The Molly Brown House Museum offers histories of Denver (+ Colorado), the “unsinkable” Titanic, and an inspirational local and national political leader.
When I was in fourth grade, I became obsessed with the Titanic. One of my best friends and I aspired to write a book about the Titanic and get it published. (We even reached out to a publisher, who encouraged our young dreams by sending us a book published by a young girl who was an incredible artist.) My friend, Colleen, and I read every book we could on the “unsinkable” transatlantic liner, including the infamous passenger with Colorado ties – the invincible Molly Brown. So, this summer, when my niece – in fourth grade! – told us she wanted to go to the Molly Brown House Museum, it became a perfect excuse to visit the historic Denver landmark I’ve long-wanted to explore.
Margaret “Molly” Brown’s Infamy
“Molly” Brown – who really only went by Margaret or Maggie, is most famous for surviving the 1912 sinking of the Titanic after the ocean-liner hit an iceberg. Tragically, the ship was advertised as “unsinkable,” on its maiden voyage, and, due to hubris, it did not have enough life jackets and boats for all the people onboard. Not even close. It is estimated that more than 1,500 people (of the 2,224 passengers and crew) perished when the largest then-existing ship sank in the frigid waters. Survivors were rescued by the Carpathia the next day. Most second- and third-class passengers (people of less wealth) died that fateful night between April 14th and 15th. Margaret Brown saved many passengers’ lives by helping them evacuate the Titanic.
“I am a daughter of adventure.” – Margaret “Molly” Brown
Getting Tickets to the Molly Brown House Museum
Luckily, we arrived and were able to purchase tickets just before a scheduled tour began; we didn’t have to wait very long and were able to enjoy the outside of Ms. Margaret Brown’s home for about five minutes. But I would definitely recommend checking out the website and tour schedule online and planning your visit accordingly.
The Molly Brown House Museum Tour
The 45-minute tour (ours lasted an hour, but I wasn’t about to complain) begins on the front porch of the beautiful Victorian mansion commissioned and built in 1889. The docent who guided us throughout the Molly Brown House Museum was knowledgeable and shared lots of fun yet random details of Margaret’s life and the history (and conservation of her home). The museum tried to collect furniture and décor the Browns owned and displayed in their home, but that’s a tricky proposition because their children sold off most of the contents of the home during the Great Depression. Our guide pointed out pieces that were not owned by the Browns but were from the same time period, as well as some of the most interesting originals, like the en vogue manufactured wooden staircase. The Molly Brown House Museum is able to replicate what the home looked like when it was owned by the Browns because the home and its rooms were photographed during their tenure.
As you enter the foyer, you learn what it would be like to call upon Margaret or a member of her family, waiting in the grand entrance. To the right is the sitting area where, if you were able to spend time with the very busy Mrs. Brown or her husband, you would be entertained. Etiquette required an absence of politics or controversial subjects, but always a boundary-pusher, Margaret displayed a Greek statue of a naked woman…with a specially-made shawl.
The tour continues up the stairs with light glowing through the gorgeous stained glass windows and to the second floor. The best preserved room belonged to Margaret’s daughter, Catherine. Also, adorned with Kelly green paint, Maggie’s favorite color, you have an intimate glimpse into the infamous Molly Brown bedroom and life. Many more bedrooms are found on the second floor – including a separate bedroom for Margaret’s husband, son, and parents. A third floor was a living space for their servants.
And then down the back, narrow staircase, you arrive in the kitchen back on the first floor. The dining room is through another door and is beautifully decorated. The quirky ceiling was Margaret’s homage to the previous owner who wanted it to look like a greenhouse. Around the corner, in the library, the museum offers information about “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” and her harrowing Titanic experience.
The Molly Brown House Museum tour ends in a back room with information about the home’s heritage, hard days, transformations, and conservation. Thankfully, Historic Denver, Inc. saved the Brown’s old Victorian home from demolition in 1970. More than 45,000 people visit the historic landmark per year.
Margaret Brown – from a Poor Immigrant Family to Wealthy Philanthropist & Political Leader
Margaret Tobin was the daughter of Irish Catholic immigrants and born in Hannibal, Missouri. The nickname “Molly” came posthumously from a 1960 Broadway play and musical, “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.” The play was based on a Denver Post writer’s book, and a film adaptation was released in 1964.
Maggie’s Dreams Fulfilled
At age eighteen, Miss Tobin came to Colorado during the Gold Rush at her brother’s suggestion to find adventure, greatness, and fortune. And she did, but not how she planned. Margaret traveled to and settled in Leadville with the intention of marrying a man of wealth. Instead, she fell in love with James “J.J.” Brown, who was as poor as her family. After much lament, she decided it was better to marry the man she loved than to marry a wealthy man. It turned out Margaret Tobin made the right choice because she ended up getting both love and money. As the Gold Rush continued, J.J. and Margaret Brown were able to amass a fortune through J.J.’s mining engineering projects. The Browns moved to Denver after they struck-it-rich, and, in 1894, bought a Victorian in the fashionable Capitol Hill neighborhood. While living in Denver, Maggie became a socialite and philanthropist, advocating for and investing in people and causes all over the world.
Maggie’s Contributions to Denver & Beyond
Around Denver, Margaret Brown fundraised for Denver’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (completed in 1911). She helped found the Denver Dumb Friends League. And in great service to Denver, Colorado, and even our country, she helped indigent and destitute children and worked with Judge Ben Lindsey to establish the first juvenile court in the United States. Brown’s and Lindsey’s Denver juvenile court formed the basis of the modern juvenile justice system.
Maggie’s Titanic Adventure
As a first-class passenger, Maggie survived the sinking of the Titanic aboard Lifeboat No. 6. She had been traveling in Egypt when she got word her eldest grandchild was very ill so she quickly booked passage across the Atlantic to return home to Denver. She barely arrived, but when she did, it turned out her grandson was fine and had a minor illness!
So many wonderful tid-bits about Margaret Brown were offered during the tour. Perhaps my favorite: I knew Maggie was an outspoken woman in a time when women had very few rights, but I didn’t realize she was a devoted activist, a leader in the Women’s Suffrage Movement, and even ran for United States Senate in 1914. (She ended her campaign to help in France during World War I.) Margaret advocated nationally for coal miners after the 1914 Ludlow Massacre near Trinidad, Colorado. The “Invincible” Maggie Brown used her Titanic fame to fight for human rights, promote conservation efforts, and make the world a better place.
The museum displays her Senate candidacy photo from the Denver Post – poised and proud. Margaret Brown was devoted to improving Denver, as well as the world, and helped her friends and people in her community realize their dreams. She was such an inspiration – and still is as, unfortunately, gender equality still has not been realized in this country (e.g., gender pay equity gap).
The Molly Brown House Museum: Preserving Molly Brown’s Legacy:
The Molly Brown House Museum – and its tour – did not disappoint; they far exceeded my expectations and rekindled old memories. And my knew knowledge about the amazing Maggie Brown, her service to Denver and political leadership, energizes me to stand up for and insist upon gender equality. I hope my nine-year-old niece was as inspired as I was! I can’t wait to take my daughter, ZB, when she is older. 🙂
The Molly Brown House Museum | 1340 Pennsylvania Street, Denver, CO 80203 | 303.832.4092 | http://mollybrown.org
The Molly Brown House Museum is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and receives support from the Scientific & Cultural Facilities District. Support Colorado nonprofits!