After the first mining claim was filed in 1868, thousands flocked to Park City in hopes of striking riches. While the average miner scraped by on $2.75 to $3.50 per day, a few lucky people (23 to be exact) became newly minted millionaires. Of those, the enigmatic Susanna Egeria Bransford Emery, a.k.a. Utah’s Silver Queen, is arguably the most interesting. Famous for her flamboyant parties, world travels, and multiple marriages, she, more than any of the others, best personified the Gilded Age in America.
Bransford was born on May 6, 1859 in Richmond, Missouri to relatively prosperous parents. The 70 acres, slaves, and general store the family owned, however, were quickly lost when the country descended into Civil War. Hoping for a new start, they moved to California after the war where, despite making various investments, Bransford’s father was, by 1880, forced to sell everything to pay off creditors. The failure of her parents to recover their former standard of living, undoubtedly affected the young Bransford as she moved forward in life.
In 1884, at the ripe old age of 25 (a spinster in her time), Bransford arrived in Park City to visit relatives. Here she met the popular young postmaster Albion Emery and, after a brief courtship, they were married. Over the next few years, together they scrounged up $8,000 which they promptly invested in the Mayflower Mine. Later renamed the Silver King, it became one of Park City’s most lucrative silver mines, at one point earning Bransford $1,000/day in dividends. By 1894, the couple had built a large new home in Salt Lake City, been elevated to the upper echelons of society, and Albion’s political career had taken off.
Bransford’s fairy tale took a sharp turn when her father died, followed three short weeks later, by 48-year-old Albion. Having died suddenly with no will to clarify his business arrangements, Albion’s death forced Bransford into a well-publicized court battle (during which she was often portrayed as a greedy, ungrateful woman) to claim her husband’s estate. When all was said and done, Bransford emerged as one of the few women of her day in complete control of her own properties and finances.
From here, she went on to solidify her fortune by leveraging her holdings in the mining and real estate industries. Bransford's social life became the talk of the day. As one of America’s new rich, she flaunted her fortune, filling her days with travel, fashion, extravagant parties, and a succession of mansions. In 1899 she finally consented to marrying the wealthy Colonel Edwin Holmes who pursued her from coast to coast with lavish gifts after initially being introduced by fellow Silver King Mine investor Thomas Kearns in 1985. After a two-year honeymoon touring Europe, the newlyweds added the fabulous Gardo House (previously used by Brigham Young for entertaining) to their numerous estates.
Bransord remarried twice after Holmes death in 1925, once to the Serbian Dr. Radovan Delitch, 30 years her junior, and later to the Russian Prince Nicholas Engalitcheff. Both came with their share of scandal and rumors. By the time Bransford died in 1942 at the age of 83, most of her fortune was gone, claimed by headline-grabbing court battles over inheritances, maintaining her lavish lifestyle, and the Great Depression.
Regardless of whatever myths arose around the late Silver Queen, Bransford was a key figure during her time and is notably one of the rare businesswomen who was able to control her own fate and considerable fortune until her death.
Connect with local history
Remnants of the mining days can be found all over town, from the tram towers to the mining structures around the resorts. Here are just a few other events and activities to get you started.
The Chinese Helped Build the Railroad, the Railroad Helped Build America: An Exhibit
On display through May 28 @ The Park City Library
From 1864 to 1869 thousands of Chinese migrants toiled under perilous conditions to help build the Transcontinental Railroad. Check out this educational exhibit to learn more about how their contributions helped shape the country we live in today.
A Day at the Museum
Open M-Sat. 11 a.m.–6 p.m.; Sun. Noon–6 p.m.
There’s no place better to delve into Park City’s past than a visit to the Park City Museum. With wonderful interactive exhibits and an extensive archive, Park City Museum immerses you in the mining days.
Connect with Local Spirit on a Ghost Tour
8 p.m. every night, 435. 615. 7673, parkcityghosttours.com
Before Park City was an outdoor recreation destination, the rough and tumble streets of this tiny town were no joke and residents regularly met gruesome ends. Find out which ones came back to haunt our streets on this unique and entertaining history tour.