An Ignored Titanic Memorial – Part II


We’re picking up where we left off last month with Archibald Willingham Butt and Francis Davis Millet, two men who sacrificed themselves to save others on the Titanic.

Knowing how integral Archie was to the day-to-day workings of the White House, you can only imagine the President’s horror when he learned that the great, unsinkable ship had gone down. Like so many others, at first, he held out hope, hearing that many had been saved. Taft sent a telegram directly to the White Star Line inquiring of Major Archibald Butt. The official word came back confirming what Taft probably had suspected: Butt had gone down with the ship. Both Archie and his friend Francis Millet perished.

President Taft eulogized his aide and friend at the memorial service held in Augusta Georgia. During the eulogy, Taft said “I feel his loss as if he had been a younger brother.” And recognizing Archie’s stalwart personality, Taft finished by saying “I knew that he would certainly remain on the ship’s deck until every duty had been performed and every sacrifice made that properly fell on the charged, as he would feel himself charged, with responsibility for the rescue of others.”

Archie Butt’s body was never recovered. Today a memorial stone – a cenotaph – sits in Section 3 at Arlington National Cemetery in honor of Archibald Willingham Butt.

Francis Millet
Francis Millet

Francis Davis Millet was a highly-respected artist. Born in Massachusetts in 1846, young Frank Millet would work alongside his father in the Civil War in 1864, serving as first an assistant contract surgeon and then as a drummer boy for the 60th MA Infantry. His Civil War diary talks about serving with his father, being “relieved of duty” in May of 1864, then enlisting – again with his father — in July that same year.

Millet was educated at Harvard University, graduating in 1869 with a master’s degree in modern languages and literature. Being drawn to the arts, though, Millet left for Antwerp to study at the Royal Academy. He received prizes for excellence in art in both 1871 and 1872.

Francis Millet seems to have divided his life into two equal halves. Sometimes he was a writer and newspaper correspondent, other times he was an artist. He excelled equally in both of these disciplines. Just about ALL the time, though, he was a traveler touring throughout America, Europe, the Middle East, and the Far East. He was such a wanderer, it’s a wonder that he had time to write or paint! In 1891 Millet made a trip down the entire length of the Danube River – then wrote a book about the adventure.

His artwork can be found in such places as the National Gallery of British Art, the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, and the Detroit Museum. He also created murals for the Customs House in Baltimore, MD depicting the evolution of sailing. Oh! And he also assisted the great artist John LaFarge in creating the artwork at Trinity Church in Boston. His work at Trinity is considered the first of the great murals painted in America. This is just a sampling of the places where Millet left his artistic mark.

It wasn’t enough that Millet was an artist, though. He was a member of many arts-related organizations, often serving on the Boards. He was vice-chairman of the Commission of Fine Arts in Washington, DC; he was Vice President of the Municipal Art Commission of the City of New York, and he chaired the Advisory Committee of the Smithsonian National Gallery of Art. He was a Founder and Secretary of the American Academy in Rome, Italy and that is where we find him in the spring of 1912. At that time, though, Millet left this position  to travel and, as “luck” would have it, he was able to book first-class passage to America on the brand new ship, the Titanic. Millet was last seen on the deck as the ship sank. His body was recovered and Francis Davis Millet was laid to rest in East Bridgewater, Massachusetts.

National Museum
National Museum, Washington DC

On the evening of May 10, 1912, just a month after the Titanic went down, a memorial service was held in Washington, DC at the impressive building then-known as the National Museum, located on the Mall, right next door to the Smithsonian Castle. Main speakers were Senators Elihu Root and Henry Cabot Lodge, as well as Charles Francis Adams Jr (grandson of John Quincy Adams), Charles D Walcott, Secretary of the Smithsonian, and renowned architect Cass Gilbert. That these men presided over the service gives you an idea of the high esteem in which Frank Millet was held by all.

Of the many heartfelt memorials, the Commission of Fine Arts, of which  Millet had served as vice-chairman, ended their tribute with the words “…his broad human sympathies are a heritage beyond estimation.” Added to the tribute were the names of members of the Commission. One of those names was that of Daniel Chester French, the artist who would create the Butt-Millet Memorial – and – who would, a few years later, create the great Lincoln Memorial.

Civil War Campaign Medal
Civil War Campaign Medal

Of all of his many artistic endeavors, one small piece stands out. Millet created medals for the army, one of which was designed for the veterans of the Civil War. This medal was established on January 21, 1907 and was to be awarded for military service between April 15, 1861 and April 9, 1865. The Civil War Campaign Medal is considered the first campaign service medal of the United States military and was first awarded on May 26, 1909.

The small monument that sits near the south lawn of the White House is often neglected, usually ignored except when somebody needs a place to put their bag or camera, and almost always overlooked. It’s quite a nice little memorial, though, especially when the District decides to turn on the fountain. That’s when the memorial looks its best.

Butt-Millet Memorial
Butt-Millet Memorial

Done in marble, the diminutive monument consists of a basin from the center of which rises a marble column. On two sides of the column are bas-reliefs. A figure in military trappings, holding a sword and a shield symbolizes Military Valor and honors Major Archie Butt. The other figure also holds implements – but these are implements of an artist — a brush and palette, symbolizing Art and honoring Francis Davis Millet. As I mentioned at the beginning, this small monument is the work of Daniel Chester French, who created the iconic statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial.

So the next time you’re in DC, do take a moment and head over toward the Ellipse, in front of the White House. Leave the throngs of visitors snapping selfies — and go take a look at the monument to two men who were selfLESS.

We hope you come back often to find more of BrightPath Tours’ Uncommon Knowledge! Until next time.

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