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.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

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 Titanic, which struck an iceberg exactly one hundred years ago today. 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

2 comments:

  1. This story gave me goosebumps! If you don't mind, I'm gonna re-post this and say that it came from your site.

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  2. There is more about Millet and Butt on OutHistory.org at: http://www.outhistory.org/wiki/Press_Release:_Frank_Millet,_Archie_Butt,_and_the_Titanic_at_100

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