The Grand Opera House
Photo courtesy Jim Metz
||Central City, Colorado
||Cutchogue, New York
||Riley County, Kansas
||Baby Doe Restaurant
Author, columnist and historian
James I. Metz lives in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. He has done considerable
research about the Doe and McCourt families, and about Baby Doe, with
special emphasis on her life prior to moving to Colorado. He is the
retired editorial page editor of the Oshkosh Northwestern
and the author of several books on Oshkosh history. The DoeHEADS deeply
appreciate Jim Metz' generous help in creating this page.
Very little remains in Oshkosh today of anything that
was familiar to Lizzie McCourt while she was growing up and forming
the attributes and attitudes that would characterize her to a world
that came to know her as “Baby Doe”
Partly it’s because age has taken toll on much of what she knew
as a child in the 1850s and ’60s and as a blossoming young lady
in the 1870s. But it is even more because of what happened to many
of them in Lizzie’s lifetime. They burned.
The McCourt home, a substantial porticoed house a block off the Main
Street and about three blocks up from where father Peter McCourt was
a leading businessman in town, burned down – along with about
600 other homes and scores of businesses – when Lizzie was nearing
her 20th birthday in 1874.
And this was just one of the fiery disasters that plagued the city,
and particularly the McCourt family. Peter McCourt had been burned
out of his clothing business three times already since 1859. Allied
with his retail store, Peter had built McCourt Hall, Oshkosh’s
first place for theatricals, lectures and other performances, and
that also succumbed to one of the early fires.
Peter rebuilt McCourt Hall and Lizzie came to enjoy quite early in
life the performing arts there. She probably indulged here her girlhood
fantasy of going on stage herself. The theater was so important to
the McCourts that one of her brothers, Peter Jr., became a theater
manager. Lizzie saw to it that he was installed as manager of the
Tabor Grand Opera House in Denver.
The year after the disaster that leveled the McCourt home, another
fire swept through the city and again destroyed McCourt’s place
of business – plus about 800 homes and several hundred factories
By this time the McCourt family was impoverished. It had been, in
Lizzie’s childhood, one of the prominent families of Oshkosh
and was relatively prosperous. Each of the fires represented a financial
setback, but each also saw father Peter McCourt exhibit an absolute
determination to come back from any adversity.
Lizzie adored her father and learned from him that one must not despair,
even in the face of disaster. From her father, too, she inherited
a strong attachment to the Catholic faith. Their fellow Catholics
were a small minority in frontier Oshkosh. They were all the more
fervent for being so heavily outnumbered by Protestants, particularly
the Congregationalists who predominated in the important social and
business circles of town.
One of these was the William Harvey Doe family which lived about three
blocks from the McCourts. The 1874 fire came within a block of the
Doe home, but no closer. It is this Doe house which survives to the
Twenty-first Century and is the only structure remaining in Oshkosh
with any real significance to the Baby Doe saga. Lizzie may not even
have been in the house for any amount of time since Mrs. Doe adamantly
opposed her relationship with son Harvey. Lizzie was certainly not
The Does came to Oshkosh in 1850 just a year after the McCourts, but
Doe began modestly as a butcher. Over the years Doe prospered, thanks
in large part to investments in Colorado which allowed him to become
an industrialist in Oshkosh. Meanwhile McCourt’s fortunes diminished
so that by 1877 when Harvey Doe married Lizzie McCourt – in
the Catholic Church – it appeared that Doe’s bright prospects
would sustain the newlyweds. History rather quickly showed otherwise.
There are no McCourts left in Oshkosh today, but there are some descended
from the Does through a sister of Harvey Doe.
However in the city cemetery, Riverside, Lizzie’s parents, Peter
and Elizabeth Nellis McCourt, are buried in the Catholic section,
marked by a large monument Baby Doe provided when she was Mrs. Horace
Tabor. Little more than two hundred yards away, in the Masonic section,
are buried William H. and his wife, Elizabeth, Doe. (Harvey Doe died
a little more than a decade before Lizzy and is buried at Milwaukee.)
The Baby Doe story continues to intrigue Oshkosh people who hold a
slightly different perspective on her than those in Colorado who may
see her simply as a conniving “other woman.” Here she
is perceived as a product of the rather unusual environment of early
Oshkosh with its spate of disastrous fires being a crucible to forge
an indomitable, unconquerable spirit.
This map shows the locations of McCourt/Doe
happenings from the 1850s when they arrived to the 1880s when Papa
McCourt died. The main McCourt home was on Division Street just north
of Church street. It fronted on Division but extended through to Main
Street. A picture of the McCourt house exists with the family standing
around the front. That house burned in 1875. They moved to Pearl Street
where Lizzie was living when she married Harvey Doe. The McCourts
then went to Jefferson and Merritt to live until Baby and Tabor bought
them a place on the lake where McCourt died soon after the Tabor wedding.
Click the image for the full size version which can be read easily.
Doe House. The only structure
existing in Oshkosh with any significance to the life of Elizabeth
McCourt (Baby Doe). Although there have been modernizing touches
added to the building, e.g., the stone and brick work in the
front, the house where Harvey Doe grew up (Mt. Vernon and Merritt
Streets, Oshkosh) is basically what it was in the 1860s and
'70s. Lizzie would not have been welcomed there as Mama Doe
did not approve of her nor her liaison with Harvey.
[The place] where Lizzie
McCourt lived through most of her years in Oshkosh is now a
parking lot for a nearby apartment apartment building. This
is on Division Street just north of Church Street in Oshkosh.
The lower buildings in [the] center of [the] picture would be
where Lizzie's father had his garden and orchard. They front
on Main Street.
Baby Doe's parents are buried in the Catholic
section of Riverside Cemetery in Oshkosh. Her father, Peter,
died within a few months of Baby's marriage to Horace Tabor.
The large marker symbolizes Baby's achieving some affluence
since the McCourts, who were prominent and prosperous in the
1850s and 60s, had been reduced to near poverty through a
long series of misfortunes and could not have afforded such
a large monument. It reads:
Born in Armach, Ireland.
June 4th 1818
Died in Oshkosh Wis.
May 14th 1883
Born May 25, 1826
Died March 13, 1910
The William H. Doe family was in Oshkosh
about as long as the McCourt family, but had an opposite financial
profile. Doe started in Oshkosh in very modest circumstances,
but gradually achieved prominence and financial success, partly
through investments in Colorado. Not long after Harvey and
Baby Doe went to Colorado, his parents also moved there. William
Doe died in Colorado little more than a year after Peter McCourt
died in Oshkosh. His widow returned to Oshkosh where two daughters
resided. Harvey's parents are in the Masonic section of Riverside
Cemetery. The monument reads:
W. H. Doe
March 6, 1818
Aug. 6, 1884
W. H. Doe
Born Aug. 15, 1827
Died Apr. 8, 1908
The above map and photos courtesy
of James I. Metz.