Major Archibald Butt
Amidst global commemorations of the ship’s sinking, a historian has claimed that at least two of the most famous passengers of the ill-fated Titanic were gay.
In his essay, James Gifford concludes that passenger Major Archibald Butt had sexual interest in men, but that it is unclear if he and his friend, the American painter Frank Millet, who also died on the Titanic, were lovers.
Butt was a military aide to American presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, and was known for being a ‘dandy’ and for being well-dressed.
“When Archie lost his life on the maiden voyage of the Titanic on April 15, 1912, Washington circles took note. President Taft was devastated. He felt as though he had lost a son,” writes Gifford.
Gifford admits that there is little concrete evidence that Butt was gay but points out that “Most accounts referred to him as a lifelong bachelor. A handsome man who stayed in shape…”
He adds: “So I can only suggest that my research results in an ‘impression’ that he was homosexual….Of course men can like antiques, be mother-obsessed, remain an inveterate bachelor, notice the colours of ladies’ dresses, live constantly in a home full of men, without being gay. We all know that, yes. But my gaydar was telling me something else.”
While the evidence that Butt was gay is circumstantial, this is not the case when it comes to his travelling companion, Millet.
He had a documented affair with the writer Charles Warren Stoddard. According to the author, “Millet was unashamed at expressing his feelings for Stoddard,” who later left him.
Gifford says that despite Butt and Millet being friends, travelling together and sharing a home in Washington, he could not find anything concrete about the nature of their relationship.
However, he quotes a newspaper report at the time of the ship’s sinking which reads: “The two men shared a sympathy of mind which was most unusual. None could help admiring either man.”
The memorial fountain in Washington to Butt’s and Millet’s friendship is also suggestive:
“‘No Damon and Pythias friendship could have been closer than the friendship of Major Butt and Millet,’ said Mr. [Richard B.] Watrous [Secretary of the American Civic Association]. ‘The two kept quarters together and were inseparable when both were in Washington. They lived near the Metropolitan Club, Butt being, as is well known, a bachelor, and Mr. Millet’s family being quartered at his home in England…'”
Gifford notes that the terms “Damon/Pythias” were “often a loaded-and-encoded expression for a homosexual friendship” at the time.
The RMS Titanic passenger liner sank in the North Atlantic Ocean after colliding with an iceberg during her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City, leading to the death of 1,514 people.
Butt was 46 at the time of the sinking while Millet was 65-years-old.