Ladies of the Brown: The semi-secret history of a great hotel

Evalyn Walsh McLean was famous for the blowouts she threw on short notice at the Brown Palace for Denver's society swells -- ice elephants filled with caviar, Bollinger '26, dance bands, the works. But in the depths of the Depression she took the Hope diamond to pawnshops to try to keep her party going. Her rise and fall is one of several lesser-known episodes showcased in Debra B. Faulkner's new book, Ladies of the Brown: A Women's History of Denver's Most Elegant Hotel.

Local historian Faulkner writes that she was asked by the History Press to produce a collection of ghost stories about the Brown; instead, she persuaded her editor to consider a gathering of some of the prominent, notorious and obscure women who've frequented (if not haunted) Denver's premiere hotel. The result is an entertaining though not entirely unfamiliar glimpse of goings-on at the Brown from the distaff side of things.

Some of the guests wandering through Faulkner's pages, such as Augusta Tabor, Molly Brown and the infamous Isabel Springer (the hot corner of a love triangle that led to a shooting in the hotel bar), have been scrutinized in greater detail elsewhere. But it's fun to read about Joan Baez arriving there just as the Beatles hit town, or staff scrambling to find Zsa Zsa Gabor's lost kitten, or how the Ship's Tavern got its ships.

There's even some interesting vignettes about in-house musicians, elevator operators and other staffers from eras goneby, drawing on the hotel's own historical archives.

Faulkner will be signing books and talking about the Brown's grand dames Thursday night, Jan. 20, at 7:30 p.m. at the Tattered Cover LoDo, 1628 16th Street.

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast