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The Willard Hotel

Washington D.C.

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Washington, D.C. directly impacts on the Tabor story only once, in 1883, when "Senator Nightshirt," as he had by then come to be known (for wearing luxurious, jewel encrusted sleeping clothes), spent thirty days as a member of the 47th Congress. Indirectly, the Washington political machinations involving silver coinage and Presidential politics were integral to the survival of Horace's fortune and, thus, his and his family's well being. By the 1880s, the national capital had become the seat of a country that was bursting with industrial age energy and ambition; much of it centered around the exploitation of mineral resources in the Rocky Mountain West.

Bimetalism--the official use of both gold and silver coinage--had coursed through Presidential politics since Grant's administration; Republicans favored a single, gold-based standard, Democrats supported a currency based on both gold and silver. Through the 70s, 80s and into the 90s, as the White House changed hands, so, too, did the country's policy toward official support for silver, eventually creating so volatile a market that "smart money" abandoned the metal. The coup de gras came with repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act in 1893, which relieved the U.S. Treasury from having to buy 4,500,000 ounces/month. Never again would silver be as precious. Never again would Horace be as potent.

Horace's official tenure in Washington, short as it was to be, appeared to signify the triumph of the frontier over the established, settled East: the new mineral wealth "showing up" the old east coast money. No doubt Tabor toyed with lofty notions of himself and of the role he might play in the national scheme of things. His demeanor certainly said as much; striding flamboyantly onto the studied Washington scene in full bejeweled regalia, with the ultimate trophy wife--Baby Doe--in tow.

A more prudent player indeed might have given the country something formidable to think about. Instead, Horace's time in Washington is remembered for its gross excess and impious foolishness: organizing the most lavish wedding the Willard Hotel had ever seen, only to have it denounced by the presiding priest, Father Chappelle, who had not been told of the principals' earlier divorces. A ripe scandal for the Denver papers to exploit viciously! But only one of numerous vignettes. For so short a time, the stories abound; Baby Doe sitting not inconspicuously in ermine and emeralds in the Senate gallery, Tabor holding court in the cloak room, President Arthur hosting them at the White House, the pair spending over $300,000 (in 1883 dollars!!!!) in less than a month.

Under the circumstances, Washington today isn't much of a Tabor "site." No mansions. No opera houses. (Not even in the Kennedy Center--the latest performances of The Ballad of Baby Doe, in the winter of 1996, were given in the Center's Eisenhower Theater, not in the Opera House.) St. Matthews Parish Church, in the records of which Father Chappelle refused to register the marriage, still ministers to downtown Washington. And though, to this day, the Willard Hotel occupies the northwest corner of 14th and Pennsylvania Avenue (and, at two blocks from the White House, hosts its share of movers and shakers), it is NOT the same building that saw Tabor's lavish evening nuptials on March 1st, 1883. The current building was constructed on the site in 1901.