`Silver Queen' details life of turn-of-century Utah mining heiress

Published: Sunday, May 10 1998 12:00 a.m. MDT

Susanna Egera Bransford Emery Holmes Delitch Engalitcheff was not exactly an ordinary woman. Better known as The Silver Queen, she is one of the state's most famous women - and one of the least understood.

Much of her soap-opera life was lived out under the glare of public scrutiny, where she was at times catered to and doted upon and at other times blasted for being greedy, selfish and vain. She contributed to the confusion herself, often telling outlandish stories that were full of half-truths and misinformation.But she was, say Judy Dykman and Collene Whitley in their new biography, "The Silver Queen," a product of her age. A member of the nouveaux riches, she was the epitome of the Gilded Age. Her life should be evaluated in that context, they say.

At the turn of the century, the newly rich - those who had made their money in mining or oil or commerce - found themselves in a constant battle to impress and be accepted by the old guard. "It was a lifestyle guaranteed to breed narcissism," write Dykman and Whitley.

"The problem was that no matter how artificial, expensive and sometimes downright silly the standards became, nearly everyone with wealth found themselves embroiled in the competition to some extent . . . . Susie would swim in the deepest waters, accepting the values and lifestyle of the Gilded Age."

Susie, as she was known by family and friends, was born in Missouri in 1859 but came to the mining camps of California at the age of 5.

Fortune "alternately smiled and frowned" upon the Bransfords during the 1870s and 1880s, as income and investments wildly fluctuated. But Susie's life was fairly typical: limited education, a lot of hard work, a little in the way of socializing.

She was atypical in one respect; she did not marry until age 25. After she had moved to Park City, Susie got married for the first time - to the man her biographers believe was the love of her life: Albion Emery. And it was there that her fortunes took a turn for the better, financially at least. Emery was a partner in the Silver King mine when it hit pay dirt. The Silver Queen was born.

Over the next 50 years, Susie's life would hit peaks and valleys, reflect both the excesses and the insecurities of the times, and be filled with both triumphs and tragedies. Before it was over, Susie would bury four husbands, her only child (adopted daughter Grace), her protege (actress Adele Blood) and her protege's daughter (Dawn).

She lived in lavish homes in Salt Lake City (including the elegant Gardo House) and Pasadena, Calif., and in posh suites in New York hotels. She traveled the world.

She also became estranged from most of her family. And she saw her fortune diminish, eaten away by the Great Depression.

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