Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Prince Henry of Prussia

A little-known fact of American history is that there had been a real possibility that our fledgling nation's first leader could have been a gay Prussian royal from the House of Hohenzollern.

Seriously.

Born Friedrich Heinrich Ludwig in Berlin, Prince Henry of Prussia (1726-1802) was the younger brother of Frederick the Great. Prince Henry was a distinguished soldier and statesman who in 1786 was backed by Alexander Hamilton, Baron von Steuben and other disgruntled American politicians as a cultured and liberal-minded candidate for “king” of the United States, when Americans were considering a constitutional monarchy form of government (George Washington had declined an offer to serve as "king"). Prince Henry was 60 years old at the time. In the end, a republic form of government won out, headed by a president, so the offer was not open long enough for Henry to accept, and George Washington was selected as the unanimous choice of the electors to serve as our first president.

While it might seem far-fetched that a Prussian man would be accepted by the American people as their leader, it must be recalled that without the military leadership of the Prussian Baron von Steuben, our continental army would likely not have prevailed against the British. Benjamin Franklin, while based in Paris, recommended Baron von Steuben to General George Washington, who brought von Steuben to Valley Forge. Von Steuben affected an astonishing military turnaround, whipping into shape Washington’s rag-tag band of soldiers.

Prince Henry (childless), Frederick the Great (childless), and Baron von Steuben (never married) all had one thing in common, and that is sexual relations with men (some historians promote an opinion that Alexander Hamilton's intense relationship with John Laurens included intimate physical relations). Benjamin Franklin was well aware of Baron von Steuben’s proclivity for young men but did not tell Washington that von Steuben was about to be run out of France for his “immoral” acts, which von Steuben never denied. Fellow countryman Prince Henry was also brazenly open about his sexual interest in young men. Both Prussians had advanced military skills, and Prince Henry led Prussia’s troops so successfully during the Seven Years' War that he never lost a battle. Baron von Steuben never married, but Prince Henry entered into a childless marriage of convenience, as was the custom of high-born homosexuals of the time.

Three of Prince Henry’s affairs with younger men are documented: the 17-year-old French émigré Count of Roche-Aymon, Major Christian Ludwig von Kaphengst (1743-1800) and an actor known as Blainville. It is known that Major Kaphengst exploited the prince's interest in him to lead a dissipated, wasteful life on a Prussian estate not far from Rheinsberg, Prince Henry's castle near Berlin. It was also reported that Henry often chose the officers in his regiment for their handsomeness rather than for their military competence.


After the death of his brother Frederick the Great, Henry became an advisor to his nephew, the new King Frederick William II of Prussia (regent 1786-1797), and during the last five years of his life advised his grand nephew, King Frederick William III, who reigned over Prussia from 1797 to 1840.

Sources:

Keith Stern’s Queers in History (2009)


Warren Johansson essay in Wayne R. Dynes’s Encyclopedia of Homosexuality

Wikipedia

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Baron von Steuben

I’ve written about gay king Frederick the Great of Prussia. However, I just learned that a former aide of his had to flee Prussia amid allegations of taking familiarities with young boys. Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, an experienced military officer, made his way to America with the aid of Benjamin Franklin, who was based in Paris at the time, trying to convince the French to come to our aid in fighting the British. George Washington asked for the Baron’s assistance in bringing order to the tattered Continental troops serving in the Revolutionary War. General Washington sent him to Valley Forge in February, 1778.

The soldiers were unaccustomed to the Baron’s – well, let’s call it "style". Von Steuben showed up in a grandiose sleigh (sporting 24 jingling bells) pulled by black Percheron draft horses. The Baron was wearing a robe of silk trimmed with fur, all the while petting his miniature greyhound, Azor, who was curled up on his lap. Behind him were his retinue of African servants, a French chef, his French aide-de-camp Louis de Pontière and the Baron’s 17-year-old lover/secretary Pierre-Étienne du Ponceau.

Impressive, if not entirely appropriate.

However, von Steuben proved his worth and soon shaped a hundred soldiers into a model company that, in turn, trained others in Prussian military tactics. He was a mere captain, but was so invaluable to Washington, that he was promoted to Major General.  In 1781, he served under the Marquis de Lafayette in Virginia when the British General Charles Cornwallis invaded. He also served at the siege of Yorktown, where he commanded one of the three divisions of Washington's army.

Steuben spoke little English, and he often yelled to his translator, "Hey! Come over here and swear for me!" Steuben punctuated the screaming of his translator with fierce-sounding shouts in German and French. In an effort to codify training, Steuben wrote a Revolutionary War Drill Manual, which became the standard method for training army troops for over thirty years. It addresses the arms and accoutrements of officers and soldiers, formation and exercise of a company, instruction of recruits, formation and marching, inspection, etc., etc.

Steuben became an American citizen by act of the Pennsylvania legislature in March 1784. In 1790, Congress gave him a pension of $2,500 a year, which he received until his death, and an estate near Utica, NY, granted to him for his military service to our nation.

But wait, that’s not all. Steuben legally adopted two handsome soldiers (one of them, William North, became a U.S. Senator). A third young man, John Mulligan, considered himself a member of the stable of Steuben’s “sons.” Before moving in with Steuben, Mulligan had been living with Charles Adams*, the son of then-Vice President John Adams. Adams was concerned about the intense “closeness” between his son and Mulligan, insisting that they split up, so Mulligan wrote to Von Steuben with his tale of despair. Actually, Von Steuben offered to take both men into his arms home. Charles Adams, the handsomest son of one president and brother of another (John Quincy), resided with Von Steuben and Mulligan for a while. The 19-year-old Mulligan received – how shall we say – a very warm welcome. Von Steuben was a 62-year-old bachelor at the time. Hmmm.

Adams left the cozy love nest after a short while, but Mulligan stayed on for several years, serving as Von Steuben’s “secretary” until the Baron’s death. Mulligan inherited von Steuben’s library, maps and $2,500 cash, a considerable amount at the time, especially considering that the Baron was not a wealthy man.

Every year since 1958 the German-American Steuben Parade has been held in New York City. It is one of the city’s largest parades and is traditionally followed by an Oktoberfest celebration in Central Park. Similar events take place in Chicago and Philadelphia. Chicago’s Steuben Day Parade was featured in the movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off. To further honor von Steuben, the Steuben Society was founded in 1919 as an educational, fraternal, and patriotic organization of American citizens of German background. In the difficult post-WW I years the Society helped the German-American community reorganize.

Steubenville, Ohio, is named in the Baron’s honor. As well, numerous submarines, warships and ocean liners were named after him. A statue of the Baron stands in Lafayette Square opposite the White House in Washington, DC*. Even one of the cadet barracks buildings at Valley Forge Military Academy and College is named after Von Steuben. Really.

Steuben was cited by Randy Shilts in his book, Conduct Unbecoming, as an early example of a valuable homosexual in the military.

*I traipsed over to Lafayette Park yesterday afternoon to inspect the statue of Baron von Steuben. It’s a tall bronze life-size statue placed upon a high stone pedestal. The statue shows von Steuben in military dress uniform surveying the troops at Valley Forge. The monument, which stands opposite the White House, was erected in 1911 and sculpted by Albert Jaegers. At the rear of the pedestal is a medallion with the images of von Steuben's adopted aides-de-camp, William North and Benjamin Walker, facing one another.  It says:  "Colonel William North - Major Benjamin Walker - Aides and Friends of von Steuben". On each side of the pedestal are bronze Roman soldiers. Above the carved words “military instruction” on one side is a seated, helmeted Roman soldier “instructing” a naked youth (photo at left). Appropriate, no?

Check it out the next time you come to Washington DC.

*In 1796 Charles Adams was one of a group of men who frequented the theater in New York City and wrote critiques of what they saw for further distribution. Others in the group, called the Friendly Club, were John Wells, Elias Hicks, Samuel Jones, William Cutting and Peter Irving. This is noted in William Dunlap's "History of the American Theatre," published in 1832 (p. 193). Adams, whose father vowed never to see him again after Charles abandoned his wife and two daughters, drank himself to death in 1800, succumbing to alcoholism at the tender age of 30. Some scholars believe this was caused by his inability to deal with his homosexual leanings. Charles Adams, who streaked naked across the campus of Harvard during his student days, had a reputation as a rogue and renegade, and his family's wall of silence after his death may support that theory. Charles certainly spent much time in the company of men who engaged in homosexual activity. In researching this post, I enjoyed a cheap smile over the fact that the law office of young Adams was located on Little Queen Street (since renamed Cedar St. in the financial district).

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Titanic Memorial: A Tribute to "Friendship"

Just a few yards from the White House south lawn sits a little-known monument related to the ill-fated passenger ship Titanic, which struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage on April 15, 1912. Described as a “tribute to friendship,” this fountain along E St. honors Francis Davis Millet and Archibald Butt, two men who went down with the vessel, selflessly assisting women and children as the ship sank. Millet was 60, and Butt 46 at the time of the tragedy.

The two “devoted friends” shared a house in DC, even though Millet had married (his wife lived elsewhere). Butt described Millet as “my artist friend who lives with me.” Their only recorded spat was over the wallpaper Millet had chosen for their home (too many red and pink roses for Butt’s taste). Their live-in Filipino houseboys served presidents, cabinet members, ambassadors and Supreme Court justices during lavish parties and dinners the male hosts were famous for. President Taft wept openly when he learned that Butt had perished in the Titanic tragedy, yet the two well-connected men have been forgotten with the passage of time.

The joint monument is a stone fountain designed by the sculptor Daniel Chester French and architect Thomas Hastings. Among other of French's works here in Washington are the seated statue of Lincoln inside the Lincoln memorial and the Dupont Circle Fountain. Hastings was architect of the elegant amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery, but his best known building is the New York Public Library. At any rate, the design team boasted impeccable pedigrees.

This memorial was paid for by funds raised privately by friends of the two men, both of whom were widely known in Washington's cultural, social, and political circles. Frank Millet (right), a skilled painter, was a member of the Fine Arts Commission who also directed the American Academy in Rome, Italy. Major Butt had been a military aide to both President Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. The fountain today sits not far from where Major Butt's White House office was located.

The two men had a tenant in their Washington home, a young diplomat named Archie Clark Kerr, who worked at the British Embassy. He returned to Washington 35 years later as Lord Inverchapel, the British Ambassador. Kerr caused quite a stir among diplomatic circles by suddenly disappearing to Eagle Grove, Iowa, to stay with a strapping farm boy Kerr had come upon while the lad was waiting for a bus on the streets of Washington. So there you have it.

Frank Millet had a studio in Rome in the early 1870s, and one in Venice a few years later. While in Venice Millet lived with Charles Warren Stoddard, a well-known American travel journalist and poet who had a sexual interest in men. Historian Jonathan Ned Katz published letters from Millet to Stoddard that confirm they lived a bohemian life together in a romantic and intimate relationship. But the most important relationship of Millet’s life was not with Stoddard or even his wife – it was with Archibald Butt.

Fast forward to the early spring of 1912. Millet and Butt (left) together boarded the steamship Berlin for a six-week trip to Europe. To say that they were a conspicuous pair is understatement. Butt wore bright, copper-colored trousers with a Norfolk jacket, fastened by big ball-shaped buttons of red porcelain, a lavender tie, a tall collar, broad-brimmed hat, patent leather shoes with white tops, a bunch of lilies in his buttonhole and a handkerchief tucked into his sleeve. The two men returned home to America together, too, in first class cabins aboard the “unsinkable” Whitestar liner RMS Titanic. On the night of April 14, the ship struck an iceberg and sank the next morning with Butt and Millet among the 1,517 victims of the disaster.

Although the intimate relationship between Millet and Butt was never mentioned publicly, it was common knowledge among Washington insiders, and the fact that their friends erected a joint monument to their memory is a remarkable and poignant tribute, considering the mores of the day.

The 8-foot tall marble fountain displays bas-reliefs of both men. On one side of the shaft placed atop the fountain is a military figure with sword and shield representing Major Butt, and an artist with palette and brush represents Millet. Besides being a memorial, the fountain was designed to double as a water fountain for the horses ridden by U.S. Park Police while on patrol.

Inscription carved around the upper rim of the fountain:

IN MEMORY OF FRANCIS DAVIS MILLET · 1846 - 1912 ·
AND ARCHIBALD WILLINGHAM BUTT · 1865 - 1912 ·
THIS MONUMENT HAS BEEN ERECTED BY THEIR FRIENDS WITH THE SANCTION OF CONGRESS