For this month’s blog post, we have decided to highlight a few of our docents who truly bring the story of Margaret Brown to life.  These docents have been with us for over 20 years combined.

Meet Phill:


Phill and his wife Sue

1. How long have you been a docent?

Sometime in February 2003, my wife Sue noticed an ad in the paper that said, “Molly Needs a Hand.”  The Molly Brown House Museum (MBHM) was going to have two “information sessions” on how to become a volunteer on February 25th at 2 and 7 pm.  Sue said that I should give them a call and check it out.  The ad also stated that they were going to “serve refreshments,” so of course I had to call and schedule the 7 pm session.  While I was there I met Mary Thompson.  At the time, she was doing the training for the docents and I agreed to become a docent.  As a matter of fact, everyone got me to sign up for each department.  I ended up just doing tours and working with several of the Titanic projects that the house had going on.  Due to my schedule at work I could not take the training till May 2003.  After the training and reading the book Molly Brown – Unraveling the Myth I did my first tour in June 2003.  I continued doing tours till January 2005 when Sue was transferred to Kansas City, Kansas.  While there I worked with the MBHM on several different Titanic projects.  We moved back to Denver in July 2011 and just picked up where I left off.

2. What made you decide to become a docent at the MBHM?

In one word, Titanic.  Sometime during the summer of 1995, I viewed the movie A Night to Remember.  It is one of the earlier accounts on the sinking of Titanic and was based on Walter Lord’s book of the same title.  That was the first time that I had seen anything on Titanic and it sparked my interest in the ship.  I started to read a few things on Titanic here and there and the more I read the more I wanted to read.  With all my reading, I discovered the Titanic Historical Society (THS) which is located in Springfield, MA and became a member in 1998.  The THS was having their 1999 convention in Denver so I quickly signed up for the event.  During the convention, obviously, they took all the THS members to the MBHM for a tour and we had a guest speaker from the house.  This was the first time I was at the house and I enjoyed the fact that there was a survivor from Titanic that had lived in the same city I lived in.  I did not take the plunge to be a docent at the time.  I worked and it seemed that I was too busy to get involved at the time.  I also felt that I did not have enough knowledge to speak in front of others about her.  As I mention earlier, Sue had seen the ad for “Molly Needs a Hand” and at this time I thought that I should get involved.  I had devoted most of my time to the study of the ship and now I wanted to include the people whose lives were changed on the ill-fated voyage.   Molly Brown seemed to be a good person to start with since she lived here and was well known in Denver and throughout the world.  She is my largest connection to Titanic.

3. What is your favorite thing about being a docent?

My Favorite thing about being a docent is letting everyone know some unknown facts about Margaret.  One of them is that she was never known as “Molly.”  This is the one thing that seems to surprise everyone.  They are amazed how the musical and the play, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, could change Margaret’s name and make her popular name Molly Brown.  Also, Margaret is the only person from Titanic that not only has this home as a museum, but her childhood home in Hannibal, MO is also a museum.  This to me takes out any sting there was to the snubbing of the so called “Sacred Thirty-Six.”

4. What is your favorite thing to talk about during your tour about Margaret?

My favorite thing to talk about during my tour is Titanic on the second floor hallway.  I use the photographs, drawings, menu, and claim form to help paint the Titanic story.  I do enjoy talking about Titanic there, but I also enjoy telling Margaret’s story about her role in the sinking.  Most people see Margaret as the heroine of Titanic for what she did in the lifeboat.  I see her as the heroine for that in part, but also for all the work she did on Carpathia.  She spoke five languages and could communicate and console with many second and third class passengers.  And for her role with the Titanic Survivors Committee – she was a member of that committee till her death – and raised $10,000 for those who lost everything including their bread winners, even if she had to shame some of the wealthy into giving.  Another thing she did was to stay on Carpathia an extra day after they docked and stayed in New York for a week to continue to help the second and third class.  Margaret never forgot her humble beginnings in Hannibal and the work she did with the survivors proves that.

5. What is your favorite artifact in the house?

I like the annunciator in the kitchen.  Ever since I learned about the annunciator I have wanted one in my home.  I think it would be wonderful today, as it was 124 years ago, to push a button and someone would come to see what I wanted and then take of it.  In my tours I let our guests know that I do have something like Margaret’s annunciator in my home.  I have a bell on my desk and when I want Sue to get something for me I ring it.  Unfortunately, she must be hard of hearing, because she has never come to see what I needed.

6. Is there a story about a tour that stands out in your mind?

One Saturday before we moved to Kansas, I bought out the 3 pm tour and passed out 25 tickets to my family and friends so I knew everyone that was on my tour.  At the beginning of the tour I had several different post cards of the inside of the house and passed them out to everyone to give them a taste of what they were going to see.  This worked out great as it got everyone talking about the house and some were also trading their post cards with each other.  Once they all settled down I started the tour.  It was the easiest tour I have ever given. Everyone listened and followed all instructions.  They all knew about my interest in Titanic and asked several questions about Margaret and Titanic that then turned into discussions. There were also some younger children who thought that it was a treat for them that they personally knew the tour guide.  As the tour was ending in the kitchen we all took a few minutes to mingle with each other to talk about the tour and what their highlights were.  Mine, certainly, was that my family and friends were all there.  After the tour Sue and I had a barbecue at our house and everyone came.  It all turned out to be a pleasant affair.

7. What do you want people to remember about the legacy of Margaret Brown?

That she was ahead of her time and cared for others.  She was a strong woman in a man’s world.  Once the Little Johnny Mine propelled the Browns into wealth, Margaret had the ways and means to accomplish her beliefs. She wanted to continue her education so she used tutors and also had them train her servants.  As a woman, she ran for the Senate before women had the right to vote, something surely looked down upon by men.  She used her fundraising abilities to help build her church at 15th and Logan – the Church of the Immaculate Conception – and St Joseph Hospital.  She also helped out the less fortunate and would send warm clothes to the poor and orphans in Leadville for Christmas.  This was done one last time just after her death in 1932.  Like I said above, she never forgot her humble beginnings.

8. Anything else you would like to share about your experiences at the museum?

Volunteering at the museum has shown me the real Margaret Brown.  The movies and some books have painted a distorted view of her.  Their research at best has been lacking.  It has also enhanced my study of Titanic.  I get asked questions and request for research that I would have never been asked if I was not at the museum.

Also, I have met two ladies that have become my friend.   Mary Thompson, Steph MacCarter, and I have kept in touch, exchanged emails even while I was in Kansas, and we have had lunch together countless times.  I missed both of these ladies while I was in Kansas and when I came back to Colorado we all picked up like I was never gone.