The People's Tribune

Molly Brown Portrayer Proves Unsinkable At Museum Dinner

It took a tragedy the size of Titanic to momentarily set back a gutsy Missouri native who had overcome immense hurdles.

Lisa Marks of the Hannibal History Museum brought to life Margaret Tobin Brown – better known as Molly after Broadway and Hollywood told her story – during the Louisiana Area Historical Museum’s annual fall dinner Nov. 9.

“We watched that ship split in half,” Marks said in character. “You couldn’t look away, but you couldn’t close your eyes.”

The Hannibal native was coming back from Europe and the Middle East because her first grandchild, Lawrence Palmer Brown Jr., was sick. She left her daughter, Helen, to study in Paris and boarded Titanic at Cherbourg.

Brown was in first class, traveling with the party that included one of the richest man in the world, John Jacob Astor. As with just about everyone, Titanic made quite an impression.

“Titanic was the largest manmade moving object in the world,” Marks told the audience of more than 100 people. “The service rivaled the finest hotels.”

Late on the night of April 14, 1912, Brown was awakened and thrown out of bed by what she described as “a terrible crash and a shudder.” After being told to put on a life vest, she dressed warmly and went to the boat deck.

“When I got upstairs, I knew the ship was in distress” because “it was starting to list.”

Brown helped several passengers into lifeboats before being forced into number 6. Most had been reluctant because they feared the six-story drop by rope into the darkness of the Atlantic.

“We really believed the ship was unsinkable,” she said. “They picked me up by my elbows and dropped me into the lifeboat.”

One of the last things Brown saw as the boat was being lowered was the “haunted” look on the face of Capt. Edward Smith. Even worse were the sights and sounds of panic that followed as those still onboard realized the end was near.

After about 20 minutes of rowing, all that remained was “the perfect glow of the stars,” she said. “That roar disappeared.”

After Titanic struck the iceberg, it took a little over two hours for her to sink. As morning dawned, Brown and the others could clearly see the sheer immensity of the ship’s nemesis.

“To me, those icebergs were as big as the Rocky Mountains,” said Brown, who had moved to Colorado at age 18.

Titanic Quartermaster Robert Hichens, the man who had been at the wheel when a lookout spotted the iceberg and tried to avoid it with a sharp turn, was in charge of lifeboat 6.

Hichens’ conduct would later be called into question. The boat left with just 25 people, 40 fewer than its capacity. In addition, Hichens was accused of refusing to return for passengers who were struggling in the water and allegedly said that the rescue ship Carpathia was actually picking up bodies instead of survivors.

Brown was not impressed with the British fisherman’s son, calling him “one of the worst men I’ve ever met” and threatening to throw him overboard. Hichens denied the charges at the American inquiry into the disaster.

Carpathia rescued more than 700 passengers. Brown never mentioned May Birkhead, but she almost certainly would have encountered the Louisiana seamstress aboard the ship. Birkhead was traveling to Europe, and was pressed into service by the New York Herald to provide first-hand accounts of the disaster.

Brown was angered that the status of Titanic passengers continued on Carpathia, with high-priced elites getting inside bunks while third class ticket holders made due on the deck.

It took four days to steam back to New York, but Brown didn’t waste a second. She formed the Titanic Survivors’ Committee and raised $10,000 – about $233,000 today story – for those who had lost everything but their lives. She also stayed aboard for a couple of days after docking to make sure everyone’s needs were met.

Brown had grown up poor and never let her later wealth go to her head. She had been a political and social activist before Titanic and continued afterward, campaigning as a strong advocate for women’s and workers’ rights, education for children, historic preservation and the arts.

Brown ran for U.S. Senate in 1914 – six years before women were given the constitutional authority to vote – and later became an actress. She died on Oct. 26, 1932, at age 65.

One myth that Marks dispelled is the name “Molly.” Brown wasn’t called that in her lifetime. The moniker came about after movies featuring about her were released starting in 1953. Probably the most famous production is 1964’s “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” starring Debbie Reynolds and based upon the 1960 Broadway musical.

Brown may have contributed to the legend when she told reporters at the New York dock in 1912 that her survival was “typical Brown luck. We’re unsinkable.”

Marks enjoyed the extensive research that went into the portrayal, and says Brown is a great role model.

“She’s a wonderful character,” concluded Marks, who performs as Brown at the museum and for area events.

Comments are closed

Text Description

Text Description

Text Description

Log in | 2017 The People's Tribune