She was born Margaret Tobin in Hannibal, Missouri, the daughter of Irish immigrants. A restless, strong-willed adventuresome lass, the pretty red-head went to Leadville, Colorado where she met and married a miner named John James Brown. The great Silver Panic of 1893 broke many but she and J.J. found a wide vein of pure gold in their “Little Jonny” mine.
They left Leadville and moved to Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, home to Colorado’s greatest mining barons where she hoped to conquer that city’s high society. Despite the lavish parties and expensive clothes she had limited success. The “Denver Times” said of her, “Perhaps no woman in society has ever spent more time or money becoming ‘civilized’ than Mrs. Brown.”
“Leadville Johnny” didn’t care about society or extravagant living. They quarreled and finally separated. He had an affair with a young married woman causing a scandal and Mrs. Brown fled to Europe.
In Europe she was quite popular with the “old rich” of European society who found her penchant for smoking cigars and yodeling at parties both interesting and eccentric.
Returning to the U. S. in 1912 she booked passage on the unsinkable ocean liner, Titanic. The ill-fated ship struck an iceberg on her maiden voyage and went down in the north Atlantic.
Maggie did not panic; dressed in her ermine cloak, she boarded a lifeboat, taking the oars herself and encouraging other women to help her. She shouted encouragement to the survivors, assuring them a rescue ship would come and at dawn the Carpathia steamed into view. When they reached New York the passengers told reporters about her deeds and when they questioned her, she replied nonchalantly, “Yeah, I’m unsinkable.” And the legend was born.
She and her husband never patched things up. Her fortune depleted and she died in New York on October 26th, 1932.
Interest in Maggie Brown revived in the 1960s when Tammy Grimes starred in the Broadway musical, “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.” Soon after, Debbie Reynolds recreated the role for Hollywood.
Maggie always wanted to be called Molly but everyone insisted on calling her Maggie. However, show business writers thought the name Molly was more musical and rhymed better and today she is immortal as the “Unsinkable Molly Brown.” She would have liked that.