In July 1867, in a small, three-room cottage on Denkler’s Alley in Hannibal, a child was born. John and Johanna Tobin welcomed their daughter, whom they named Margaret, into their growing household which included two older daughters, Katie and Mary Ann, and a son, Daniel. Katie, the oldest of the Tobin children, was thrilled with her new baby sister and immediately formed a close bond that would endure throughout their lifetimes.
Who could have known that this small, red-haired baby would one day live a life of wealth, adventure, political and philanthropic pursuits and heroism that the Tobin family could have never dreamed? Who would have thought the legendary life of Margaret Tobin, better known as the “Unsinkable” Molly Brown, would continue to be celebrated nearly a century after her death?
Although the exact date is not certain, scholars believe that Margaret’s birth date was July 18, 1867; this year marks the 150th anniversary of her birth. Margaret lived in the little cottage on Denkler’s Alley until the spring of 1886, when, as a plucky 18-year-old, she boarded a train at Hannibal’s Union Depot and made her way to the mountains of Colorado to live with her older brother, Daniel. Margaret dreamed of a life beyond the restraints she felt in Hannibal. Being poor, Irish and female, she faced virtually no opportunities to rise above her socioeconomic class. Margaret had big ideas, big dreams and a big personality, all of which required broader horizons than the one she was raised near along the shores of the Mississippi River.
To learn more about the amazing life of Margaret Tobin Brown, people should visit the Molly Brown Birthplace and Museum in Hannibal. The cottage on Denkler’s Alley demonstrates not only the conditions in which the Tobin family lived during America’s Reconstruction after the Civil War, but also houses exhibits detailing her life in Colorado, her marriage to James Joseph Brown, the circumstances surrounding his sudden wealth in the gold mines of the Rocky Mountains, and, of course, her heroism during the sinking of Titanic in 1912.
This summer, to commemorate Molly’s 150th Birthday, the Muny Opera in St. Louis will stage a production of “The ‘Unsinkable’ Molly Brown,” running July 21 to 27. Although this musical is a highly fictionalized version of the life of Margaret Tobin Brown, Lisa Marks said it would be her honor to join Margaret’s great-granddaughter, Helen Benziger, at the opening night performance. At the request of the staff of the Muny Opera, they have been invited to participate in events to share the remarkable true story of Margaret Tobin Brown’s life and legacy – which, of course, began in a small three-room cottage in Hannibal.
— By Lisa Marks