On this lunchtime bike ride I rode over to President’s Park, which encompasses the White House, a visitor center, Lafayette Square, and The Ellipse. There are a number of monuments and memorials located throughout the park, and on this ride I specifically went there to see the Butt-Millet Memorial Fountain, which is located just south and within sight of the White House, and about thirty yards northwest of The Zero Milestone, near the western junction of E street and Ellipse Road (MAP).
The fountain is a memorial to Archibald Willingham DeGraffenreid Clarendon Butt and Francis Davis Millet, believed to be the only officials of the United States government who perished, along with more than 1,500 others, when the “unsinkable” RMS Titanic hit an iceberg during its maiden voyage and sunk on the night of April 14th through to the morning of April 15th in 1912.
On May 16, 1912, just one month after the Titanic went down, Senator Augustus Octavius Bacon of Georgia submitted a resolution authorizing the constructing of a private memorial to Butt and Millet on federally owned land somewhere in D.C.. Bacon argued that Butt and Millet were public servants who deserved to be memorialized separately from the rest of the dead. Initial press reports indicated that President William Howard Taft planned an elaborate dedication ceremony for the memorial. But Taft was no longer president by late 1913, having lost the presidential election to Woodrow Wilson. So the Butt-Millet Memorial Fountain was dedicated without ceremony on October 25, 1913.
The Fountain is 12 feet high, with an octagonal grey granite base which supports an 8 feet wide bowl made of golden brown Tennessee marble. Rising up from the bowl is a panel with two relief figures. The one on the southern side of the panel depicts a man in armor and helmet who is holding a shield, representing military valor and memorializing Butt. The figure on the north side of the panel depicts a woman with paint brush and palette, represents the fine arts and memorializes Millet.
Butt, known as “Archie” to his friends, was a United States Army officer. He served in the Quartermaster Corps during the Spanish-American War, where he gained notice for his work in logistics and animal husbandry. Later, after brief postings in D.C and Cuba, he was appointed as a military aide to President Theodore Roosevelt. At the time of his death he was serving as a military aide to President Taft. Known as one of the most eligible bachelors in D.C., Butt never married and mystery surrounded his personal life as well as his death. There were many sensational accounts reported of Butt’s last moments aboard the Titanic. But none of them has ever been verified. Although his body was never found, a cenotaph in the shape of a Celtic cross memorializes him in Arlington National Cemetery.
Millet was an accomplished painter, sculptor, and writer, and at the time of his death served as vice chairman of the Commission of Fine Arts, a committee with approval authority for the “design and aesthetics” of construction within the national capitol city. Some mystery also surrounded Millet’s personal life. Despite being married and a father of three, he is also thought to have had several same-sex relationships during his life. Millet’s body was recovered after the sinking and was buried in Bridgewater, Massachusetts.
Despite the mystery in their personal lives, both men were well liked in local social circles and among the D.C. elite. In Butt’s eulogy in The Washington Times, it stated that, “the two men had a sympathy of mind which was most unusual.” Noting that Butt was “mourned by Washingtonians of all walks of life,” the article claimed, “None could help admiring either man.” Some historians have also asserted that Butt and Millet were involved in a romantic relationship. They were close friends and housemates, often attending social gatherings and parties together. And they were aboard the Titanic because they were returning to the United States after vacationing together in Europe. Quite possible an early example of “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” they were together in both life and death.