Tag Archives: Unsinkable

Titanic – A Scene of Tragic Beauty

As the 100th anniversary of the Titanic disaster approaches next week, the prevailing question is “Why?” Why does this story touch us so deeply a century later? Why did the Titanic sink?

The story is best told by one who survived the tragedy. If you asked Colorado’s Margaret Brown, known in modern culture as “Molly Brown”, she would describe the Titanic as a great equalizer. In the Denver Post on April 27, 1912, Mrs. Brown said, “It isn’t who you are, nor what you have, but what you are that counts. That was proved in the Titanic.” Death and loss did not choose between classes or character. Heroics and cowardice came forward and became readily apparent and helped determine survival. Regardless, whoever or whatever you are can be found among those who lived and died on the ship that fateful night, providing a link to our own lives.

Ice fields had been reported on the wireless radio. Other vessels had slowed their progress to dodge icebergs in the chilly waters of the North Atlantic Ocean. As of 9 a.m. on April 14, White Star Line officials announced, “We place absolute confidence in the Titanic. We believe the boat is absolutely unsinkable.”

On its maiden voyage, Titanic was racing across the ocean to break speed records and to reach a grand celebration of its achievements in New York City. According to Mrs. Brown, “The tragedy of the Titanic was indirectly due to J. Bruce Ismay [Managing Director of the White Star Line]. He was speed mad and paced the deck like a caged lion as the ship surged through the icy waters. His hand, deadly and terrible, was, figuratively speaking, on the throttle, and in his powerful selfishness, he cared not for human life. All day Sunday shafts of bitter cold swept the decks from the ice fields. The ship was plowing ahead at the rate of twenty-three knots an hour and most of the passengers had remained in their cabins or salons.”

In the Denver Times, on April 30, 1912, Margaret Brown described the collision. “I was lying in my berth reading when the ship struck directly beneath my stateroom, and it scattered ice and glass across the deck. I looked out and seeing nothing but a strange, dark object looming through the cold and blackness beyond, went back to my book. Sailors came beneath my window, laughing, talking, and joking, and I was not alarmed. Finally, however, I was told to dress warmly, don a life-belt and bring all I had to the deck. I have no fear of water — it fascinates me. I saw none of the horror of that shipwreck — nothing harrowing, and to me it was almost a scene of tragic beauty.”

Joyce B. Lohse
To learn more, read my book, Unsinkable: The Molly Brown Story
and my “Unsinkable” article in the April Issue of Colorado Central magazine


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Unsinkable – the Molly Brown House Museum

Unsinkable post cardWith less than a month left before the 100th anniversary of the steamship Titanic’s maiden voyage, I was invited to participate in an event at the Molly Brown House Museum in Denver. “Women of the Titanic” told their stories to those who toured the house museum, while I conversed with interested visitors in the gift shop, formerly the carriage house, behind the Browns’ House of Lions. It was a delightful evening. As usual, the folks at the Molly Brown House, with storytellers in period clothing, hosted a wonderful time. Fans of the Titanic and the Molly Brown story cannot get enough of it. New information and various versions surface, the more the story is told and shared with others.

Joyce at MB House

Joyce Lohse signed books at the Molly Brown House Museum in March during the 100th anniversary celebration of the Titanic.

For people in the Denver area who wish to learn more about Mrs. Brown and her role as a survivor in the Titanic disaster, a visit to the Molly Brown House is a rare treat. Exhibits regarding the doomed ship are on display while the museum focuses on the anniversary. Special events and activities will be offered throughout the year. To learn more, visit their web site at, and be sure to take a tour of the house at 1340 Pennsylvania Street in Denver, a couple of blocks from the Colorado state capitol. As with most Colorado history, the stories you learn there are fascinating and should not be missed.

Joyce B. Lohse
author of Unsinkable: The Molly Brown Story
published by Filter Press


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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 or


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Why Mrs. Brown Chose The Titanic

As the one hundredth anniversary approaches of the Titanic steamship’s tragic encounter with an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean during its maiden voyage, I will provide some details about our heroine, Margaret Brown, who consequently became known to us as the Unsinkable Molly Brown. After all, she is the inspiration for this Unsinkable blog, which celebrates her story and Western history.

Margaret Brown

Margaret Brown

If you believe in fate, you will appreciate the circumstances that placed Mrs. J.J. Brown on the Titanic in April 1912 during its ill-fated voyage from Liverpool, England to New York City. Margaret was vacationing in Egypt with the Astors, her wealthy friends from the American East Coast. As usual, she was learning about a different culture and living it up by immersing herself in the sights, history and activities of Egypt, including a ride on a camel. In keeping with her adventurous spirit, she could not pass up a conversation with a gypsy fortune teller, who warned her of impending danger from icy, cold waters. Not likely in the hot, sandy dessert, she thought.

Titanic ticket

When she received a telegram from home with news that her little grandson was ill, Margaret did not hesitate. She cut her travels short and made plans to return home right away to learn his condition and offer whatever support was needed by her son’s family. Her daughter, Helen, who was a student at the Sorbonne University in Paris, had obtained a ticket aboard the Titanic to return home. She gladly turned it over to her mother, to allow her to return to the United States more quickly to check on her grandson. Helen would happily spend more time in Paris. Little did she know that the decision would save her from a potentially fatal ordeal in the icy waters of the North Atlantic, and place her mother, who took her place, in tremendous peril. Although owners of the Titanic bragged that their new steamship was unsinkable, their boasts turned out to be gravely untrue. Instead, as a result of her part in the impending disaster, Helen’s mother became known as the Unsinkable Mrs. J.J. Brown.

For the true story of the Unsinkable Mrs. J.J. Brown — read
“Unsinkable: The Molly Brown Story” by Joyce B. Lohse
Filter Press, 2006, ISBN 978-0-86541-081-7, $8.95
See Joyce Lohse’s Events and Appearances for
Titanic Anniversary Celebrations in Colorado.


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Titanic Revisited

This past week, we took advantage of a rare opportunity to visit “Titanic: Treasures from the Deep”, a traveling exhibit of artifacts presented by Country Financial. The weather was suitably chilly, which put us in the proper frame of mind to visit treasures from the shipwreck in the Atlantic where the steamship Titanic hit an iceberg and sank during her maiden voyage in 1912.

Part of the exhibit allowed us to be photographed in front of a backdrop of the Grand Stairway in the Titanic. Okay, the photo is a little cheesy. However, the gentleman who portrayed Captain Smith was outstanding and identical to the real captain of the Titanic, who had embarked on his last voyage before retirement. My hubby and I gladly stepped back in history, as long as we could safely step back into the present again.

Foremost on my mind was the story of Margaret Brown, later known to the world as Molly Brown, who survived the wreck in a lifeboat. As pivotal as this event was to her, there was so much more that made hers a full and interesting life. Mrs. Brown was the subject of my biography, “Unsinkable: The Molly Brown Story”. This exhibit was a modified version of one which I was able to visit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science last year. As was done previously, we were handed boarding passes with the names of actual passengers on the Titanic as we entered the display. At the end, lists of survivors were displayed. Fortunately, our names were among the living. However, this was an excellent interactive tool to bring the gravity of the tragedy to the forefront. Talk about an unsinkable experience!

“We are ALL passengers on the Titanic.”
— Jack Foster, Irish Philosopher

Joyce Lohse, 5/3/09
Visit my web site for more information
about “Unsinkable: The Molly Brown Story”


Posted by on May 3, 2009 in Western history


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Book Launch Week

A book launch is a most exciting time for an author, and the reason for all we do. My new book, “General William Palmer: Railroad Pioneer,” was delivered to me by my publisher, Filter Press, on Thursday, just before a Colorado spring blizzard socked Denver. Although an author open house I was scheduled to attend at a rural library was canceled on Saturday, the sun popped out and events carried on for Sunday and Tuesday. In the meantime, I had a couple of days to catch up on desk work and enjoy the presence of my new book, and the beautiful snow.

Sunday’s appearance was the 10th annual author open house at Englewood Library, which I’ve attended a few times in the past. As before, it was a classy and enjoyable event. I especially enjoyed visiting with other authors and seeing newly released book titles. Writing is a solitary activity. I relish getting out and spending time visiting with readers, fellow authors from Filter Press, other members of Women Writing the West, and making new friends in the book world.

Yesterday, my presentation at the Columbine Genealogical & Historical Society was “Lurking in Cemeteries: A Researcher’s Guide.” Once again, the subject returned to cemeteries. Rich stories abound there, and they provide unlimited possibilities. In addition, biographies are the perfect vehicle to preserve the stories of people who might otherwise be overlooked, or their voices lost to history and posterity. It was a large audience of savvy genealogists and cemetery enthusiasts. Afterwords, I signed a bunch of books, including my new Palmer title. It was a good, unsinkable day, and General Palmer is off to a good start.

Joyce B. Lohse, 4/22/09


Posted by on April 22, 2009 in Western history


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