I intended to write this post on the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking (April 15, 1912), but I figure that posting something on the last day of April 2012 is close enough. I’ll admit, my fascination (some might call it obsession) with the Ship of Dreams began when the Honor roll students in my 8th grade class were taken to see James Cameron’s Titanic. After that, I saw it at least 10 more times. In the theater. Yes, Titanic was a defining moment in my adolescence. Whether that’s pathetic or poignant I leave you to judge.
In the years since, my interest in this tragic story has grown beyond the fictional love affair of Jack and Rose and that god awful song (though my middle school tortured soul did listen to the movie soundtrack on repeat for months), to include historical people who actually sailed aboard Titanic. Molly Brown is one such person, though she was never called “Molly” before Hollywood got a hold of her story. Born to Irish immigrant parents in 1867, the only nickname Margaret Tobin ever went by was “Maggie.” Regardless of what she’s called, Molly Brown is as unforgettable as she was unsinkable. Public fascination with Titanic and the colorful characters who strolled her decks has endured for 100 years, but why? What is it about the brash grandeur of this ship and its tragic end that captures the imagination?
It’s difficult to separate Molly’s life from the larger story of Titanic, but Mrs. Brown is an intriguing person in her own right. At 18 she moved from Missouri to Leadville, Colorado, where she met and married J.J. Brown—twelve years her senior. J.J. wasn’t wealthy at the time, but after he struck gold in the Leadville mines, the Browns became millionaires overnight. They purchased their longtime Denver home on Pennsylvania Avenue, which Molly-fans can still visit today, and became instant socialites. Molly threw herself into the Progressive movement by getting involved in campaigns for education reform, historic preservation, and women’s suffrage.
She also had an adventurous spirit. In the early 1900s Molly traveled the world and was actually returning from a trip to Egypt, Rome, and Paris with friends John Jacob and Madeleine Astor when she boarded Titanic at the last minute. There are several well-known stories of her heroism during the ship’s sinking—from layering herself with every fur coat and pair of pantyhose she owned before going up to the lifeboats (which she later gave out to other shivering passengers in Lifeboat #6), to her futile attempts to get the crew to turn around so they could go back to look for survivors. Yet it’s what Molly did after Titanic that is truly amazing.
Thanks to her travels, Molly spoke multiple languages and was able to communicate with the immigrant 3rd class passengers that had lost husbands and fathers in the freezing Atlantic. Realizing that many of these women and children were sailing to a new country where they knew no one and did not speak the language, Molly decided to raise funds among the 1st class survivors who had made it aboard the Carpathia. In case some were feeling stingy, Molly posted two rosters each day—one that listed those who had donated to her cause, and the other listing those who had, as of yet, failed to donate to her cause. Her crafty tactic of shaming the millionaires worked, as she raised $10,000 for the widows and orphans by the time they reached New York, and then spent several days making sure each of them had a place to stay until relatives or friends were contacted.
If you want to read more about this bold, adventurous, smart, and philanthropic heroine, check out these blogs:
I’m also on a hunt for great YA and Historical fiction that involves the Titanic or Molly Brown. Here are two YA novels I’m currently reading:
Distant Waves (YA), by Suzanne Weyn
Fateful (YA), Claudia Gray