Life

Colorado

Meet the Unsinkable Molly Brown

LIZ FLEMING, Special to QMI Agency

Molly Brown’s house on Denver's Pennsylvania Ave. may have adopted her “Hollywood” name but is in all other respects an authentic introduction to the life lived.  LIZ FLEMING/Special to QMI Agency

Molly Brown’s house on Denver's Pennsylvania Ave. may have adopted her “Hollywood” name but is in all other respects an authentic introduction to the life lived. LIZ FLEMING/Special to QMI Agency

She was never called Molly during her lifetime -- that was a Hollywood after-thought -- but Maggie Brown was certainly unsinkable, and getting to know this legendary woman is an important focus for any trip to Colorado. This year, the 100th anniversary of the Titanic sinking, is the best time possible for an introduction to Molly/Maggie, one of the most famous survivors of that sea disaster!

You might think those crucial moments following the Titanic sinking were Brown's bravest but in Leadville she's best known for her role in one of the state's most infamous mining disasters. Visitors to Leadville can learn all about it on a local tour.

Leadville, North America's highest incorporated city at 3,179 metres elevation, was Maggie's first Colorado home, and once the West's richest -- and wildest -- silver-mining boom town. A young Maggie arrived in its early stages to live with her brother, and soon met and married James Josephy (J.J.) Brown.

Maggie and her husband lived through the boom and bust of the silver mining industry, and while J.J. became one of the industry's richest men, the couple retained a long-term loyalty to Leadville's working miners. Many years after the Brown's had moved to Denver, the silver mining industry collapsed and greedy mine owners strove to quell a strike by desperate miners by calling in the militia. A huge battle ensued, ending in fire, death and gut-wrenching destruction.

Maggie rose to Leadville's defence by pleading the miners' case with her friends, the society page writers. She was featured on newspaper front pages across America, and her actions put an end to the strike-breaking and made her the sweetheart of Leadville.

Maggie was well-loved in Denver, too, so continue your journey of discovery there with a visit to the Pennsylvania St. home (now the Molly Brown House Musuem), where she and J.J. became Colorado's most famous society couple. The house is a stunning example of authentic restoration. Using microscopic paint analysis, architectural research and original photographs, historians have returned the home to its 1910 splendor.

Well-informed guides tell Maggie's story as they show visitors around, pointing to some of the more than 10,000 original possessions and rare photos of lifeboats taken from the deck of the Carpathia, the ship that rescued Titanic survivors. You'll learn, for example, how Mrs. Brown insisted that wealthy evacuees -- lucky enough to survive the sinking -- make donations on board Carpathia for less fortunate passengers. By the time Carpathia reached New York, Maggie had almost $10,000 in her hands for destitute survivors.

Visitors also learn of Maggie's other accomplishments. She was a vocal crusader against poverty and child exploitation, founder of what is now the U.S. juvenile court system and the National Women's Trade Union League, an organizer of the 1914 Conference of Great Women, which led to women's suffrage, and a candidate for U.S. Senate. (The outbreak of World War I caused her to withdraw in order to travel to France, where she worked with the American medical ambulance system and earned the French Legion of Honor -- an incredible achievement for anyone, but stunning for a woman at that time.)

Although Maggie has been dead more than 80 years, her legacy lives on in the two areas of Colorado where she left her greatest marks. A visit to her home in Denver and the windswept mining ghost town beside Leadville, which she fought to save, gave this admirer of the unsinkable Mrs. Brown a wealth of information -- and a healthy dose of inspiration.

NEED TO KNOW

LEADVILLE

Surrounded by snow-capped mountains, thundering rivers and beautiful valleys, Leadville is also home to the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum (mininghalloffame.org) and a nine-hole golf course, the highest in the U.S. (both worth a visit). Outdoorsy travelers will appreciate the easy access to hiking and mountain biking on the Colorado Trail, and to San Isabel National Forest, home to some of the country's best rafting rivers. There is also horseback riding, rock climbing, camping, hunting, fishing, cross-country skiing or break out the four-wheel drives, ATVs and motorcycles.

Wondering where to stay? Try the charming old Delaware Hotel (delawarehotel.com), a favourite of gunslinger Doc Holliday, who reportedly shot a man there. Ask the manager if you can have Room 16, where Holliday's ghost is said to drop in periodically.

DENVER

The new History Colorado Center (historycolorado.org) is a fabulous introduction to the state, which demands hands-on participation with its interactive exhibits. Learn how a one-room school house functioned, hear the voice of the old store keeper and learn what isolated life in the old west was really like. Once the wild west fever hits you, head for Rockmount Ranch Wear (rockmount.com), to buy cowboy boots, an authentic cowboy hat -- or both. You'll be in good company. Stars such as Robert Redford, Meg Ryan, Dennis Quaid, Aidan Quinn, Nicholas Cage, Kiefer Sutherland and Woody Harrelson have all been outfitted by Rockmount.

TOURING

For travel information, contact Colorado Tourism at colorado.com.


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