At the present moment Mr. Harriman enjoys more genuine ill-will than any other man in the country…. In the minds of the ever-fickle public he has even threatened to dispossess the veteran John Rockefeller…. For three months I have sat in this office and firmly dealt with a procession of writers who asked, nay begged, for the privilege of writing about Harriman. It seemed at one time as if the Literature of the Twentieth Century would consist entirely of one subject. A hundred years hence anthologists would speak of 1907 as the opening of the early Harriman period.
—American Magazine, April 1907
James Stillman never forgot the evening he had settled comfortably into his box at the opera to enjoy a pleasant evening of music. As the performance swelled, Harriman appeared suddenly at the entry and said, “Stillman, I want to see you a minute.” Reluctantly, Stillman left his seat and went into the hallway. “Come this way,” Harriman motioned, leading him downstairs past the cloakroom to the street, where, to Stillman's surprise, a brougham stood waiting. They got inside, and the driver pointed the horses toward East 55th Street. “Well, Harriman,” asked the perplexed Stillman, “what is it you want of me?” 1
“Well, wait a few minutes,” replied Harriman. “We will soon be there.”
The coach stopped in front of Harriman's house. They went inside and up the stairs to the library. By this time Stillman's curiosity was pushing hard against his formidable reserve. “Harriman,” he said finally, “what is it?”
Harriman fetched a box of cigars and offered it to Stillman, then went over and stirred the fire to life.
“Well, Harriman, I am still waiting,” Stillman said yet again. “What is it you want?”
“Oh! You must have been tired of that opera,” Harriman said without smiling. “I know I was, and I thought we might pass the time better at home.”
This to Stillman was vintage Harriman. He decided what he wished to do and did it. He didn't bother asking Stillman what he wanted to do but whisked him away for a quiet evening of cigars and conversation. As they sat talking amid thick, bluish curls of smoke, Stillman asked, “Harriman, what is it in life that most interests you and gives you most pleasure?”