The unsinkable Margaret Brown


Lions guard the entrance of the stone house that was once the Denver home of J.J. and the unsinkable Molly —Margaret — Brown and their children.


Though they call the house the Molly Brown House Museum, nobody every called Margaret that name to her face. “Molly” appeared in an obituary and stuck.

Nobody ever called Margaret Brown “Molly.” And yet that is how she will forever be known. Even at the Denver house where she lived most of her adult life.

If you’ve watched the Debbie Reynolds movie, or Titanic, you know about the feisty country girl who made good, and helped others into lifeboats to escape the sinking ship.

I visited the Molly Brown house with visions of both movies in my head. I liked Debbie Reynolds’ portrayal of the tough illiterate country bumpkin with a fierce love for her man matched by her fierce ambition. Kathy Bates’ Molly, much more low-key, was strong and kind. She was fair-minded with plenty of character.


Margaret studied her languages in the library which is where her children had their lessons. Unlike the movie character, Margaret went to school through eighth grade — an accomplishment for a girl in those days — and eventually even took college courses.

The Molly—I mean Margaret—that lived in the house on Pennsylvania Street was, our tour guide said, more like Kathy Bates than Debbie Reynolds. I liked her more and more as I walked through her compact Victorian house and got to know her better. She was gutsy, opinionated, strong and packed with moral fortitude.

I imagined her watching over her children with their tutors in the library. I thought I heard snippets of conversation over tea in the parlor. I envisioned her Irish mother sitting in the kitchen with the help feeling more at home here than in the elegant library.


A grand dining room with tapestries on the walls and a ceiling decorated to appear as if under the glass roof of a conservatory.

Margaret was better educated than I thought, hungry for knowledge, fluent in several languages. She was well traveled and kept abreast of local issues. She took an interest in politics, favored women’s suffrage, ran for office and took an active role in her Catholic community. She and her husband J.J.  separated, I was sad to learn, but she remained devoted to her children.

The house once served as the governor’s mansion and near the end of Margaret’s life, it became a boarding house. After she died it was a boarding house for many more years. Historic Denver saved the house from demolition. Thank you Historic Denver.


Alexander Calder sculptures dot the Denver Botanic Garden landscapes through September 2017.

To make this truly a day away, my husband and I put on our walking shoes and started at the Denver Botanic Gardens for a few hours of sunshine and flowers. We stopped at the Colorado State Capitol with its beautiful gilded dome. I wanted to walk up to the step that marks the actual mile above sea level that gives the town its famous name.

Ⓒ Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman



One response to “The unsinkable Margaret Brown

Comments are closed.