ARBOR OUTLOOK: Parker House, Charles Dickens and Marvin Gaye
“Are things really getting better…
like the newspapers say?”
“What’s Happening Brother?” as performed by Marvin Gaye
Harvey D. Parker’s rise to economic good fortune was laborious and slow and accomplished over several decades. Parker left the Maine family farm at age 20 without a penny, moved to Boston, and initially labored at Hunt’s Restaurant. He soon saved enough to buy out the owner. In 1833 he opened Parker’s Restaurant, formed a business partnership and ultimately financed the construction of what would become the longest continually operated hotel in America, The Omni Parker House Hotel (opened in 1855). His net worth upon his death in 1884 was well over $1 million, quite a sum in those days for a once penniless out-of-towner.
On a recent trip to the Northeast, I stayed at Parker’s famous hotel, where his ghost is said to wander the halls, inquiring among guests about the quality of their visit. The hotel is located on School Street, just down the way from the Boston Common and the state legislature, and was a natural gathering spot for prominent Bostonians. It also became the meeting place of the Saturday Club, whose early members included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, John Greenleaf Whittier, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Charles Dickens, who lived in the hotel for five months, recited “A Christmas Carol” for the first time to a gathering of the Saturday Club.
The Parker House is credited with inventing Boston cream pie, fashioning the Parker House roll, and creating the word “scrod,” which means the best and freshest fish of the day. And it made common in America the practice of charging separately for lodging and meals. John Wilkes Booth stayed there eight days before he shot President Abraham Lincoln. Ho Chi Minh and Malcolm X labored in the hotel kitchen.
Like Parker in his salad days, many Americans are slowly climbing the economic ladder. More than 3.5 million moved out of poverty last year, according to the New York Times. Some 2.9 million new jobs were created between 2014 and 2015. Twenty three states showed a decline in poverty levels, with others “staying flat” or losing no ground.
How did this happen? Economic conditions improved, which led to more hiring. A rise in minimum wages in some states lifted some workers. Job programs and employment counseling provided impact as well.
Most importantly, perhaps, many Americans, like Harvey Parker, are motivated to strive and achieve. There is no substitute for having the “want to” in the American workplace. Is it more difficult to go from rags to riches than it once was? Probably. Is it, however, still possible for individuals and families to improve their long-term financial circumstances with some degree of success? Absolutely.
Margaret R. McDowell, ChFC, AIF, author of the syndicated economic column “Arbor Outlook”, is the founder of Arbor Wealth Management, LLC, 850.608.6121~www.arborwealth.net), a fee-only Registered Investment Advisory Firm located near Sandestin.