Orison Swett Marden Chapter XVI
The Parting Of The Ways
The Life Story of Orison Swett Marden Chapter XVI:
When the excitement which followed the events related in the
preceding chapter had subsided, Marden had an opportunity to review his
For some time he seemed to have been on a sleigh, rushing downward
with such headlong speed that nothing could stop him until he should
reach bottom. Looking over the wide field of his hotel operations, he
saw nothing but ruin on every side, for the Kearney catastrophe was only
one of many.
After his return from Europe, and prior to his going to Nebraska, he
had visited Florida, and, while exploring that State had been much
impressed with the beauties of Fort George Island, in Duval County, just
off the western coast, in the Gulf of Mexico. He believed that it could
be made into an ideal health resort.
He succeeded in interesting capitalists in his idea, and they joined
him in purchasing nearly the whole island. A company was formed and a
first-class hotel was erected.
Everything looked favorable for the enterprise, but hardly had the
hotel been completed when, in some mysterious way, a fire started upon
the roof. The watchman, having detected it in time, and having
succeeded, as he believed, in putting it out, hurried to his sick wife
in the lower part of the building.
She had been alarmed by the threatening blaze, and her husband wanted
to reassure her, by letting her know that the danger had passed. But it
had not. He had not quite stamped out the fire, but had left it
smoldering. No sooner had he gone than it flamed up again. There was no
fire department on the island, and the new hotel was quickly reduced to
As Doctor Marden was the heaviest investor, this was a serious blow
to his fortunes. Coming about the time that the crop failures started in
Nebraska, it greatly increased his financial embarrassments. He tried
later to extricate himself by selling the Palmer House, at Grand Island.
But though the entire amount of the purchase money on that property,
over twenty thousand dollars, was nearly paid up, all he succeeded in
getting for it was three hundred and eleven dollars!
Moreover, so utterly had the crop failures demoralized business in
Nebraska that all of his investments in and around Kearney had turned
out even worse!
Like the dreaded cyclones of the West which travel with lightning
speed across the face of a smiling country leaving trails of ruin and
devastation in their wake, the financial cyclone, which started in
Kearney, did not stop until it had wiped out the entire Marden fortune
and left him deeply in debt.
The phantom of disaster, seemed to travel across the continent to
Block Island, there destroying by fire some four or five hundred Marden
bathing houses. Through the negligence of his Block Island agent, nearly
all of his insurance had expired, but he rebuilt the houses before the
next season opened.
In July, however, when the Manisses Hotel was well started in
business, smallpox broke out in one of its cottages. The dreaded disease
spread until there were five cases. The hotel was quarantined, the
summer colony rushed away from the Island, and business for the season
The fury of the financial cyclone had still not yet come to full
force. In an effort to relieve the situation in Nebraska, Marden had
borrowed some money from a private banker, of Providence, giving a
mortgage on the Manisses as security.
The banker, at this critical juncture, suddenly died. His heirs were
all strangers to the owner of the Manisses, and they sold the hotel at
auction. He thus lost the entire thirty thousand dollars he had invested
— the first fruits of saving from his college days.
n the midst of those difficulties, the heirs of the man who had lost
his life in the Midway Hotel fire brought suit for five thousand dollars
against the hotel. Feeling in Kearney, however, was so strong in favor
of the lessee — Marden — that the attorney for the prosecution saw there
was no possibility of getting a local jury who would bring in a verdict
against Marden. Therefore, he went to the attorney for the defense and
voluntarily offered to release his client from the suit.
Meanwhile, through the good will of the Kearney citizens, a new
Midway Hotel had risen on the ruins of the old. But, owing to the
changed conditions following the collapse of the boom, there seemed to
be little demand for a first-class hotel and it languished for lack of
While operating the hotel and hoping against hope that business would
improve, Marden spent his spare time in rewriting the manuscript of his
book. Yet he did not relinquish his desperate efforts to retrieve his
"Material success was not Marden's goal. "To benefit men" had always been his ideal."
In the summer of 1892 the Hot Springs Company, of South Dakota, sent
for him to open their new hotel. He bought the necessary furniture in
Grand Rapids and Chicago, fitted up the hotel, and managed it until the
business was well established. Then the company became involved
financially and he was obliged to sue for his salary. The jury brought
in a verdict in his favor, awarding him twenty-seven hundred dollars.
The following year he put in a bid for the management of the Park
Gate Hotel, one of the largest of the World's Fair hotels in Chicago.
Twelve other hotel men also competed, but, although several of these,
including one from the then famous Leland Hotel, considerably underbid
him, the owners of the Park Gate, after thorough investigation of the
claims of the different contestants, decided to employ Doctor Marden.
Their decision was fully justified by the results. The Park Gate,
with a frontage of an entire block, had a fine location, between the
Sixty-second and Sixty-fourth Street entrances to the World's Fair
grounds; and, owing to its excellent management, it became one of the
most popular resorts of visitors to the Fair. From three to four
thousand people daily patronized its dining rooms.
"It is psychological law that whatever we desire to accomplish we must impress upon the subjective or subconscious mind."
- Orison Swett Marden
Orison Swett Marden Chapter XVI , continued...
After the close of the World's Fair, Marden returned to Kearney — not
to stay, but to wind up his affairs there and decide upon his future.
The New Midway Hotel was proving a liability instead of an asset. He was
operating it under a long lease, and was losing money. Already he had
paid nearly twenty-five thousand dollars in rent, while the loss
resulting from decreased business was very heavy.
Finding it impossible, under such conditions, to live up to the terms
of his contract, he asked the owner of the hotel to release him from
it. In return, he offered to give him the entire furnishings of the
hotel, which were almost new. This was agreed to, and Marden was free to
quit Kearney and start in a new field.
What should he do? Throw himself into the calling which had been
so long beckoning? Devote his life whole-heartedly to the work of
authorship which he yearned to do?
But could he make a living while writing? Would his books be published when written? Would it not be better to stay a little longer in the hotel business — at least until he could save something to live on while trying his luck in a new field?
These and scores of other questions now presented themselves. It was
one of the supremely critical moments of his life. He had succeeded in
business, and then, through no fault of his own, had failed.
He had made a fortune, and had lost it, — had tasted both the
sweetness of success and the bitterness of failure, — had apparently
canceled all he had accomplished by a result of his latest failures, —
had gone up like a rocket only to come down like its stick, even while
the meteor-like glare was fading into darkness and night; and there he
stood, at the age of forty-four, not merely penniless, but heavily in
debt, considering what he could, might, should, or would do to prevent
defeat and disaster and fashion the destiny his heart and soul desired.
The question of questions was, whether the remaining years of his
life — his knowledge, his experience, his garnered wisdom, — all the
ripe fruit of his own bitter struggles from childhood to youth, from
youth to middle age, — should be used in the service of men's bodies, or
in the service of their souls? He could make another fortune in
catering to their stomachs. There seemed no doubt about that. It was
more than doubtful if he could make a bare living in catering to their
The decision to be made was momentous. Material success was not his
goal. "To benefit men" had always been his ideal; and, when the time
came to choose between that ideal and the accumulation of a fortune,
there was no struggle in his heart. It was only a question of ways and
means. There was no hesitation or uncertainty as to his ultimate
The crisis in his fortunes crystallized that objective and forced him
to a decision. He felt that, if he was to realize his early hopes and
dreams — his visions of becoming the Samuel Smiles of America — there
was no time to lose.
If he should pass middle life without making a supreme effort to that
end, his vision would fade, his ambition die, his hopes turn to ashes.
He would get into a rut from which it would be impossible to extricate
himself. To be true to the best thing that was in him, he must cut off
all side-lines and sacrifice all conflicting interests in the pursuit of
his purpose. There was no middle course. He had come to the parting of
Looking back over the years of struggle and stress through which he
had passed, he felt that he had been divinely led, step by step, and
that each important decision he had made had been in obedience to the
prompting of an inner voice which spoke to him from out of the silence.
"Marden knew if he was
to realize his early hopes and dreams — his visions of becoming the
Samuel Smiles of America — there was no time to lose."
"Lowly listening" at this crisis, he heard the word and went through
the experience which later prompted him to write: "There is a divinity
within us which speaks only when every other voice is hushed, — only
giving its message in the silence. There are many times — times of storm
and stress and doubt — when about all we can do is to hearken to that
inner voice, which bids us to hold on to the hand of the Divine Guide
until we have run through the tempest zone."
"We have to disregard the criticisms and the discouragements of others,
as well as the assaults of fear and doubt, and press on to our goal. We
have to close our ears to the voices outside, and listen to the voice
In all our difficulties, especially in great crises, we have to take Faith as our guide."
So, the great decision was made. He turned over the last page of his
life as a hotel man, wrote "Finished" on it, and closed the book.
Taking Faith as his guide, the middle-aged man — even as the small
boy of thirty odd years before — started for the Open Road. He did not
know that he was setting out on the most beautiful, the most fruitful
and satisfying adventure of his life.
He simply followed the Gleam.
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