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What’s in a name, Molly Brown?

Lady MargaretOne of the most remarkable facts about Molly Brown is that her name was not Molly Brown. How did it come about that such an iconic western heroine became known by a name that was not her own?

On July 16, 1867, Margaret Tobin was born into a large Irish immigrant family in Hannibal, Missouri, near the banks of the Mississippi River. The 1870 U.S. Census lists her as Maggy Tobin, age 3, with her family. In Leadville, Colorado, James J. Brown and Margaret Tobin were joined in marriage on September 1, 1886. After that, our subject was known as Mrs. J. J. Brown, or Margaret Brown. She was referred to as Lady Margaret in the Denver newspaper during the aftermath of the Titanic Disaster. In notes she wrote to her housekeeper in Denver, she occasionally simply signed “Brown” in her bold, scrawling script. Although long separated from J. J. Brown, Margaret never strayed from the Brown name.

Modern media is attributed with the popularity of the Molly Brown story, and to the nickname which stuck to its main character. In 1960, a frothy musical called The Unsinkable Molly Brown was introduced to Broadway theater patrons. The success of the play was followed closely by a movie production of the same name, in which Debbie Reynolds portrayed a singing and dancing Molly Brown. The feature motion picture film took broad liberties with the reality of her story in addition to the name change. Broadway and Hollywood supposedly changed the name from Margaret to Molly to make it more melodic for singing and dancing in the musical. As a result of broad success and a vast audience, the name stuck and was adopted as factual by many fans.

In reality, the name, Molly, was used in reference to Margaret Brown much earlier. When she died in 1932, an obituary by Jack Carberry of the Rocky Mountain News referred to Margaret as Molly Tobin, then Molly Brown, in a glib account of her story of growing up as a tomboy by the Mississippi River. The name “Molly” was meant as a slam to Margaret’s background as a poor Irish girl in an article full of legends and liberties. One such myth was that Mark Twain pulled “Molly Brown” from certain death in the riverbank during a fishing trip. The two characters probably never met, certainly not in Hannibal where they lived at different times, especially after Margaret acquired the Brown name.

The difficulty continues once you become aware of the facts surrounding Margaret’s name. The name Molly Brown is so wide-spread and well-known that it is difficult to avoid, even when doing research. The trick is to figure out how to bite your tongue when you hear her referred to as “Molly Brown”, or to find a way to politely correct and educate the offender about the truth and the correct usage of the name without committing additional offense. Chances are Margaret might not mind. After all, she was fond of saying, “I don’t care what the newspapers say about me, as long as they say something.”

Joyce B. Lohse
Learn more about MARGARET BROWN from my book,
Unsinkable: The Molly Brown Story
http://www.LohseWorks.com or http://www.FilterPressBooks.com

 

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Regrouping in Winter

Blue Goose

The Blue Goose - a favorite neon sign cowboys would try to ride back in the Yellowstone glory days

January has always been a time for me to clean out my desk and my brain as I turn the calendar and make plans for a new year. How timely that the Denver Woman’s Press Club invited Cynthia Morris to coach a group of us through the process of focusing on plans and writing notes to hold ourselves accountable for ideas which will make 2012 Our Best Writing Year Ever. The regrouping, re-evaluating, and re-purposing continues as the calendar begins to fill, and I begin to feel the creative juices flowing once again. Watch for magazine articles, presentations, and inclusion in a history compilation coming up very soon.

In the meantime, the search for fun continues during my quest for ways to reach out and touch Western history. The Western National Stock Show provided a step back into cowboy and cowgirl culture and an up close visit with some of the most beautiful livestock around. It was the perfect time to duck into Denver’s Buckhorn Exchange, established in 1893, for a truly decadent meal and a cold beer. Our heads swiveled to take in all of the artifacts surrounding us from the days when Buffalo Bill elbowed his way to the bar, which, by the way, boasts the #1 liquor license in Colorado. Vegetarians be warned. Animal heads of all sorts cover the walls, gazing with glassy eyes upon diners enjoying carnivorous delicacies from the menu. The third element of historic fun in the dead of Colorado winter can be found at the annual Post Card Show at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds. The search is on for new images for future projects and re-purposed old ones, specifically an e-book from my original self-published book, A Yellowstone Savage. As my mental batteries recharge, everything is reevaluated. Useless baggage be gone as I move forward unencumbered with a new outlook and a clean(er) desk.

Joyce B. Lohse, 1/20/12
http://www.LohseWorks.com

 

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Colorado History Presentation

A History Presentation by Author Joyce B. Lohse:
“Mining for the Real Baby Doe Tabor”

at Historic Tattered Cover LoDo Bookstore
1628 16th St. at Wynkoop in Denver
Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 7:30 p.m.

Baby Doe Cover

A legendary pioneer woman, Baby Doe Tabor, provided us with one of the greatest rags-to-riches-to-rags stories in America’s western history. Award-winning biographer Joyce B. Lohse has written her biography set in Colorado’s days of boom and bust. The story appeals to a general audience and history buffs who appreciate the history of the West’s mining past. Her PowerPoint presentation includes historic photos, research stories, and Lizzie’s Cookies!

Baby Doe Tabor: Matchless Silver Queen, ISBN 978-0-86541-107-4, list price $9.95, is now available through your favorite bookseller, or from the publisher, www.FilterPressBooks.com . It is distributed for resale and libraries through BooksWest and Baker and Taylor.

See you there! — Joyce Lohse
http://www.LohseWorks.com

 
 

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History in Your Home Town

True Denver

Allen True historic mural in Denver's Civic Center Pavilion with state capitol in background

Sometimes it is easy to become complacent and forget about the rich history in our own backyards. A walk on a sunny Saturday morning in Denver led us to Civic Center Park, where we stepped into the recently restored Greek Theater in the South Pavilion to enjoy a historic scene called “The Trapper”, a 1920 Allen True mural. Allen True was a local artist and illustrator who provided the city with public art, which we continue to enjoy in several locations, including the Colorado State Capitol and the Denver City and County Building. Beautiful architecture and serene artwork provided temporary shelter in the chilly early-fall morning for a couple of joggers, camera-toting pedestrians, and a man sleeping at the bottom of the stairs, a reminder of the edgy urban setting in contrast with the pastoral western wilderness image. After photographing the mural, we quietly moved on.

Joyce B. Lohse, 10/6/10
http://www.lohseworks.com

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2010 in Denver history, Western history

 

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Buffalo Bill Days

Buffalo Bill Parade

Local festivals are a great way to enjoy the Old West. Last weekend, I attended Buffalo Bill Days in Golden, Colorado. A terrific parade almost two hours long brought out the best of local bands, horses, and folks in Western attire and costumes for the festival. It was great fun to peel away from writing and editing to enjoy the sunshine and the sites in the Colorado foothills for the celebration of the pioneer scout and Western showman, William Cody, who is buried on Lookout Mountain above Golden.

In his day, Buffalo Bill was like a rock star. People came from far and wide to attend his Wild West shows, a combination of Old West theatrics and circus performance. His critics maintained that he exploited rather than preserved the Old West. Perhaps a deeper look at the story while revisiting primary sources will provide some insight. Uh oh, I think I feel another biography coming on.

A book about Buffalo Bill might loom in my future. For now, my days are full with presentation, articles, and tidying up loose ends with Baby Doe.  I am grateful to live where I can enjoy a glimpse of the old West now and then, with many ways to absorb and enjoy its history. A good dose of inspiration is very useful as well.

Joyce B. Lohse, 7/29/10
http://www.lohseworks.com

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2010 in Western history

 

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Closure and Reflection

Baby Doe Funeral Scene

Finalizing a book manuscript to hand over to the publisher is a strange and wonderful time. I could continue editing indefinitely, but the time has come to finalize it. The danger with over-editing is that the life and character might be sucked out of the text, rendering it ordinary. Thus, I bid farewell to Baby Doe Tabor while she is still lively and colorful so her story can move on to the next step. I have enjoyed the ride, and gained a much broader perspective of her character and her times. The biggest lesson I learned from this one is to not be judgmental. As wisdom sets in, I find that message repeated over and over again. There was certainly more going on with Lizzie Tabor than meets the eye. With that thought in mind, I have closure with gratitude to Baby Doe for her story of fortitude and persistence.

Right now, I am also thinking about a friend of mine. Pat Werner, a member of Women Writing the West, was a mighty fine writer and researcher. She passed away much too soon. Pat was cool. We were sisters-in-arms in the fight against cancer, but we much preferred sharing historical research. She called me from the hospital bubbling with finishing touches on her book. A week later, she was gone. The memory of sharing writing adventures and friendship with her still inspires me in my quest for excellence in writing. Her final book was just published by our mutual publisher, Filter Press. If she was still with us, we would all celebrate the victories and defeats, and the fabulous stories of Colorado history we were able to share and enjoy.

Watch for my book, Baby Doe Tabor: Matchless Silver Queen, which should reach publication sometime this year. In the meantime, Pat Werner’s book, The Walls Talk: Historic House Museums of Colorado, is a fabulous piece of work to help direct those seeking history destinations in Colorado this summer, or anytime. For more information, go to: http://www.filterpressbooks.com .

Joyce B. Lohse, 6/16/10
http://www.lohseworks.com

 
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Posted by on June 17, 2010 in Western history, Writing Life

 

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Celebration Time

Wm. Palmer

Thank you, William Palmer! (Courtesy Colorado College Archives)

Recently, I received an e-mail from the Colorado Author’s League containing a list of finalists for the annual Top Hand Awards. As usual, I browsed through the names to see if any of my friends were listed. I was pleased to see that Susan Tweit, a fellow  Women Writing the West member, would be honored for her book, Walking Nature Home. When I continued through the list, I was amazed to find my own name listed. My book, General William Palmer: Railroad Pioneer, is a finalist in the Young Adult Nonfiction Book category. Wow!! I called up my publishers at Filter Press, who dropped what they were doing to share the joy.

This evening, we will be attending the CAL banquet. I am thrilled and honored that my Palmer biography is receiving recognition from a distinguished and long-established Colorado book industry association. I am also pleased and thankful that William Palmer reached out and inspired me to write his story. Beyond that, I am espeically happy to share joy and celebration with my hub, my publishers, and my book friends.

To see the CAL list of Top Hand finalists, go to:
http://www.coloradoauthors.org/Site/CALTopHandAwardNominees.php

Joyce B. Lohse, 5/11/10
http://www.lohseworks.com

 
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Posted by on May 11, 2010 in Western history

 

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