Biographies & Memoirs



IT WAS STILL HARD FOR FORD TO BELIEVE THAT HIS FATHER had been dead for ten years. But now, whenever he doubted it, there was a team of accountants at the Kansas City offices of Arthur Young, as well as his watchful brother and three sisters, ready to remind him that it was time to divide up Fred Harvey’s estate. Many of them were in far different situations than they had been when Father died in 1901.

In many ways, Ford’s two youngest sisters had never completely grown up. Sybil, the youngest, was still living at home in Leavenworth with her mother. She had never been a robust child, and even now, at thirty-one, it wasn’t clear if she was taking care of her mother or the other way around.

While May had grown up sickly as well, she became strong enough to travel and attend private school, eventually moving to New York, where she married into a well-known, if not particularly well-to-do, family. In fact, her in-laws were rather infamous. She married the only son of New York’s most tragic mayor, Abraham “Elegant Oakey” Hall, a brilliant attorney turned political patsy. Hall had been brought down by the 1870 “Boss Tweed” scandals—in which the Democratic Party machine that got him elected mayor also helped shady contractors defraud the city of over $75 million ($1.3 billion). He spent the rest of the century trying to prove he had been a dupe, not a crook.

May’s husband, Herbert Hall—who was, like his father, called “Oakey”—had lost both his parents just before he met her in the late 1890s. He was a Williams College alum just like Minnie’s husband, John Huckel, and May apparently fell into one of those “me-too” relationships that sometimes occur when a beloved older sister marries. Oakey Hall was twelve years her senior, a moderately successful commercial real estate broker and member of the elite New York Players Club. But he was haunted by his father’s legacy, and the Harveys feared he was primarily interested in May for her money. Shortly after they married in 1902, she started requesting substantial advances on her inheritance. Oakey himself even asked Ford for a personal loan from the estate of $10,000 ($252,000). Still, since May adored him, the family more or less endured him.

Byron Harvey, on the other hand, married into a much sunnier family. His wife, Helen Daggett, was a lithe and lively Southern California girl who rarely missed an opportunity to prove that she could still do a handstand whenever family photos were being taken. Byron’s father-in-law, Charles Daggett, was a prominent Kansas City lawyer who in the late 1880s had moved his family to Pasadena, where the Daggetts became one of the town’s bedrock social families and co-founders of the Tournament of Roses Parade. Charles could actually take partial credit for starting the Rose Bowl, the nation’s first postseason college football game, since the decision to inaugurate the contest was made during one of the years he was parade chairman. A powerful civic leader in Los Angeles, he devoted much of his time to the “Good Roads Movement,” which tried to force state and federal officials to create better and perhaps even paved highways for all those new automobiles. Byron’s mother-in-law, Mary Stewart Daggett, was a celebrated literary figure in Southern California. She published several well-received novels, and her fiction was sometimes serialized in the Los Angeles Times, which was owned by their society friends the Otis family.

Byron had married Helen Daggett not long after his father’s death, and moved to Chicago when Ford arranged for him to work in the Santa Fe dining car division. The couple had three sons in quick succession, brought up in a stylish home in Lake Forest. Over time, Byron grew into a competent enough executive, although it was clear he did not inherit his father’s drive or vision.

He and his family lived the good life in Chicago, although it appeared they harbored some insecurities about their social status. People always assumed that the Harveys were richer than they really were. The family business threw off an enormous amount of cash every year, but it didn’t own things—factories, real estate—that were worth a lot of money and could appreciate in value. The company’s main assets were its ethos, its quality control, its loyal, almost cultish employees, and its management contracts. Fred Harvey was like an oil well that would never gush: It constantly needed to be pumped. In Chicago and Pasadena, Byron and Helen were surrounded by people who had earned, or inherited, tens of millions.

As Ford saw it, his younger brother aspired to be one of the idle rich, but didn’t seem to understand that he would always have to be one of the working rich.

With so much money now at stake, there was a lot of tension as Ford let his siblings know how Father’s estate would be handled. With the full support of his mother, he ruled the company as well as the family, so none of his siblings was in a position to challenge his decisions. They were all inheriting significant sums, and when Ford announced a restructuring plan for the company stock, they realized they would be getting even more.

Fred’s will left half of his assets—plus the family home on Olive Street and two smaller properties they owned in Leavenworth—to his wife, Sally, with the other half divided evenly among his five children. A detailed report of those assets had been prepared for each of them by accountants at Arthur Young; it was on legal-size ledger paper bound with a gray cover and held together by a red string. If they turned to page one, they saw that since their father’s death, his assets had nearly quadrupled in worth. The Fred Harvey estate was now valued, very conservatively, at $2.6 million ($61 million). Each sibling inherited $261,239.76 ($6.1 million), and the rest went to their mother.

Before they got the money, however, there was the matter of the stock in the newly restructured Fred Harvey corporation. Ford had created a complex scheme to ensure that he kept complete control of the business. He also wanted to prevent his mother and sisters from having any ownership stake—because he believed strongly that women should not own stock in a company run by a man. Sally Harvey and her daughters were told they had to sell their shares.

Minnie, especially, was taken aback by this. She had been active in the business, but was also being forced to sell her shares—and to her own husband. The final indignity was that since John Huckel didn’t have that kind of cash, she actually had to lend him the money to buy her own stock from her.

Byron was allowed to keep his shares, and buy some more from his mother (on an installment plan). But Ford was careful to ensure that his younger brother would never have the voting power to challenge his authority. Ford controlled most of the stock, with Dave the second-largest stockholder; Byron was a distant third.

To set the share prices, the company was valued at $1.5 million ($35 million), which made Dave uncomfortable; he knew Fred Harvey to be worth almost three times as much. But he was torn. As a trustee of the estate, he was bound to get as much for the company as he could, but in his new role as a part owner buying into the privately held stock, he didn’t want to pay any more than was necessary. So he reluctantly agreed to the valuation.

The shares were issued and immediately sold—after which each of them had to sign ten copies of a seven-page document typed on onionskin paper bound with brass rivets. Sally signed first, in small tight lettering that represented her official farewell to her husband of forty-eight years. Then Ford stepped up and executed the dramatic, eccentric signature he had developed so people knew when he was signing something personally (most company correspondence was routinely hand signed “Fred Harvey” regardless of who wrote the letter). Dave was next, and with his signature he finally became a part owner of the company to which he had dedicated his unswerving loyalty for thirty years. Then came Byron, Sybil, Minnie, and May, followed by John Huckel and finally Dave’s brother Harry, who was allowed to buy a few shares.

Ford signed one final time, as the president of the company—and with that, Fred Harvey’s estate was finally settled. Ten years after his death, every debt was paid, every promise kept, his good name better than ever.

Ford Harvey had honored his father in a way almost unprecedented in American business. And the next generation was well on its way. His debutante daughter, Kitty, was about to have her coming-out party in Kansas City, and his son, Freddy, was headed off to prep school at St. Mark’s in Massachusetts. From there, he was expected to go to Harvard and then, eventually, to inherit the business.

IN THE MONTHS after his father’s estate was settled, Ford Harvey began to reveal himself to the public the way he had always been known to friends and colleagues. It started when he accepted a very high-profile position in Kansas City: Federal appellate judge William Hook, who had been his father’s lawyer and one of his pallbearers, appointed Ford to lead the reorganization of the city’s bankrupt streetcar and elevated railway system. The job was a headache, but it did carry great political power—and came with one truly pleasing perk. When he and Dave walked to work together in the morning, Ford could now bring his Airedale along with him. And when he got to the office, he could send the dog back on a streetcar, where an attendant would make sure his new boss’s pet got off at the right stop and trotted home.

The court-appointed job made Ford more of a public figure than he had ever been in his life. In his fifteen years of running Fred Harvey, his name had never once appeared on a menu, advertisement, or piece of promotional literature for his company. Now it appeared at the bottom of every display ad for the Kansas City transit system, every public filing. And the fact that he ran Fred Harvey—and that the “original Fred Harvey” had been dead for ten years—began to be acknowledged more frequently in the local newspapers.

When Ford realized that his company didn’t collapse after he was revealed as the man behind the curtain, he started being more open with the press. He just made sure nothing too controversial came up in front of a reporter. Nobody needed to know, for instance, that President Taft, who weighed well over three hundred pounds, got himself stuck in one of the bathtubs at the Alvarado.

Ford was also raising his profile in Kansas City in other ways. He and his wife assumed a leading role in fund-raising efforts for a new hospital. Judy was also becoming even more immersed in Catholic charity work, and was developing a close working friendship with the new bishop of Kansas City, Thomas Lillis.

While some of Ford’s new public persona represented a change in attitude, he was, after all, a businessman, and he was likely preparing for a deal. Kansas City was finally building its new Union Station, which would be one of the largest depots in the country, befitting a city that was now rising to its geographic imperative. After all, Kansas City was the dead center of the United States, the middle of the middle of America. With this new station, it would lay claim to being the nation’s crossroads as well.

Ford wanted the station to be a national showcase for Fred Harvey. He also wanted to flex his muscles locally, sending a signal to any company trying to copy the Fred Harvey formula. There were several of these wannabe firms in Kansas City, primarily servicing railroads that Ford had turned down when they begged him to manage their eating houses. The largest competitor was the Van Noy company, which was primarily a newsstand company with “butcher boys” on commission aggressively trolling the trains; however, it also managed the eating houses and hotels along the Missouri Pacific and the Illinois Central. A lower-budget operation than Fred Harvey, it was profitable, and the brothers who ran it—the “Van Noy Boys”—were well-known in Kansas City society. The city was also home to the John J. Grier company, which handled the Rock Island Railroad, and the Brown News Company, which managed restaurants in Texas and Louisiana for the Southern Pacific.

Ford made a deal for the Union Station that quickly put these competitors in their place. For the first time ever, Fred Harvey would control not only the dining facilities—“there won’t be any better restaurant in America,” a company spokesman promised—but all the retail stores and other services as well.

Everything in the new Union Station except the trains themselves would be operated by Fred Harvey. The designs for all the interior spaces would be done by Mary Colter, who after years as a freelancer had recently come to work for Fred Harvey full-time, joining the Tenth Legion at the Kansas City office as the in-house design and decoration guru.

Ford was a little nervous about expanding so extensively beyond their core business, but his brother-in-law John Huckel insisted they were up to the challenge. It wouldn’t be like starting the Indian curio business at a location thousands of miles away. The new corporate offices of Fred Harvey would be right upstairs at the Union Station—like an observation tower—so they could watch over their new stores. Fred Harvey could use Kansas City as a kind of laboratory to test what the American public wanted.

And for the first time, the top brass at Fred Harvey would be able to have lunch every day in their own restaurant, served by their own Harvey Girls.

Ford knew his mother would love the new station restaurants. Still living in the family home in Leavenworth with her unmarried daughter, Sybil, Sally Harvey had grown heavy and weak over the past few years—but one of her remaining pleasures was lunch in Kansas City with Ford and Minnie. Unfortunately, she did not live to see the station finished. After a brief illness in the early summer of 1913, she died at home with her children at her bedside, just after breakfast on a Monday in late June, at the age of seventy-one. She was buried next to Fred in Mount Muncie Cemetery.

Ford mourned his mother very publicly, and for so long that it caused whispers in Kansas City society. He wore a black armband around his coat sleeve every day for over a year, prompting “Betty Ann”—who wrote the “Audacious Tattlings” column for Kansas City’s weekly society newspaper, The Independent—to wonder aloud if it was good taste to make such a public display of bereavement for so long.

Ford is in all things one of the most perfectly groomed men about town, a regular glass of fashion and mold of form, save in this one instance,” Betty Ann opined. “I don’t see why he does it.” She suggested that if he insisted on remaining grief stricken, he at least switch to something more modest and appropriate, perhaps “an old-time hat band of somber crepe.”

DAVE BENJAMIN KNEW the opening of the new Union Station, with its Fred Harvey corporate offices upstairs, was going to be hell. With so much hard work looming, he decided to take his wife, Linnie, on a vacation during the summer of 1914, before business matters became too stressful.

They chose the Grand Tour of Europe for their getaway—and they were having a pretty grand time, too, until Germany declared war on Russia on August 1. Suddenly the Benjamins found themselves trapped in Europe, along with what the State Department estimated were at least one hundred thousand other American tourists.

As France and Britain quickly joined the war, Americans abroad could no longer cash personal checks, traveler’s checks, or letters of credit—so even the richest among them were effectively broke. Worse, they had no way of getting home. Of the hundreds of steamships Americans used to cross the Atlantic, only a handful actually flew the American flag. European-owned liners were needed for troops. Cornelius Vanderbilt III and his wife soon figured out how to charter a private yacht—flying Old Glory—and went home to Newport, but ordinary well-to-do people like Dave and his wife were stuck. From the resort town of Rorschach, Switzerland, they headed to Zurich, then Lucerne, then Bern, seeking help at the American and British consulates, as well as at the bank, the telegraph office, and the travel bureau.

Even Dave, the consummate emergency maven, didn’t know what to do.

One American general said that he thought President Woodrow Wilson should negotiate a six-week truce on the North Atlantic so all American tourists could get home.

“Otherwise,” he told the New York Times, “incalculable hardship will be imposed upon an army of innocent people whose only fault is that they should visit Europe as usual to spend countless sums of their good money.”

Wilson, who had defeated both Republican president Taft and Teddy Roosevelt (who ran as an independent) in the 1912 election, held strongly to an isolationist policy to keep America from being sucked into the war. He arranged for an armored ship, the Tennessee, to sail to Europe hauling nearly $8 million ($178 million) in gold to rescue tourists. Part of the money was government aid, but most was from American banks so that the wealthier travelers could cash large checks.

Dave and his family were never in actual danger—there are worse places to be “trapped” than a hotel in the Swiss Alps—but they were stranded nonetheless. After a week of trying, they finally received personalized letters of passage from the U.S. envoy in Bern. With those documents, they were able to get to Paris, and then to England, where they arranged first-class accommodations on the RMS Cameronia out of Glasgow.

By the time they returned to Kansas City, they were sapped of any restorative powers from their “vacation,” but there was no time to rest. Union Station was opening soon: They had only two months left to finish the new corporate offices, the new commissary to serve all the dining cars and eating houses (including massive humidors capable of holding three million cigars and five million cigarettes), the company’s most ambitious dining facilities to date, and its first-ever Fred Harvey retail stores.

TO SET THE PROPER TONE for opening day in Kansas City, Ford had his assistant reach out to Shep Smith, who, at age nineteen, had been the first customer at the Topeka lunchroom in 1876. Smith was now a well-known engineer on the Frisco line, and Ford heard he had been chosen to handle the throttle on the first Frisco passenger train departing from the new Kansas City train shed.

Tell Shep to come here with his family ahead of the opening tomorrow,” Ford told his assistant. “He drank the first cup of coffee my father ever made for sale, and he shall drink the first cup of coffee ever served in the new Kansas City union station.” In fact, the Smiths ate the first full-course meal served in the station, just before it opened to the public on Friday, October 30, 1914.

With battles raging in Europe, President Wilson agreed to take time from his busy day at the White House to push a gold button on his desk to cue the festivities in Kansas City. There is some debate about whether he actually pushed the button, as was widely reported at the time (an enterprising journalist later checked his secretary’s logs and determined he wasn’t there at the crucial moment). But the button was pushed, and the front doors of Kansas City Union Station opened to reveal an eighty-piece band playing “America the Beautiful.” During the first twenty-four hours, over fifty thousand people came to see the building, a massive Beaux Arts structure spread over an eighteen-acre plaza. Mary Colter had designed a 200-seat lunchroom with brilliantly buffed black marble counters and swiveling cane-backed seats, a soda fountain decorated with Roman urns made by Tiffany in gold and silver, and a 152-seat dining room that was a model of elegance.

Ford had brought some of the top Harvey Girls from around the country to staff the Kansas City restaurants, which reportedly had 170 employees and kitchens that were

equipped with the most improved paraphernalia for the cooking and serving of food. There are pots and pans of hammered copper, cauldrons for soup and beef a la mode, and a special stationary steam pot for boiling hams. Then there is a machine that peels potatoes by bouncing and rubbing them against a rapidly revolving cylinder. Every emergency in the way of odd appetites has been provided for. Should any guest enter the dining room who prefers his butter without salt, there is a ½-gallon glass churn on a shelf in one of the cupboards. Sweet butter may be had in three minutes by turning a small crank.

The menus were built around dishes that were already popular in other Fred Harvey eateries, plus some innovations, such as a curried chicken casserole with sherry, cream sauce, and Swiss cheese, and one Harvey Girl’s favorite recipe for macaroni and cheese with oysters. On the first day they served over five thousand meals, and the rush of customers continued through the weekend. One newspaper noted with interest that “many Kansas Citians ate their Sunday dinner there”—since the idea of eating Sunday dinner in a restaurant was still unheard of in most parts of the country.

While the restaurants were a hit, it was the Fred Harvey retail stores that intrigued visitors. John Huckel had managed to create boutiques with selections as extensive as anything in Chicago or New York, but with friendlier, homespun Harvey service. There was a Fred Harvey perfumery, with scents from all over the world. There was a Fred Harvey drugstore, the biggest and best in town. There was a Fred Harvey toy store, since more families were traveling with children than ever before. There was a Fred Harvey gift shop with Indian curios.

And, after years of selling only a modest selection of the most popular books at newsstands, the company finally had a large full-service bookshop. It was open twenty-four hours and stocked thousands of titles on gorgeous wooden shelves. Any book they didn’t have could be ordered and express mailed free of charge—or if you were heading west to stay at a Harvey hotel, it could be sent on the train and delivered to your hotel room. The store immediately became book buyer Frank Clough’s test kitchen (and within months he had helped create a national best-seller: Gene Stratton-Porter’s Michael O’Halloran, of which the Harvey System sold an astonishing 17,500 copies).

With the town’s best restaurants and stores now located under one roof—and, in many cases, open around the clock—the train station took on a whole new role in expanding Kansas City. What had previously been merely a place to pick up, drop off, or feed passengers was now the city’s new “downtown”—but indoors. In fact, it can be argued that the Fred Harvey retail and restaurant operation in Kansas City’s Union Station was the nation’s first true shopping center or indoor mall, where people could come by train or car and shop in a variety of stores. (It opened a full decade before the complex most historians call the first shopping center in America: the Country Club Plaza in suburban Kansas City, which was created by a social friend of Ford’s, J. C. Nichols, to compete with Fred Harvey’s Union Station shops.)

And on the second floor of the new station, Mary Colter had designed handsome offices for Ford, his Tenth Legion, and the large staff, in a style that combined Mission Revival woodcraft and downtown power office: high vaulted ceilings with dark crossbeams; wood-paneled walls that were, on closer examination, made from interlocking pieces; brass fittings; and subtle touches like the four small carved Indian heads inset in the stone fireplace in Ford’s large corner office.

Ford worked at a large mahogany table desk, although he kept the antique rolltop from his father’s study nearby: a Continental Biedermeier-style walnut desk, circa 1820. Hanging on the wall was a copy of the oldest Fred Harvey menu that survived the office fire—a dining car menu from 1888—and on his desk was a curious paperweight. There was a small metal plaque that read, “Fred Harvey, Topeka, Kansas, Founded 1876,” and, behind it, a large wooden acorn that anyone who knew the Harveys well would recognize. It had once adorned the newel post on the stairway of the family home in Leavenworth, and was knocked off by one of the rambunctious children sliding down the railing.

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