Margaret Brown’s Denver Mansion

By Karen Parr-Moody

 

On April 14, 1912, Margaret “Molly” Brown was reading a book in her first-class stateroom on the RMS Titanic when, at 11:40 p.m., she heard the loudest sound she had ever heard in her life. It was, naturally, the luxury liner striking an iceberg.

 

Brown put on seven pairs of woolen socks and her warmest dress. Then she stashed $500 in her pocket and went to the ship’s deck, where she assisted other passengers into lifeboats. Before long, she was persuaded to board lifeboat #6.

 

It is mainly for this event that Brown is known to history. However, her life was one of a meteoric rise from a childhood of poverty to riches and an adulthood marked by philanthropy and social activism. 

 

Brown was born in 1867 and moved in 1894 to a mansion at 1340 Pennsylvania Street in downtown Denver with her husband, J.J. Brown. He was poor when they married, but had struck it rich in the gold mining industry. With his salary and stock holdings, he was earning $35.8 million a year in today’s money (adjusted for inflation) when the couple moved into the mansion (the mansion's dining room, photo left).

 

I recently toured this mansion, which is now the Molly Brown House Museum, and found it to be an ode to the Victorian era. Architect William Lang designed it in the Queen Anne style in 1886. The exterior’s rugged stonework is a nod to Romanesque architecture.

 

The museum has done an excellent job with restoring the house to its original look by performing microscopic paint analysis, doing architectural research and studying photographs of every room that were taken in 1910. About 30 percent of the items represent Brown’s original belongings.

 

As I toured the home, I saw many Victorian styles in the furnishings: Salt cellars on the dining room table, Eastlake furniture, stained-glass windows and elaborate wood carvings (hallway, photo, above).

 

What captivated me the most was how certain rooms spoke to how Victorians lived. In particular, the so-called “public rooms” of the home, which encompassed the entryway, hallway and formal parlor (photo, left) loudly conveyed the upper-class status of the Browns. In these rooms, one finds a polar bear rug, cheetah skin, pearl-and-ebony tray from Japan and classical statue from Italy.

 

As our docent explained, “Margaret really did fill every nook and cranny with her souvenirs, things she bought all over the world.” 

 

This display of travel trophies was a key component of an upscale Victorian life. Due to the invention of the steam engine, travel by rail and ship became a phenomenon among middle- and upper-class Victorians during Brown’s lifestyle, and she took full advantage of it.

 

And as our docent said, “They really wanted to show off that they were well-traveled. So that’s why they had this ‘Turkish corner,’ as Margaret called it.”

 

The “Turkish corner” features Middle Eastern prints and two turbaned blackamoor statues that are nearly life-size. The smaller statue, in the photo at right, is original to the estate and was recently awarded a grant toward its conservation. 

 

The larger blackamoor holds a tray – another vestige of Victorian life. Visitors would leave a calling card on a tray if the lady of the house was not available, a common social practice.

 

Historic homes are treasure troves of the past. If you love antiques and history, I can think of no better avenue for learning about how people lived during various eras. And since such homes typically belonged to the upper-class, you can daydream about what it would have been like to live in past eras in style and splendor.

 

Editor’s note: Read the companion piece on blackamoors, also on GasLamp’s Design Elements (http://www.gaslampantiques.com/magazine/admin/feature_upd.php?feId=485). 

 

 

 

 

 

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