The Titanic: A Very Different Love Story

15 Apr

Thank you to my dear friend Jay for inspiring me to write this story.  While I love Kate Winslet, I must confess I did not enjoy the movie Titanic, nor did the love story interest me.  However, there is a perspective I would like to share with TSM readers regarding an actual love story with a very sad ending and the sinking of the Titanic.

Major Archibald Butt, who was a military advisor for President Taft, saved many lives on the Titanic on April 15.  In fact, President Taft wept openly upon the news of Archibald Butt’s death.  Butt, during his lifetime, was the object of many cruel jokes regarding his name–a name now associated with courage and heroism. Sadly, Butt was able to save so many lives but he was not able to save the life of his spouse.

Too often stories of history leave out important details about people’s lives.  Our hero Archibald Butt was gay and had a long-time partner, Frank Millet. Millet graduated from Harvard and became an international war correspondent. Butt and Millet shared a home in D.C. where they lived a happy life together until their deaths aboard the Titanic.

The couple had set sail on the Titanic, but neither would return to America alive.  What is more sad, is that the couple did not have the chance to be together at the very end.  Butt was busy saving other people’s lives, and Millet was not seen before being lost to the cold sea.

I love this story because it reminds us that there are narratives that neglect to be told and are expunged from history, and I have the fortunate opportunity to share these stories.  Can you imagine how Butt and Millet’s story might affect LGBT youth?

Today, there is a memorial in Washington Square called the Butt-Millet Fountain.

Archibald Butt

For more detailed information and to see another great blog, click here.

18 Responses to “The Titanic: A Very Different Love Story”

  1. le artiste boots April 15, 2012 at 8:41 am #

    Reblogged this on LE ARTISTE BOOTS and commented:
    Michael has become a friend through blogging. His writing is cler and informative. Thanks, friend.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt April 15, 2012 at 8:46 am #

      You are always so wonderful and such a strong voice for social justice. Thank you for reblogging my story.

  2. nevercontrary April 15, 2012 at 10:07 am #

    History is fascinating. Which is why I majored in it. So little of what has actually happened in life is retold. Only the little they want us to know, from what point of view they want us to see it.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt April 15, 2012 at 10:09 am #

      My goal is to always take the Howard Zinn approach to history.

      • nevercontrary April 15, 2012 at 10:17 am #

        What method is that?

      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt April 15, 2012 at 11:23 am #

        Howard Zinn, a hero of mine, looks at history through the lens of the oppressed rather than the lens of the victors.

      • nevercontrary April 15, 2012 at 3:37 pm #

        A very good policy.

      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt April 15, 2012 at 5:54 pm #

        🙂 You would really like Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.

  3. Jay April 15, 2012 at 11:31 am #

    Thanks for the kind “props”, Michael. I found the Butt-Millet story quite touching when I encountered it, and it is rather sweet that you saved their story for the 100th anniversary of their death. And perhaps Millet was at Butt’s side, at the end? He was not nearly so famous a figure, and might easily have been overlooked by surviving witnesses in the panic of those final minutes.

    And count me as a fan of Titanic. Yes, it has its hackneyed moments, but damn–Cameron knows how to pace and stage a big movie. For me it remains one of the most memorable films of the ’90’s, but its perfectly fine that it isn’t to your taste.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt April 15, 2012 at 11:44 am #

      I so appreciate you drawing my attention to Butt/Millet’s love story. It was very hard to just sit on the story, but I thought it most appropriate to publish it today and to honor both men. I only hope their story reaches classrooms around the country.

  4. Michael Bedwell April 15, 2012 at 7:02 pm #

    Sorry to have to burst everyone’s bubble, but, with all due respect, you’ve been taken in by “The Daily” article by Richard Davenport-Hines, whose claim that Butt and Millet were lovers appears to be made up largely from his imagination. Revealingly, he doesn’t make the same claim in his simultaneously published book, “Voyagers of the Titanic.” While Millet, 19 years older, was at least bisexual, as documented more than a decade ago by gay historian Jonathan Ned Katz who devoted an entire chapter to some of his same-sex relationships in his 2001 book, “Love Stories”—all we know for certain about Butt is that he never married. THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO EVIDENCE that they were ANYTHING but friends. Historian James Gifford, while believing Butt was at least sexually interested in men, too, concluded they were NOT lovers. Millet was, in fact, something of a vagabond spirit, and his professional commissions resulted in him living, at least for a time, in several places. In fact, contemporaneous obituaries listed Broadway as his final residence NOT Washington DC [with or without Butt]. That starting in 1908 or 1910, depending on the source, Millet became one of a number of men Butt rented rooms to on H Street in Washington, and later shared a house with him and a third man, Blanton Winship, DOES NOT translate into “long-time partner” OR that “THEY lived a happy life together,” OR were a “couple.” Millet’s SPOUSE was NOT Butt but the former Elizabeth Greely Merrill whom he married in Paris in 1879 with no less than Mark Twain as groom’s witness and PT Barnum a witness for the bride, and with whom he sired FOUR children, and to whom he was STILL married and living with much of the time in one of the couple’s two houses in Broadway, England, where he’d founded an artist colony with painter John Singer Sargent, et al. While Katz’s book is devoted to revealing male relationships in 19th and early 20th century America, he only acknowledges that they were “close friends,” had been “roommates” in DC, and traveled together on the Titanic. He also notes that survivors remembered Millet “encouraging Italian women and children into the lifeboats” IN DIRECT CONTRADICTION to ”The Daily” article’s inexplicable assertion that “no one remembered seeing” him during the time leading up to the sinking. With just a little Googling, I discovered that survivor Archibald Gracie gave evidence to the US Senate inquiry that after the ship struck the iceberg, he saw both Butt and Millet in the Smoking Room in the company of two other men. Perhaps one of those men was William Baird Silvey whose wife survived, and a contemporaneous newspaper account noted: “… her husband, with Maj. Butt, and F. D. Millet were left standing together when the last boat left the ship.” Another account recalls, “both men were last seen giving up their life preservers to women passengers, shortly before the ship sank in the icy Atlantic waters.”And another: “Mrs. Henry B. Harris, said in an interview about Major Butt: ‘I saw Major Butt just before they put me into a collapsible raft with ever so many women from the steerage. Mr. Millet’s little smile, which played on his lips all through the voyage, had gone, but when I was put in the boat I saw him wave his hand to a woman in another boat’.” Given Hines gets those documented facts so wrong, why should we believe what he claims without submitting in documentation for it?

    Katz’s reference tracks with the probability that Millet was likely fluent in Italian after all the time he’d spent in the country. The picture of them traveling to, around, and from Europe together as lovers paints over several facts in addition to the existence of Mrs. Millet, their three surviving children, and homes in England. According to gay Titanic historian Hugh Brewster [who also believes Butt was gay but found no proof he’d actually acted on it with anyone, let alone with Millet], in his book, “Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage,” while Millet used Butt’s house as “more or less a permanent base” for his many world travels, it had only been during the last two years that Millet had become one of Butt’s boarders. “[H]e led more or less the life of a wanderer.” Millet’s wife had been with him for at least part of the month he’d just spent in Rome where he was the head of the American Academy, and had spent the last week there mostly “paying court” to Academy financier J. Pierpont Morgan before the Millets spent two days together in Paris. For his long overdue vacation, Butt had traveled with him to Rome, too, but went, BY HIMSELF, to Berlin, Paris, and, finally, England where he had a brother. Thus, he took the boat train from London’s Waterloo station to Southampton, where he boarded the Titanic as a first class passenger while Millet boarded the Titanic at Cherbourg, France, with a second class ticket. [Whether before leaving American or after, apparently Butt’s second class ticket was upgraded to first through his connections with the President. There’s no evidence I’ve seen that Millet was sneaking into Butt’s more luxurious cabin at night.] Mrs. Millet had taken returned by train to Russell House, their stone manse in Broadway. Butt was returning to Washington for his job as an aide to the President and Millet to work on the design for the Lincoln Memorial, to be followed by schedule trips to New York and Wisconsin. The memorial fountain there to both of them [done by the same sculptor as that of Lincoln in the Memorial], even with its references to “Damon and Pythias,” represents, for certain, no more than the known FRIENDSHIP of a full-time and part-time DC resident, who sometimes shared a resident, were famous locally, and died on the Titanic [along with 1,512 others who were surely not their lovers]. There’s another memorial to Butt ALONE in Washington National Cathedral, and a cenotaph for him in Arlington National Cemetery, and a memorial in Washington National Cathedral. Millet’s body was recovered by the crew of the MacKay Bennett who recorded: “MALE – ESTIMATED AGE, 65 – HAIR, GREY CLOTHING – Light overcoat; black pants; grey jacket; evening dress EFFECTS – Gold watch and chain; “F.D.M.” on watch; glasses; two gold studs; silver tablet bottle; £2 10s in gold; 8s in silver; pocketbook.” He was buried in East Bridgewater, MA, near where he was born and kept ANOTHER residence, an artist studio. His wife died in May 1932 in Winchester, Gloucestershire, England.

    In sum, gay history has been my passion for decades. But while it’s wrong when nongays try to ignore or even erase our history, it’s just as wrong when gays, or the gay-friendly, make it up. Thank you.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt April 15, 2012 at 8:09 pm #

      While I appreciate your very long comment here, I don’t see sufficient evidence to prove that they were not lovers/partners. I agree that it is not acceptable to claim people from history as gay if they were not, but I also maintain that it is not acceptable to eliminate that, in fact, I would argue strongly there is a strain of internalized homophobia and need to be heteronormative. With that said, I shall do more research on this couple.

    • Angela Gore October 8, 2014 at 3:30 am #

      P T Barnum was not the Lily Merrill witness at my gt.grandfather F D Millet’s wedding. He was Leslie Pease Barnum, an American a minor painter and writer, together with Gedney Bunce.

      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt October 8, 2014 at 6:00 am #

        Angela, thank you for adding this piece of information to the story.

  5. Michael Bedwell April 15, 2012 at 8:53 pm #

    I always find it amusing how people never complain about a comment they AGREE with being too “long.” NO ONE, including me as is clear above, is asserting there is “proof” they weren’t lovers; only that there is ample evidence to the contrary, and NO proof they WERE—including from Mr. Hines whose fantasies you amplify. The consensus, as I noted, is that they WERE gay/bi, so your “need to be heteronormative” barb is out of left field….or lower regions. And, with respect, I’ve paid my dues as a researcher, writer, and speaker on gay history and rights—ENCOURAGING others to learn about our people’s heroes and everyday forebears—so please don’t throw any of that horseshit in my direction. With that said, here’s the starting point for your research, which doesn’t include all of my sources, but summarizes all we KNOW. Thank you.​wiki/​James_Gifford:_Archie_Butt

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt April 15, 2012 at 9:14 pm #

      Michael, with such a hostile response from you, I really have nothing to say! I’m amazed and disappointed in your hostility. By the way, your link does nothing to corroborate your point. At this point, don’t bother commenting again. Your hostility is not appreciated and you are not in search of a dialogue here. Actually, you have proven to be quite mean. I don’t need any more negative energy in my life.

  6. J Noble September 7, 2013 at 2:04 pm #

    I have studied the issue and talked with the foremost experts on Archie Butt about this issue. There is NO evidence to support him being gay, let alone being lovers with Frank Millet even though know Millet was definitely bisexual. On the contrary, I have seen a letter which gives evidence to the contrary. He bore some stereotypical characteristics of being gay, but that’s the only evidence we have. We DO have absolute evidence of his attraction to women which I have seen.

  7. Rod Sullivan April 18, 2019 at 12:46 pm #

    Butt and Millet were not side by side when last seen on the Titanic. Butt was standing next to the wealthiest man in the world, John Jacob Astor, sharing a cigarette and waving goodbye to the departing lifeboats.

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