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'Titanic' film boosts tourism at Molly Brown house

The Molly Brown House  
January 18, 1998
Web posted at: 2:59 p.m. EDT (1459 GMT)

DENVER (CNN) -- Nestled in among the Rocky Mountains and some 2,000 miles from the Atlantic Ocean is a monument to one of the greatest disasters at sea. It may seem out of place -- built on the whim of a ocean fanatic, maybe, or perhaps an attempt to cash in on a box-office blockbuster.

But the Molly Brown House, the fashionable home of one of the sunken ship's most famous survivors, isn't new. The museum and historic mansion in downtown Denver is just getting more visitors since "Titanic" opened in theaters.

"Really, Molly Brown represents sort of -- really, the American Dream. She was a fairly poor working-class girl who came and married well; he struck it rich," said Leigh Grinstead, the director of the Molly Brown House Museum.

In the late 1800s, the Browns made their fortune off gold discovered high in the mountains of Colorado. In 1894, the family settled in Denver. Margaret "Molly" Brown lived in the Victorian mansion there, on and off, until her death in 1932.

In the 1970s, the house was restored to look as it did when the Browns lived there and was opened to the public. Today, the Molly Brown House Museum is one of Denver's top attractions.

While her steady climb up Denver's social ladder made Molly Brown well-known at home, her journey onboard the Titanic secured her place in history.

Molly Brown
Molly Brown  

The Titanic was touted as the grandest ocean liner ever built. But in 1912, on its inaugural voyage from Europe to North America, the ship hit an iceberg. Within a few hours, it sank in the North Atlantic, taking with it the lives of some 1,500 passengers.

Molly Brown was one of the 700 who survived.

"She really took charge of her lifeboat, got in there and taught women how to row so they would keep warm," Leigh said.

Her heroics continued on the Carpathia, the ship that rescued her band of survivors, where her determination to fit in with Denver society by learning different languages came in handy.


The top 5 maritime disasters

The Titanic's sinking wasn't the worst maritime disaster in history, although it comes close. The top five, ranked by number of lives lost:

1948: Chinese army evacuation ship explodes and sinks off Manchuria; 6,000 killed.

1916: French cruiser Provence sinks in Mediterranean; 3,100 killed.

1987: Philippine ferry Dona Paz and oil tanker Victor collide in Tablas Strait; more than 3,000 killed.

1917: French ammunition ship Mont Blanc and Belgian steamer Imo collide in Halifax Harbor; 1,600 killed.

1912: The Titanic hits iceberg and sinks in North Atlantic; 1,503 killed.

(Source: The 1997 World Almanac and Book of Facts)

"When she got on board the Carpathia, she translated for widows and orphans, and raised money (for destitute victims) before she ever docked in New York," said Leigh. "She then went to testify in front of the U.S. Senate on maritime reform."

Broadway, then later Hollywood, paid tribute to the Denver socialist with musical "The Unsinkable Molly Brown," which MGM made into a movie in 1964.

For 85 years the Titanic, too, has been memorialized in many ways, perhaps none so opulent as the latest motion picture, in which Kathy Bates portrays Molly Brown.

"It's really a human story and people just don't seem to tire of it," Leigh said.

The attention "Titanic" is generating has translated into big business for the Molly Brown House. In the past few weeks, the museum has seen a dramatic increase in visitors and its web site has gotten nearly half a million hits.

The impressive numbers are likely to continue as the phenomenon of Titanic continues to grip the nation.

Reporter Steve Nettleton contributed to this report.


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