Monday, September 29, 2008

Silver, 1903. photo credit: Western History/Geneology Dept., Denver Public Library

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Silver, 1903

Rose Mary Echo Silver Dollar Tabor, 1903, photo credit: Western History/Genealogy Dept., Denver Public Library
Searching for information about Silver online is really embarking on a treasure hunt. The information at first seems plentiful, then you realize that most of the information/interest is about her mother, Baby Doe, then you realize that the few morsels out there actually about Silver get repeated over and over again. Her "downward spiral" and her failed literary career. Her many moves and her living under assumed names. Nothing, before Temple's book, from a more "enlightened" point of view. Nothing that postulates why she was living under assumed names, or very little, or why she moved so often. In other words, not many sympathetic storytellers out there. The facts are so slim, somet type of fiction has to be made. Why does it have to assume the worst? What if she was doing the best that could be done as a single woman pursuing a career in the years 1903 - 1925? Almost all of the source material paints a tawdry picture, as if that were the only explanation. Maybe somethine else is possible. Maybe the reports were slanted. Facts seem to be difficult to come by, opinions are plentiful.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Looking for ads from around 1900 to 1925 that Silver may have run into, especially the alcohol related ads. How much was genetic, how much environment, how much was self-medication against what she ran into once she arrived in Denver? She worked at the Denver Post for six months. She's had four songs published, later Lizzie helped her publish her novel and she took it around various places looking to have it reviewed. Later still, she started her own Gazette. It also folded. She had to make a living. She must have been disappointed with the results of her efforts. There is much more info out there about Lizzie than about Silver. Most of what has been written about Silver is made up completely and not very flattering.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Lizzie and Silver's cabin in Leadville today. Souvenir hunters tore the cabin apart after Lizzie's death looking for the fortune they believed she was hiding. They found nothing. The cabin had to be reconstructed to become the tourist destination it now is. For a small fee you can take the tour, listen to a guide tell the tale of the Tabors and look into what is left of the still flooded Matchless Mine up on a hill above Leadville. By car, it takes less than five minutes to drive up the hill and park. The cabin is, at most, fifty feet from the parking lot. While Lizzie was alive, she traveled on foot and when snow was on the ground it took her a long time to get down to the city, longer to get back home, sometimes falling to her knees in the snow and crawling back. It was here her body was found, frozen to death, the winter of 1935, ten years after Silver's horrible death by scalding, first reported as a suicide, later determined to have been a murder.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

If not for the drink...

If she hadn't started drinking at an early age, how would her life have been different? If her parents had been anyone else, her last name, anything other than Tabor, would she have followed her sister Lily and settled for marriage? What else was possible for a woman in 1910? A woman living on her own, trying to make her own wage, support herself, who had a few bad habits? Was it just bad luck that landed her in bad rooming houses with abusive men, in low paying jobs? Why did she give up writing? Who were her friends and how low were their expectations?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Silver loved animals

When she was young, living in Leadville with her mother, Silver would often ride to town, down the mountain on a white horse. It was due to her affair, at a young age, with the stable owner, that her mother decided she'd have a better chance for success if she lived in Denver. Silver loved animals all her life. In her last apartment she had several cats. Reports are that she was very concerned for their safety as she was dying from being scalded. She yelled to her neighbors to close her door so they wouldn't run away.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Tabor Opera House, Leadville, Colorado
The opera house is closed on Sundays. There are never many visitors. Depending on the time of day, you can pretty much have the whole thing to yourself. There is a short entryway then a grand staircase. Along the walls of the stairs are framed pictures of the actors and actresses who have graced the stage over the years. Over the entranceway to the main hall are three portraits: Baby Doe, Horace Tabor, Augusts Tabor. The seats are just as small and cramped as the original, although only a few original seats remain. These are in the boxes to the side of the stage and are covered in red velvet and gilding. The stage is full of equipment. Some Tabor relatives were about to do a small musical show the next week. You walk up on stage and face the empty seats. It's not a big theater by today's standards but was impressive for its time. Oscar Wilde played here. If you walk down the side stairs, the dressing rooms have been made up to appear that the actors only just left and would be back shortly. But there's no telling how much of the staging came from the thrift store down the street and how much came from the theater itself. The lighting board is only one of two left in the nation that still works (more on this later). It's a surprisingly hollow, empty place. There is no sound of the crowd, no leftover exhalation of breath lingering around the baseboards. All has long ago been leeched out of the place. Now, instead of a store front, one side of the Opera house is a mini-theater with a big screen tv where you can see a short documentary on Leadville and its history. The other side, which also used to be store front, is a combo thrift shop, memory shop, antique store where you can buy books on the Tabors, postcards of the actors and actresses, mostly actresses, who appeared in the Opera House, and a wide collection of antiques for sale which may or more likely may not even be from the same period as when the Opera House was in full swing. But being modern folks, we see something with a lot of dust on it, in antiquated style or fabric and figure, close enough. I can't believe the shop make much money though. The whole place must be manned by volunteers. It clearly is not a money-making enterprise.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Silver in 1925

Silver in 1925, the year of her death.

The Columbine, Colorado's State Flower
Silver started drinking in Leadville. She found she had a knack for it. One night out and she didn't come home until morning, still drunk. If her last name hadn't been Tabor, would anyone have cared? How many girls in their teens drink to excess? How many have their exploits written up in history books or imagined, after the fact, to be much worse than originally thought? How many young women Silver's age went out with men, drank and used drugs? Are the reports accurate? Who made the reports? How much was exaggeration, how much was the truth? The only reports we have left are books written after her death. Although there are letters from Silver to her mother with different addresses, different names. Was it just that she was ashamed of the Tabor name finally, or was she trying to disappear, running from someone? How many possibilities are there? What really happened? And are all the stories informed by how she died, looking for connections, foreshadowing, attempting to make Silver's fate her own doing instead of looking beyond blaming the victim, looking for other causes, other possible outcomes. How can there be any doubt about her death? If you wanted to commit suicide, would you dump a pan of boiling water over your head? Unlikely.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Living with the Tabor name and legacy

Lizzie McCourt Doe Tabor, aka Baby Doe
Silver Dollar grew up under the shadow of her mother's beauty and the scandal of her parents marriage. Her older sister, Lily, was so horrified by this legacy she left Leadville to live with relatives and never looked back. When Silver moved to Denver the Tabor name got her into the Denver Post but kept her in the relatively low level job of reporting on society ladies. This may have been one reason she began living under different names. But it doesn't fullly explain why she moved so often. In her letters, available at the Colorado Historical Society in Denver along with over 12,000 pieces of documentation, it's possible to put together a sad scenario of Silver's adult life. Silver did not return to Leadville but did continue her correspondenc with her mother up until her death in September 1925. Although Baby Doe appeared to most of society by that point as being penniless, she always managed to scrap together some money for her daughter who seemed to continually need help with medical bills of one kind or another, never fully specified in her letters to her mother.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Star of Blood

Star of Blood is the novel Silver Dollar Tabor wrote. Her writing career had started with poetry while she lived with her mother in Leadville. When she moved to Denver she got a job as a journalist at the Denver Post. Later she created her own newsletter, the Silver Dollar Gazette. She wrote songs as well. Lizzie, her mother, helped her publish them. She sent Star of Blood out to reviewers who agreed to read it based mostly on her last name. Silver's last name would prove to be both a door opener and a burden.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Denver Mansion

The Tabors reportedly had one hundred peacocks on the front lawn of their mansion in Denver. For a few years they lived as if the money would never run out. But when the US went to the gold standard, Horace lost everything and the family had to move into a small cottage. Horace was lucky to get a job as the postmaster, a position he'd held when he first traveled west. Seven years later, 1899, he died from appendicitis and Lizzie and her girls moved back to Leadville to watch over the Matchless Mine.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Baby Doe helped Silver move to Denver after she discovered Silver had been carrying on with a much older man. Reports are that Silver rode into town from the Matchless Mine cabin on a beautiful white horse and caused quite a scene. One night she didn't come home until morning, coat gone, dissheveled. Mama hoped her daughter would have better luck in the big city. Silver wanted to write and looked for a job at a newspaper.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Silver Dollar as a child

Rose Mary Echo Silver Dollar

Both Silver and her sister Lily were photographed in all their finery for Harper's Bizarre. Both girls grew up with extravagence. The Tabor mansion in Denver had one hundred peacocks on its front lawn. By the time Horace died, however, only Lily would remember this childhood and regret her mother moving the family back to the small cabin in Leadville to watch over the Matchless Mine. Silver grew up in Leadville, living with her mother after Lily left once and for all, to live with relatives.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Baby Doe, the opera, the film, the book

Poster from the Utah opera company's production of Baby Doe, the opera.
In 1932, three years before her death, a film and a book came out about Baby Doe's life. She did not attend the film. After she died in 1935, townspeople in Leadville completely dismantled her cabin looking for hidden treasure. They found only scraps of paper she had written her dreams on: no silver, no cash, no treasure. They pulled up the floorboards and tore the cabin apart. The cabin was later reconstructed to become a tourist stop. After her death interest in her life was renewed. The citizens of Denver claimed her body for their own. Once she was buried, Horace's body was moved to be buried alongside her. Her surviving daughter Lily denied Baby Doe was her mother. She claimed to be the child of Baby Doe's brother. When Silver had died ten years earlier, Baby Doe denied that the scalded body that lay in the morgue for three days unclaimed was her daughter. She read the newspaper reports but never admitted that Silver was dead. She maintained that Silver was living in a convent. Although she stopped writing letters to Silver. So somewhere in her heart, she must have known.
In the Colorado State Historical Society there are over 12,000 letters, diary entries and scribblings by Baby Doe and Silver. Although some of the most damaging diary entries were sold for a dollar apiece just after Baby Doe died. Shortly after her death, all of her records, diaries, letters, everything was sealed for thirty years. Subsequently, all the books and pamphlets written about her and Silver could not have been based on their own writing, but on wild speculation and rumor alone.
For more see Baby Doe Tabor: Madwoman in the Cabin by Judy Nolte Temple.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Last Known Addresses: Chicago

Silver's last five letters to her mother, Baby Doe, went unanswered. Each had a different address in Chicago. She had been using several different names/aliases, but these last letters all used the same name: Miss Rose Tabor. This, from the Colorado State Historical Society.
January 18, 1925: 2109 Michigan Avenue
March 5, 1925: 104 Oak Street, Apt 5-C
April 18, 1925: 3702 Lake Park Avenue, Apt 8
June 8, 1925: 1225 East 44th Place, 1st Apt
August 24-25, 1925: 3802 Ellis Ave., Apt 23

The last letter to her mother, Baby Doe:
My Dear Mama ~
Please write to me as I worry so about you.
I have dreamed of you and Papa so often lately.
Please let me know how you are.
Your loving child,
Silver died September 18, 1925 under suspicious circumstances. It took three days for relatives to claim her body.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Wild Men & Women

" recognize in the notion of the Wild Man (or woman) an instrument of cultural projection that is as anomalous in conception as it is vicious in application."

"The countryside is still the place of blessings; the wilderness stands at the opposite side of being as the place where God's destructive power manifests itself most dramatically. This is why wilderness can appear in the very heart of a human being, as insanity, sin, will -- any condition that reflects a falling away of man from God."

"Babel, or Babylon. A confusion of tongues, a pollution of the species."

"Cursedness, or wildness, is identified with the wandering life of the hunter (as against the stable life of the shepherd and farmer) the desert (which is the Wild Man's habitat), linguistic confusion (which is the Wild Man's as well as the barbarian's principal attribute), sin and physical abberation in both color (blackness) and size."


from "Tropics of Discourse, Essays in Cultural Criticism", Hayden White

Monday, September 8, 2008

Silver Dollar

Silver Dollar's father, H.A.W. Tabor died when she was four years old. By that point, the money had run out and Baby Doe moved the girls back to Leadville, to live in the cabin by the mine.

Winters they spent in Denver either in hotel rooms or boarding houses. Silver knew no other life but her sister Lily quickly became disenchanted and left Baby Doe and Silver to live with relatives out of state.

Baby Doe and Silver lived in Leadville for many years, alternately trying to work the Matchless Mine, hoping it would once again be productive.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Leadville, Colorado ~ Baby Doe & Silver Dollar

1. Leadville, Colorado / 2. Baby Doe's reconstructed cabin / 3. Rose Mary Echo Silver Dollar Tabor / 4.Baby Doe Tabor
After she was found frozen on her cabin floor, her cabin was ransacked. They thought she'd been hording silver and cash all these years since Tabor's death, but they found nothing but old newspapers, old clothes and diary entries, scribblings. Everything she had left that was valuable had been in trunks in Denver, at a convent. She paid the yearly rental charges out of her own pocket even though many times she didn't have enought to eat.

When Silver died she was let into the Denver library after hours to read the obituaries. She denied it was her daughter found scalded to death in a boarding house room. She knew her daughter had taken the vows and lived as a bride of Christ.
Photos courtesy of Michele Johnson