Sunday, April 15, 2012

April 15 - Titanic and the Unsinkable

I think I would be the worst historical blogger if I forgot to blog about the R.M.S. Titanic today. This morning at 2 a.m. marked the 100 anniversary of the disaster, and besides the movie coming back to theatres in 3D, there have been a plethora of articles already written on the subject this year to get people ready for the event.

I feel most people know about the Titanic, the mistakes that led to the sinking and loss of life. So instead, I’m going to bring the event back to one person who happened to survive the Titanic, a person with local Denver ties.

I am talking about the iconic Mrs. Margaret (Maggie) Brown.

I took two hours today to make the trip to see the Molly Brown House museum. Her old house has been restored to the way it looked during the time Margaret was living there. Because I am me, and I love history, my friends and I went on the Titanic tour, a tour that incorporated Margaret’s life in Denver in with the story of Titanic. It was absolutely fantastic, and it was a wonderful way to spend a Sunday. It also accomplished exactly what I wanted: it forced me to think about Titanic.

Margaret Brown was born in 1867 to Irish immigrants in Missouri, and was not born wealthy. When she was a teenager, she moved to Leadville, Colorado, and it was here she met her future husband James Joseph Brown. Nicknamed J.J. he was a self-educated, and after a brief courtship they married. Margaret was 19 and J.J. was 32. Margaret always said she would marry for money, but she married J.J. for love.

The Browns were married in 1886 and had two children. It wasn’t until later when J.J. was able to use his engineering skills to a benefit. He was responsible for finding the ore in the Liggle Jonny Mine, and was awarded 12,500 shares of stock.

The family relocated to Denver where they were able to buy a new house, which is now the Molly Brown House Museum. It was one of the first in Denver to have electricity, central heating and water through the house. Unfortunately, Margaret and J.J.’s marriage did not withstand time, and the couple was separated shortly after they moved. Margaret and J.J. had two children, Lawrence Palmer Brown and Catherine Ellen Brown.

Margaret took her new wealth and used it to try and benefit society. She was fluent in Russian, Italian, Spanish and French, and traveled through Europe.

Margaret was traveling in Egypt before she broke from her party to return to France. It was there that she heard her son’s child was ill. She booked immediate passage on the Titanic, and boarded the ship with two crates filled with Egyptian artifacts she planned to give to the Denver Museum.

In Egypt, Margaret heard from a fortuneteller that she would have a mishap at sea. While she took the warning with a grain of salt, it is amazing to realize how right the psychic was. It was not so much her actions while aboard the ship that made Margaret iconic with the Titanic, but rather her actions after. Because Margaret was schooled in so many languages, she went immediately to the surviving women from steerage to help translate for them. Margaret was responsible for helping change laws on ships, including the necessity to have enough lifeboats for every passenger, and to fill the boats completely. Margaret awarded the crew of the Carpathia special awards for the courage the had during their rescue.

Also worth mentioning is that Margaret helped establish the dumb friends league in Denver and ran for Colorado senate three times.

It was fantastic to visit the museum today, and I thoroughly enjoyed the information I received on Margaret and the Titanic. I was not allowed to take pictures inside, but I did sneak a few at the back of the house.

If you’re especially interested in the Titanic, I did find this great map of the people on the ship.

Enjoy, and as always, happy history!

This is one of the actual medals Margaret presented to the crew of the Carpathia.

This is a replica of the small Egyptian statue she was able to take in her pocket the night the Titanic sank. She later presented this to the Captain Rostron of the Carpathia.