Saturday, May 10, 2014

Within Denver City Limits, Finishing at the Molly Brown House

I traveled to Denver, Colorado, in April for the Distance Library Services Conference. This is the third time I'd been to Denver, but I knew there was still plenty I hadn't explored. My colleague and I stayed in the city for the four days--no excursions to the mountains or nearby towns--and located some intriguing sites and experiences.

Clock Tower on 16th Street
Sixteenth Street is the main pedestrian thoroughfare through town. You're not allowed to be on it unless you are a pedestrian or a free bus. This means you can walk from one end to the other without worry, or ride the free buses constantly cruising back and forth, or some combination of the two. Naturally, for photo shooting, walking is better. When I was in Denver six years ago, I ventured to the Northwest-ish end to visit the Tattered Covered Bookstore which is amazing and Rockmount Ranch Wear store where I bought an authentic western shirt with snaps instead of buttons. (Think John Denver.) I got to meet the 106-year-old CEO of that company, Jack Weil, and we chatted about sewing, fabric, and Pennsylvania. Mr. Weil died later that year. I was happy to see that his store, just off 16th Street, is thriving.
The Rockmount Ranch Wear store on Wazee Street
We wandered over to Larimer Street one evening to walk-off some of the delicious dinner we had just enjoyed. I hadn't seen Larimer Street before, so this was a treat. Not only was this whole block illuminated, but the store signs and windows were photo-worthy, too.
Collage of Larimer Street shots using the Frametastic iPhone app
Our hotel, the Curtis, was just a couple of blocks from Larimer Street, and conveniently for us, across the street from the performing arts complex. (We had purchased orchestra tickets before leaving the East Coast. Read about that concert here.) The Curtis was amazing, all done-up in colorful retro colors and designs for us Baby Boomers. Right there in the foyer I knew this was going to be a fun place because of this doggy welcome. The lobby was bright and friendly with a selection of board games (and Rockem Sockem Robots), a fridge filled with multi-colored sodas, and Mad Men-style furniture. Each floor had a theme which was announced by the elevator upon arriving. Ours was Perfect Pairs, as in Bert & Ernie, Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, Lucy & Ricky, and you get the idea. The logo we saw all over the place was a robot named Lloyd holding a boom box over his head reminiscent of that famous scene in the movie, "Say Anything." The popular culture theme extended to our conference meeting and reception rooms, and we were fed casual comfort food during the conference.
The Curtis Hotel with matching orange taxicabs
Once the conference was over and we were released back into Denver for some exploration, we headed over to the Civic Center area to the Southeast of the above-mentioned localities. This is where we found the Colorado State Capitol,

the Vance Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art which I blogged about here, and finally, the Molly Brown House. Bill was looking forward to that Kirkland Museum above all else in Denver, and I was especially interested in visiting the Molly Brown House because I had just read an excellent biography of that accomplished woman: Molly Brown: Unraveling the Myth by Kristen Iverson (1999). We were delighted to find that our two destinations were around the corner from each other, and there was a perfect comfort-food luncheonette between them. We were set.
The Molly Brown House Museum, Pennsylvania Street, Denver (1890)
Here's a nutshell version of what I learned about Molly Brown: 
  • She was never called "Molly" during her lifetime. Her name was MARGARET, but Broadway and Hollywood decided "Molly" was easier to sing.
  • She did survive the Titanic disaster, and upon arriving at New York City helped other survivors, especially poor immigrants, get started in the United States.
  • She traveled all over the world and wrote about her adventures. She was in Egypt with her daughter when she was notified that her grandson was very ill. The Titanic was part of her mad dash home, but sometime during this journey she was notified that the kid would be okay.
  • She was a Denver socialite and philanthropist who organized the Carnival of Nations to raise money for the Immaculate Conception Cathedral Building Fund.
  • She and her husband J.J. made their money in silver mines, but tired of each other once they were rich. They never divorced, but she traveled and bought an additional house in Newport, Rhode Island, while he mostly stayed home in Denver. They had a son and a daughter.

This house on Pennsylvania Street in Denver, was built in the 1880s for another silver mine family who lost their money. J.J. bought it from them in 1894 for $30,000, and signed it over to Margaret in 1898. They called it the House of Lions because of the lion statues outside. The inside is decorated in various Victorian styles with heavy drapes here, lace curtains there, silk damask wall coverings, and new-fangled electric fixtures. It's small by our standards, but each person had their own bedroom on the second floor except for their son who was off on his own by this time. Margaret's (above) is a glorious green to celebrate her Irish heritage and features her cherished writing desk. There's a cherry-paneled parlor, library, dining room, and kitchen on the first floor (along with the big outdoor porch), and a third floor used for entertaining then and special events (Tea with MARGARET!) now.

So there you have it, my third trip to Denver. It is one of my favorite cities not only because of its great downtown, but because one can launch from it to so many other fabulous mountainous sites. It's clean and easy to walk around, and I didn't even tell you about the restaurants. (We ate well.) It's dry, though, so drink your water if you go!