Historian Lisa Marks has been portraying the “Unsinkable” Molly Brown for almost seven years. She began with the 100th commemoration of the sinking of Titanic in April 2012.
Marks recalls that she was asked to speak to the sixth grade gifted students at Veteran’s Elementary School in Hannibal. They were studying Titanic as a school project, and she thought it would be fun to wear a long skirt and put on a big hat to portray Molly Brown. After word spread of Marks’ performance, she was asked by other groups to reprise her role.
As a result of her performances, Marks wanted to learn more about Brown so she started to research her subject. This eventually led Marks to write the book "Molly Brown From Hannibal, Missouri," published by The History Press in 2013. She’s been speaking to groups throughout the Midwest since. She is part of the Missouri Arts Council’s Touring Performer program and the Missouri Humanities Council’s Speakers Bureau. She has done book signings at the Branson and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, Titanic museums.
Her lively and historically authentic one-woman performance provides audiences with a glimpse of what Margaret Tobin Brown’s amazing life was really like.
“My presentation puts you on Titanic with Milly and in the lifeboat after the ship sinks,” said Marks. “It will touch you and lead you to think about how quickly your life can change.”
Marks will be sharing stories about Missouri native Molly Brown’s road to success in her upcoming performance in the Parkland in a one-hour performance at Mineral Area College’s Fine Arts Theater Jan. 18 at 7 p.m. Tickets are on sale at Eventbrite.com or the MAC Bookstore for $7 for adults and $5 for students. For more information, call 573-518-2106. This performance is partially financed through the Missouri Arts Council.
From her birth in 1867 and childhood years in Hannibal to Colorado in 1886, Brown was an interesting woman. She is most known for her heroic actions when the RMS Titanic sank on April 15, 1912. She helped several passengers survive the ship’s sinking by taking charge of a lifeboat. Brown turned her sudden fame into philanthropic efforts to raise money for the ship’s survivors. She also worked tirelessly to get the Maritime Law passed that would require enough lifeboats for all passengers and crew members on any ship.
When Brown boarded Titanic at Cherbourg, France, she traveled as a first-class passenger. Other notables included American millionaire John Jacob Astor, Macy’s co-owners Isidor and Ida Straus, and the ship’s architect, Thomas Andrews. The more than 2,000 passengers and crew never dreamed the ship’s maiden voyage would end only a few days later after striking an iceberg in the icy Atlantic.
“I think the most important thing I’ve learned is that her experiences surrounding the Titanic disaster are such a small part of her [Brown’s] story,” said Marks.
She explains that when Brown’s husband struck gold in Colorado in 1893, she took her new-found wealth and began a life of philanthropy and service to her country that was “amazing, particularly as a woman during the Progressive Era.”
Brown was involved in the women’s suffrage movement, fought for child labor laws and improved conditions for mine workers, and helped build the Cathedral Basilica in Denver. According to Marks, Brown was also instrumental in forming the first juvenile justice system in the U.S.
“This was all on top of her heroism during Titanic and the work she did to ensure Titanic survivors were cared for and her service in France during all four years of World War I,” said Marks. “And I could go on…”
Marks, a resident of Hannibal, said she is good friends with Brown’s great-granddaughter Helen Benziger. The two have worked together to preserve Brown’s birthplace and museum in Hannibal. They have also done book signings, fundraisers and other events together. Marks has also been in contact with Brown’s direct descendants, Muffet Brown and the Vollrath family. In addition, Brown still has distant Tobin relatives who live in Northeast Missouri.
Marks and her husband founded the Hannibal History Museum in 2010 and act as curators. They have an annual Tea Time with Molly Brown fundraising event where Marks does a special Molly presentation while serving a full Victorian tea.
The pair had two gorgeous pieces of furniture donated to the museum that belonged to Brown, who had purchased the items in Paris and had them sent to her home in Colorado. When Brown died, the house and its contents were sold to a woman who had relatives in Quincy, Ill., about 20 miles from Hannibal. They had inherited the furniture, and when they decided to retire and downsize, they donated the pieces to the museum. One is a brass and onyx French etagere, or display stand, the other is a Louis XVI mahogany marble-topped China cabinet.
“We are honored to have been entrusted with such wonderful pieces from Molly’s estate,” said Marks.