Lisa Marks of the Hannibal History Museum brought to life Margaret Tobin Brown – better known as Molly after Broadway and Hollywood told her story – during the Louisiana Area Historical Museum’s annual fall dinner Nov. 9.

It took a tragedy the size of Titanic to momentarily set back a gutsy Missouri native who had overcome immense hurdles.

Lisa Marks of the Hannibal History Museum brought to life Margaret Tobin Brown – better known as Molly after Broadway and Hollywood told her story – during the Louisiana Area Historical Museum’s annual fall dinner Nov. 9.

“We watched that ship split in half,” Marks said in character. “You couldn’t look away, but you couldn’t close your eyes.”

The Hannibal native was coming back from Europe and the Middle East because her first grandchild, Lawrence Palmer Brown Jr., was sick. She left her daughter, Helen, to study in Paris and boarded Titanic at Cherbourg.

Brown was in first class, traveling with the party that included one of the richest men in the world, John Jacob Astor. As with just about everyone, Titanic made quite an impression.

“Titanic was the largest manmade moving object in the world,” Marks told the audience of more than 100 people. “The service rivaled the finest hotels.”

Late on the night of April 14, 1912, Brown was awakened and thrown out of bed by what she described as “a terrible crash and a shudder.” After being told to put on a life vest, she dressed warmly and went to the boat deck.

Brown helped several passengers into lifeboats before being forced into number 6. Most had been reluctant because they feared the six-story drop by rope into the darkness of the Atlantic.

“We really believed the ship was unsinkable,” she said. “They picked me up by my elbows and dropped me into the lifeboat.”

One of the last things Brown saw as the boat was being lowered was the “haunted” look on the face of Capt. Edward Smith. Even worse were the sights and sounds of panic that followed as those still onboard realized the end was near.

After Titanic struck the iceberg, it took a little over two hours for her to sink. As morning dawned, Brown and the others could clearly see the sheer immensity of the ship’s nemesis.

“To me, those icebergs were as big as the Rocky Mountains,” said Brown, who had moved to Colorado at age 18.

Carpathia rescued more than 700 passengers. Brown never mentioned May Birkhead, but she almost certainly would have encountered the Louisiana seamstress aboard the ship. Birkhead was traveling to Europe, and was pressed into service by the New York Herald to provide first-hand accounts of the disaster.

Brown was angered that the status of Titanic passengers continued on Carpathia, with high-priced elites getting inside bunks while third class ticket holders made due on the deck.

It took four days to steam back to New York, but Brown didn’t waste a second. She formed the Titanic Survivors’ Committee and raised $10,000 – about $233,000 today story – for those who had lost everything but their lives. She also stayed aboard for a couple of days after docking to make sure everyone’s needs were met.

One myth that Marks dispelled is the name “Molly.” Brown wasn’t called that in her lifetime. The moniker came about after movies featuring about her were released starting in 1953. Probably the most famous production is 1964’s “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” starring Debbie Reynolds and based upon the 1960 Broadway musical.

Brown may have contributed to the legend when she told reporters at the New York dock in 1912 that her survival was “typical Brown luck. We’re unsinkable.”

Marks enjoyed the extensive research that went into the portrayal, and says Brown is a great role model.

“She’s a wonderful character,” concluded Marks, who performs as Brown at the museum and for area events.