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When the Titanic collided with a massive iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean in April 1912, Colorado’s Margaret “Molly” Brown had no intention of getting off the sinking vessel. But the Denver philanthropist didn’t have a choice. A crew member picked her up and unceremoniously plunked her into lifeboat number six—a fortunate turn for the 24 other passengers in the lifeboat, who, on Brown’s orders, kept rowing and thus stayed warm and alive through the night. It wasn’t the first time Brown had dodged the Grim Reaper, nor would it be the last. “Unsinkable” Brown escaped fires, typhoons, and home invaders before dying quietly in her sleep at 65. In honor of what would have been her 150th birthday (the Molly Brown House Museum is throwing a bash on July 16), we highlight some of the local legend’s near-, and nearish-, death moments.
- In 1914, when political tensions rose between Mexico and the United States, Brown told Colorado Senator John Shafroth she was ready to lead a regiment of female soldiers who had volunteered to fight if war broke out. She canceled these plans when the Colorado National Guard attacked more than 1,000 striking coal miners and their families in what came to be known as the Ludlow Massacre. Her efforts were needed closer to home.
- Brown, her husband, and their two children traveled on the Lusitania in September of 1908. Seven years later, a German torpedo struck the ship and triggered the United States’ involvement in World War I (see: Brown’s ambulance driving).
- In May 1903, burglars broke into Brown’s Capitol Hill mansion while she was home with her mother and her maid. Brown called the police. By the time a detective showed up, the thief had fled, but Brown asked the cop to store $40,000 worth of jewelry at the police station in case of future break-ins.
- Brown spent much of World War I in France, driving a Red Cross ambulance on the front lines.
- The Titanic wasn’t the only ship to almost sink Brown. While she and her husband, J.J., were traveling to Asia in 1903, their small ship took on water during a typhoon but made it through the tropical cyclone intact.
- Sporting only her nightgown, Brown helped fellow guests at the Breakers hotel in Palm Beach, Florida, escape from a fire in 1925.
- As Brown and her three nieces were traveling to the 1920 Summer Olympics aboard the Quinnesco, the ship caught fire. Although the crew managed to smother the flames, the vessel was forced to return to port, too damaged to continue.