he slipped unobtrusively into St. John's Episcopal Church, one of the last to arrive, and brooded through the service, his mind flashing from the image of an old friend departed to the grisly accident that killed him. It was the kind of carelessness Harriman had fought against