OTD in History… December 17, 1889, Silver Dollar Tabor is born, the daughter of silver mining boom town Leadville, Colorado royalty Horace and Baby Doe Tabor

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

(Excerpt from Silver Boom! The Rise and Decline of Leadville, Colorado as the United States’ Silver Capital, 1860–1896 By Bonnie K. Goodman © 2008)

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On this day in history December 17, 1889, Rosemary “Silver Dollar” Tabor is born, the daughter of silver mining boomtown Leadville, Colorado royalty Horace and Elizabeth “Baby Doe” Tabor. The Tabor’s success mirrored Leadville’s rise and fall. They were Leadville’s richest and then sunk to poverty with the 1893 repeal of the Silver Purchase Act of 1890. More than Horace Tabor’s political career or his generosity and town building, his personal life was what made Tabor famous and a “legend” in Leadville, Colorado, and in Washington. As Gillian Klucas in Leadville: The Struggle to Revive an American Town recounts, “In the early 1880s, Horace divorced the prim, well-liked Augusta only after he had already married a glamorous, voluptuous and divorced woman named Elizabeth Bonduel McCourt Doe-Baby Doe.” [i]

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Tabor “scandalized the state’s gossips and made front-page news by divorcing Augusta and marrying a woman 30 years his junior, the zaftig Baby.” [ii] (T.L. Ponick, 1997) No other famous visitor to Leadville could rival the notoriety of the camp’s most famous couple, “Leadville’s legendary lovers, Horace Austin Tabor and Elizabeth Bonduel McCourt Doe.” [iii] (Buys, 22) It was a tragic love story, as Christian, J. Buys in A Quick History of Leadville states “The highly public and tangled web of passion, riches, and misfortune spun by the “Silver King” and his young lover “Baby Doe,” ultimately contained all the elements of a classical Greek tragedy.” [iv] (Buy, 22) And as Gladys R. Bueler in Colorado’s Colorful Characters describes, “The saga of the Tabors of Leadville might well be the Great American Tragedy. Here is the very essence of drama and tragedy: The love, the heartaches, the passion, the sudden rise to riches and then, just as suddenly, financial catastrophe; the final irony.” [v] (Bueler, 35)

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Horace Tabor was born in 1830 in the small town of Holland, Vermont. Growing up he took on the trade of a journeyman stonemason. Tabor worked hard at his trade but found New England confining and was more interested in trying his hand in the western territories. In 1855, Tabor set out for Kansas and served in the territory’s “Free Soil” Legislature. He took out his bride two years later in 1857 to the territory where they set up house on a farm. Tabor married Augusta Pierce, who was from Maine and was the daughter of Tabor’s boss. [vi] (Bueler, 36) She was “prim and proper,” but their marriage was more out of convenience than love. “The prim and proper Augusta wasn’t much of a love match, but she had good business sense and worked just as hard as her husband.” [vii] (T.L. Ponick, 1997) Tabor as Bill Harris describes, “didn’t show much in the way of ambition. It’s hard to say what Augusta saw in him since he had no sense of humor or anything that could pass for a winning personality. In a word, Haw Tabor was dull. What’s more, his prospects seemed dim.” [viii] Kansas lured Tabor because of the homesteading and the chance for opportunities.

When Tabor wanted to move to Colorado, because the gold rushes, Augusta agreed to follow her husband as he sought riches. They first stopped at Gregory Gulch but did not find any gold there. They had oxes pulling their wagon to their next stop over the steep hills. During the treacherous trip, their baby son, Maxey was teething and sick for most of the trip. Their wagon was the first one that reached Idaho Springs and Augusta the first woman passing through. For all their hardships, they could not find any gold. At first while Tabor prospected, Augusta sold milk and baked goods, and nursed injured prospectors as a means of supporting the family.

Horace gave up on the prospecting, and instead brought a little stability to his family; they still followed the rushes but Horace would set up a general store to serve the prospectors, while Augusta would take the “rough shacks,” where they dwelled, and use them as boarding houses to supplement their income. [ix] (Bueler, 36) When they first arrived in the California Gulch, Augusta operated a boarding house, while Tabor speculated in the mines. For nearly twenty years, the Tabors searched for a wealth that seemed within reach but remained elusive, and at times, they kept themselves just above and sometimes below poverty. They worked hard but were unable to get the big pay off they were looking for.

In 1878, Tabor was a prosperous storekeeper and the mayor of the new town, Leadville. The Tabors finally reached their goal of instant wealth in 1878 when Tabor acquired a silver mine in Leadville from two prospectors. Horace’s luck multiplied when two grubstaked miners, Pittsburgh shoemakers turned business associates and mining speculators, August Rische and George Hook traded a third of any future mining interests for $64 in provisions from Tabor’s store. The two prospectors discovered the “Little Pittsburgh,” and Tabor slowly bought out their shares, within six months the mine netted Tabor a half a million dollars. [x] (Bueler, 37) From the money, he earned from the first mines he bought up more, making considerable profits from those successful mines including the Chrysolite and his Matchless Mine that was considered as legendary as Tabor himself. Ponick writes the mine “made him a wealthy man and earned his Matchless Mine in Leadville a place in the history books alongside Sutter’s Mill.” [xi] (T.L. Ponick, 1997)

Tabor then proceeded to spend the money he made as fast as he earned it. Tabor spent a considerable amount building up Leadville and contributed some buildings to Denver. Tabor was responsible for bringing some culture to “rowdy” western mining town, in the form of the opera house bearing his name. The stage was light by gas lamps. All types of sophisticated entertainment graced the stage, including drams, comedies, and opera. [xii] (Bueler, 37) According to “Evelyn Furman, author of several books on the Tabors and current owner of the building[:] “It was really something. They did everything there, all of Shakespeare’s plays, the Chicago Symphony, the Metropolitan Opera and the John Philip Sousa band,” Mrs. Furman says. “Mr. Tabor had the money.” [xiii] (T.L. Ponick, 1997) Tabor also spent his money on fancy uniforms for the Highland Guards, the Light Cavalry, where he served as general and the fire brigade. [xiv] (Bueler, 37) Tabor was Colorado’s lieutenant governor and served briefly as a U.S. Senator before his experienced a reversal of his good fortune.

The public considered the Tabors a “notable couple.” [xv] (Murphy, 63) As Jan Murphy explains, “Many knew that Augusta was the strength behind Horace. Together with their one child, a son named Maxey. They were Leadville’s first family.” [xvi] (Murphy, 63) All through Tabor’s rise to riches, Augusta was a “frugal New England wife” and was satisfied with a modest life and their small home in Leadville. [xvii] (Bueler, 35) Augusta was not comfortable with Horace’s rise to preeminence and riches, she felt out of place in his new life. Tabor became arrogant because of the sheer abundance of money the mines made him. In 1880, the Matchless Mine earned him a million dollars a year in silver. None of the other mines produced as much money as the Matchless. Still, he spent extravagantly when “one of his South American mining investments required that he build a railroad to access. Tabor was cavalier as he approved this expense.” [xviii] (Murphy, 64)

The more money Tabor made, the more he spent this caused tension in the marriage. At the same time the more money Tabor earned from the mines, “the more arrogant he became.” Tabor’s behavior and attitude concerned Augusta. As Murphy states, “Augusta was concerned about his new opinion of himself. He was never smart about money, but now he was beginning to be extravagant and overbearing.” [xix] (Murphy, 63, 64) Tabor was pushing Augusta to the side. As Bueler recounts, “Augusta, who had stuck by him and given him encouragement and love during the hard, lean years, was left out of his gay life; and she began to feel lonely and unwanted.” [xx] (Bueler, 37)

Augusta was proud that he became Lieutenant Governor, but disappointed that through his political and business success to he barely paid any attention to her, ignoring her presence and advice for the most part. All through the years, when they struggled financially; Tabor had sought and listened to Augusta’s advice, now she and her opinions no longer seemed needed. He now considered her constant advice as nagging, “he felt he could do anything in business and it would always turn out well.” [xxi] (Murphy, 64) Augusta was also lost in the huge mansion Tabor built in Denver, and when he went around building up Denver, which included the Tabor Block, the “ornate” Opera House without ever consulting her about these significant monetary decisions.” [xxii] (Bueler, 37)

When Tabor reached the Lieutenant-Governor position, he began eying the Governor’s spot. Victorian life revolved around the image of the perfect home and family life, and everyone knew the Tabor’s did not have one. As Murphy states, “It became common knowledge that he and his wife were having difficulties. However, the prim and proper times of the late nineteenth century did not allow for divorce.” [xxiii] (Murphy, 64) In order to become governor, Tabor “required a stable home life.” “Divorce was out of the question.” [xxiv] (Murphy, 64) For solace Tabor would have affairs, he could not remain faithful to Augusta. It would not take long for Tabor to notice another woman that would take Augusta’s place for both Tabor’s respect and attention.

Elizabeth Bonduel McCourt was born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin in 1862. At age, seventeen married Harvey Doe, a local boy, and the mayor’s son on June 27, 1877. Ponick described Harvey Doe as a “middle-class good-for-nothing.” [xxv] (T.L. Ponick, 1997) Soon after they moved to Central City, Colorado to work the family mining claim. Harvey’s father gave his son a portion of the family claim and wanted him to work the mine and locate new ore deposits. Baby hoped they would make millions in the mines, instead “Harvey became a miner, not a millionaire.” [xxvi] (Bueler, 37) Trouble between arose because Harvey enjoyed flirting with the local girls, while Baby Doe did the same with the town’s miners and “earning a few extra dollars from them in her husband’s absence.” [xxvii] (T.L. Ponick, 1997) Harvey did not enjoy the hard work involved in the mine. Elizabeth was ambitious and wanted wealth, and decided to join Harvey in physically working the claim, which was a source of embarrassment for her husband.

The other miners found Doe so pretty that they called Baby Doe, and they thought Harvey was the luckiest man to be married to her. As Murphy recounts, “Sometime during this period, the name of “Baby” was attached to young Elizabeth. One legend suggests that several miners took notice of her as she stepped along the main street in her vivacious manner, and one said, “There goes a beautiful baby!” The name stuck.” [xxviii] (Murphy 62) Baby and Harvey were not happy though, in 1880, their first child was stillborn; this was the last straw for their marriage. In 1880, she divorced Harvey, citing “nonsupport as the reason.” [xxix] (Murphy, 63) Harvey sold the mining claim and gave Baby the money as compensation in the divorce.

Those who came to Central City would tell the story of Horace Tabor’s legend. Baby went to Leadville to try her luck as so many did, but she also very much wanted to see Tabor in person. Baby Doe took the money she received from the settlement and went to Leadville. Baby was looking for something different in any future marriage partner. As Murphy states, “Her disappointing first marriage made her look at a future marital partnership in a completely different way. The right man for her would have to be powerful and ambitious. Her drive and ambition could only be satisfied by someone who was himself as determined as she was.” [xxx] (Murphy, 63)

Soon Baby would meet a man that who fit here ideal. In Leadville, she saw Tabor, “a tall, well-dressed man with piercing black eyes and flaring mustachios, a spring in his step despite his 50 years. She went out of her way to meet Tabor; she discovered his routine, and she decided she would on purpose meet him, and make it seem as if it was all a coincidence and fate. Very often, after an afternoon show at the Tabor Opera House, Tabor would dine in the evening with his friend Billy Bush at the Saddle Rock Café. Baby Doe knew Tabor would be there, and she sat at a close by table watching for the moment she could make her move to meet him. Soon Tabor noticed “her pretty profile nearby, sitting in her fine clothes. Her beautiful young features attracted his attention.” Baby Doe took this seriously as Murphy recounts, “Horace might have dismissed this encounter as just another flirtation, but Baby Doe was staking her life on it. She discreetly but persistently responded to his glances.” [xxxi] (Murphy, 65)

The waiter passed a note to Baby Doe’s table asking her to join the two men at their table. Soon Billy Bush left the two alone to talk, and talk they did, all night they sat in the café in “deep conversation.” They were able to remain there because the café was open all night. Baby Doe in that night inched closer to reaching her goal, as Murphy states, “By morning Tabor had offered to help Baby Doe with her debts and to rent her a suite in the local Clarendon Hotel.” [xxxii] (Murphy, 65) It did not take long and Baby Doe became Tabor’s mistress, “and for the next two years, they would meet regularly and secretly.” [xxxiii] (Murphy, 65) Although they went out in public Baby Doe would always wear a veil to cover her face. The public saw Tabor taking a woman to dinner, but they never knew whom she was, and the public was discreet about witnessing this as well.

Baby Doe captivated Horace Tabor, Doe’s “extraordinary beauty and charisma caught the attention of by now, one of the most powerful and wealthy men in the West: Horace Tabor. Tabor found her charms irresistible.” [xxxiv] (Buys, 23) As Ponick recounts, “Mr. Latouche, writing 40 years ago, said that even after Baby and Tabor had married in 1883 — and perhaps because of the union’s notoriety — her picture began to appear on saloon beer trays and calendars.” [xxxv] (T.L. Ponick, 1997) Baby Doe also knew when she met Tabor that he was what she wanted, and she knew that because of her good looks it would not be too difficult to convince Tabor to marry her.

Tabor was so infatuated with Baby Doe that he decided to leave his wife Augusta that had been by his side for so many years while he slowly rose to prominence. Leadville’s upstanding women of “good social standing” sided with Augusta. Despite opposition and disapproval from Leadville’s social elite, “Horace’s infatuation with the youthful Elizabeth only intensified.” [xxxvi] (Buys, 23) After twenty-three years of marriage, in 1881 Tabor moved out of the house he shared with Augusta. Tabor may have left Augusta, but she refused to grant him a divorce. Desperate to get the divorce resolved so he could marry Doe, Tabor asked his trusted business associate William H. Bush to secretly pursue a divorce, but Bush botched the divorced. Neither knew the divorce did not really go through. Thinking he was a free man, Tabor married Doe, who became known as Baby Doe Tabor in a secret ceremony on September 30, 1882. When they discovered that the lawyers and courts had not processed the divorce, Tabor’s first marriage to Doe was invalid.

Augusta L. Tabor who was according to Buys “asocial” finally relented and agreed to grant Tabor a divorce, but demanded financial compensation as a condition. She had filed on April 1, 1882, a legal “Complaint for Alimony,” and her lawyer wrote:

“That on or about the month of Jan. 1881 the said defendant [H.A.W. Tabor]….willfully deserted and absented himself from said plaintiff, and ever since has and continues willfully and without cause to desert and abandon said plaintiff and to live separate and apart from her without sufficient cause or for any lawful reason and against her wish.” [xxxvii](Buys, 23)

Her lawyer also stated in the document:

“That shortly after their marriage the defendant and plaintiff removed to then territory, now the state of Kansas and thence in the year 1859 to Colorado; that by their common mutual exertions, patient industry and economy for more than twenty-three years they acquired property, real, mineral, and personal, a partial and imperfect description of which is set forth herein and is believed to be approximately correct…to wit:

· The Tabor Opera House block $800,000

· The Tabor Block $250,000

· Block 3 Brown’s Addition $100,000

· Dwelling on Welson St. $20,000

· 8 lots Block 98 East Denver $100,000

· 4 lots Block 107 East Denver $100,000

· 97 shares First National Bank $500,000

· Bush Building, Leadville $30,000

· Coliseum Theatre Leadville $20,000

· Bank in Gunnison City $70,000

· Gas stock and loan to company $100,000

· Matchless Mine $1,000,000

· Tabor mill and telephone stock $75,000

· Bank of Leadville capital and profits $100,000

· Henrietta, Maid of Erin, Waterlook mines $1,000,000

· Breece-Iron $300,000

· Chrystolite $50,000

· Glass-Pendary $100,000

· Smuggler, Lead Chief, and Denver City mines $500,000

· Interest in Bull Domingo and Robinson $100,000

· Polite and group $100,000

· Mines in Summit County $100,000

· Interest in Fibse Manufacturing Co. Old Mexico $50,000

· Investment in lands and mortgage bonds near Chicago $500,000

· 275 acres of land over stockyards in Chicago $50,000

· Lands in Kansas, Colorado lands in South Park, railroad stocks, shares in Denver Steam Heating Co., Durango stage line $120,000

· Government bonds $200,000

· 23/48 Tam O’Shanter mine $100,000

· Moneys, loans, stocks, etc. $100,000

· Denver Utah and Pacific Construction Co. $100,000

· I Ebberia $100,000 [xxxviii] (Buys, 24)

It was estimated that Tabor’s total assets were around 9 million dollars, and in the end, Augusta was awarded $300,000 in property. [xxxix] (Buys 24; Smith, 1989) In Leadville, they marveled at Tabor’s ability to turn every business deal into gold. As Dill, Leadville’s early historian and editor of the Herald Democrat wrote about Tabor in 1881, “Strange as it may seem, he made no mistakes, but coined ‘a mint of money’ with every deal. Like the fabled Midas, everything he touched seemed to turn to gold.” [xl] (Buys, 24, 25)

By the time, his divorce with Augusta was settled Tabor was a newly appointed United States Senator, a position he was supposed to have for a 30-day period. Tabor replaced Senator Henry Teller, who had had been appointed as Secretary of the Interior. Tabor and Doe were finally legally married in Washington DC on March 1, 1883, their ceremony was held at Washington’s Willard Hotel, and according to librettist Latouche it looked as if it was out Barnum & Bailey’s circus.[xli] (T.L. Ponick, 1997) The press and the public considered their wedding, as the “most flamboyant wedding of all time.” [xlii] (Bueler, 38) For the most part the women in Washington society opposed the marriage calling their whole relationship a “sordid affair.” Most of the men whom Tabor invited came to the wedding to wish the couple. The men that attended included many prominent Washington politicians including President Chester A. Arthur. [xliii] (Buys, 25) However, their wives avoided the wedding choosing to boycott it. [xliv] (Bueler, 38) As wedding gifts Tabor “showered his young bride with extravagant gifts”, one such gift was $75,000 diamond necklace.[xlv] (Buys, 25) Henry Teller, who was present at the wedding commented, “…Tabor is an honest man in money affairs, and I believe he is truthful, but he has made a great fool of himself with reference to that woman…” [xlvi] (Buys, 26; quoted in Smith, 1989)

For ten years, Horace and Baby Doe lived a charmed and rich life, even though Denver society essentially scorned them. Tabor had two daughters, Elizabeth Bonduel Lily Tabor and Rosemary Silver Dollar Echo Honeymoon Tabor, who supposedly was christened by William Jennings Bryan, who was “silver’s great champion, the “cross-of-gold” orator and presidential candidate.” [xlvii] (T.L. Ponick, 1997) Their rich life represented the wealth and possibilities the silver allowed for those fortunate enough to strike it rich, however, all too soon, it would all come crashing down, the party for Leadville was ending.

Despite a failed attempt to invigorate Leadville’s economy, the repeal of Sherman Silver Purchase Act in 1893, put in a nail in the city’s boom, Leadville would never experience such a boom again. Although for a short period afterward there was a small gold boom. The mining industry still lived on in the 20th century, with companies relying on mining lead and zinc. In total, the Leadville area produced over 2.9 million ounces of gold, 240 million ounces of silver, 1 million short tons of lead, 785 thousand short tons of zinc, and 53 thousand short tons of copper. [xlviii] The silver crash ruined lives and towns throughout the West, where silver mining was prevalent. In Leadville the situation was not different, miners fled looking for new opportunities, while the “wealthy silver barons of the 1880s disappeared.”

With the Panic of ’93, the silver prices went crashing down, and so did Horace Tabor’s fortune. When the U.S. government repealed Sherman Silver Purchase Act in 1893, silver no longer had the money value it used to have. The prices of Tabor’s silver holdings went down to nothing. Tabor was so in ruin financially that he did not have enough money to support his family. Horace Tabor whose wealth and standing in Leadville was legend lost everything he owned with the crash. The Tabors’ luck began to turn slightly when Horace was appointed as Postmaster of Denver, but as “C. C. Davis writes that he has seen a man once worth ten million and who sat in the United States Senate, pushing slag at $3.00 per day.” [xlix] (Graff, 66) However, soon Tabor became ill, and he died of appendicitis in 1899 broke at the age of 69.

Tabor hoped a boom would come again to Leadville, and asked his wife Baby Doe to watch over the Matchless Mine. Tabor’s deathbed wish to Baby Doe was to never give up the Matchless Mine, which once was famous, but at that point monetarily worthless. Tabor told Baby, “Never give up the Matchless Mine, Baby. There’s a treasure in it still,” she promised she would not. This would mark the most bitter and difficult years of her life. [l] So after he died, she moved with their two daughters, Elizabeth and Silver Dollar in a squalid and cold one-room shack next to the mine, which was located east of Leadville. For the next nearly thirty-five years, Baby Doe lived in a shack next to the shaft of the Matchless Mine. As time wore on she became toothless, dressed in rags and became eccentric, all of which prompted most of the townspeople to avoid her. In March 1935, the townspeople noticed, “they had not seen the ghost-like Mrs. Tabor in some.” They went to the cabin to check on her, discovering instead her frozen body, which had apparently been dead for days. She had died frozen to death in the shack, during a fierce snowstorm.[1] (T.L. Ponick, 1997)

Ironically, Augusta Tabor’s fate was the polar opposite of her ex-husband and his new bride. She was unaffected financially from the fall of silver prices. She died wealthy and respected, although she remained lonely the rest of her years. [2] (Bueler, 38) Years later in 1956, an opera immortalized the Tabor saga, “The Ballad of Baby Doe, by Douglas Moore, with libretto by John Latouche, and the world premiere was presented at the Central City Opera House in Colorado on July 7th, 1956. Critics acclaimed the opera as “an event to live in musical history.” [3] (Bueler, 38) Tabor had been represented all the possibilities of Leadville’s silver boom, his quick rise to wealth, fame and legend, the depths of his demise represented the new reality in Leadville, forever remembered in history as the largest silver mining boomtown, but will never regain its former glory, those days were gone forever, living on as a memory.

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[1] T.L. Ponick, 1997

[2] Bueler, 38

[3] Bueler, 38

[i] Klucas, 23

[ii] T.L. Ponick, “Singing a Saga of the Frontier.” The Washington Times, January 12, 1997.

[iii] Buys, 22

[iv] Buys, 22

[v] Bueler, 35

[vi] Bueler, 36

[vii] T.L. Ponick, 1997

[viii] Bill Harris, “The Silver King of Leadville and Baby Doe,” Wild West, Aug 2007, Vol.20, Iss. 2, p. 40, 8 pgs.

[ix] Bueler, 36

[x] Bueler, 37

[xi] T.L. Ponick, 1997

[xii] Bueler, 37

[xiii] T.L. Ponick, 1997

[xiv] Bueler, 37

[xv] Jan Murphy, Mysteries and Legends of Colorado: True Stories of the Unsolved and Unexplained, Globe Pequot, 2007, 62.

[xvi] Murphy, 63

[xvii] Bueler, 35

[xviii] Murphy, 64

[xix] Murphy, 63, 64

[xx] Bueler, 37

[xxi] Murphy, 64

[xxii] Bueler, 37

[xxiii] Murphy, 64

[xxiv] Murphy, 64

[xxv] T.L. Ponick, 1997

[xxvi] Bueler, 37

[xxvii] T.L. Ponick, 1997

[xxviii] Murphy, 62

[xxix] Murphy, 63

[xxx] Murphy, 63

[xxxi] Murphy, 65

[xxxii] Murphy, 65

[xxxiii] Murphy, 65

[xxxiv] Buys, 23

[xxxv] T.L. Ponick, 1997

[xxxvi] Buys, 23

[xxxvii] Buys, 23

[xxxviii] Buys, 24

[xxxix] Buys 24; Smith, 1989

[xl] Buys, 24, 25

[xli] T.L. Ponick, 1997

[xlii] Bueler, 38

[xliii] Buys, 25

[xliv] Bueler, 38

[xlv] Buys, 25

[xlvi] Buys, 26; quoted in Smith, 1989

[xlvii] T.L. Ponick, 1997

[xlviii] Deverell, 325

[xlix] Graff, 66

[l] T.L. Ponick, 1997

Bonnie K. Goodman has a BA and MLIS from McGill University and has done graduate work in religion at Concordia University. She is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor, and a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion, and news. She has over a dozen years of experience in education & political journalism.

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Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University) is a Professional Librarian (CBPQ) & historian. Former editor @ History News Network & reporter @ Examiner.com.

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