Watching for Horace: A Matchless Story
By Kathy Bedell © Leadville Today
This Friday’s Wine at The Mine event will give attendees an exclusive first look at the National Mining Hall of Fame & Museum’s new temporary exhibition – Matchless: The Mine, The Myth, The Legend. Cheers! In honor of that event, here’s a little-known tale about the famous landmark that still stands in Leadville’s east-side mining district.
This story comes to me by a most reliable source: Melva Touchette. I first met this historic actress when I moved to Leadville in 1990. Or maybe, I should say that’s when I first met Baby Doe Tabor, because Touchette’s single-role performance, her theatrical presentation of Horace Tabor’s second wife was as real as it gets.
Oh, no doubt Melva had the love-triangle part of Baby Doe’s story down, the tale of Leadville’s Silver King, Horace Tabor’s ditching-the-first-wife-for-the-second-wife story. But Touchette’s depiction of Baby Doe went far beyond that, spanning her young adult journey to Colorado, right up until a couple of years before Baby Doe’s death at The Matchless Mine in 1935.
What I particularly appreciated about Touchette’s rendition of Baby Doe was how real it was; you could tell that she had done her homework. It was during one of her presentations in the lobby of The Delaware Hotel that Touchette told me the following story about Baby Doe and The Matchless Mine. I have never heard the story anywhere else.
During an intermission from her performance, Touchette had stepped out onto East 7th street to have a smoke; I joined her.
“Kathy, I’m going to tell you a story about Baby Doe that I don’t use in my act,” Touchette said taking in a long drag of her cigarette. “You see that balcony up there, the one that comes out off the Tabor Grand?”
She was facing west and looking at what Touchette referred to as Baby Doe’s Balcony. It’s an architectural misstep on the south side of the Tabor Grand Hotel that gives the picture-taker reason to stop and say: Huh, look at that. What’s happening there?
“Horace built that balcony for Baby Doe,” Touchette explained.
Why? I thought. It doesn’t really look out over anything; it would have been more prestigious if it hung out over the Avenue, so that Tabor’s beloved Baby Doe could take in all of the action and fanfare. After all, when the Tabor Grand Hotel opened its doors in 1885, it was an incredible testament to Tabor’s fortune. It was built as Horace’s crowning jewel of wealth on display, right there on the corner of 7th and Harrison.
However, Touchette’s explanation describes a more simple function to the request Baby Doe made to her husband. The balcony came after the building was complete, after the Tabors had been living there for a period of time. In fact, you won’t find this perch in the original design of the four-story brick building. You will not see the balcony jutting out in any of the early pictures of this historic structure.
You see, Horace had this overhanging porch added-on for his Baby Doe, so that she could watch for him coming home from the Matchless Mine, which is located up East 7th Street. It was built so that she could see up Fryer Hill and keep an eye out for her husband coming home from work. Back then, there were no cell phones or text messaging, so Baby Doe would sit in her balcony which protruded out just enough to give her a direct line of sight, to see her beloved coming down 7th Street. And on first sight, she’d start dinner!
Sometimes, Leadville’s history is just about day-to-day living . It’s about Leadville people – like you and me – going about our lives, just living In The ‘Ville.