The R.M.S. Titanic continues to remain a heartbreaking emblem of maritime history 100 years after her ill-fated maiden voyage. Now one historian is shedding new light on a considerably less-heralded segment of the tragedy: the ship's gay, or at least presumably gay, passengers.
In an OutHistory.org essay, historian James Gifford offers a scholarly survey on the private life of Archibald Willingham Butt, who served as an influential military aide to U.S. presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft prior to his death on the Titanic. Traveling with Butt was his friend Frank D. Millet, an artist who also went down with the ship (the pair, Gifford notes, was berthed separately on the ship).
"Archie always fascinated me, and not least because most accounts always referred to him as a lifelong bachelor," writes Gifford. He goes on to describe Butt as a fashionable "dandy" who liked fashion, antique shopping and the company of numerous female acquaintances: "A handsome man who stayed in shape, Butt's not marrying was a sticking point for me."
"Of course there is no conclusive evidence that Archibald Butt was gay, and I find it highly unlikely, given Archie’s careful self-image control, that he ever committed to paper any overt thoughts of such a nature. He was too canny an individual for that, too conscious of the risk in military and political ranks, where such an idea would have put a quick end to any hopes of advancement.
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 colors of ladies' dresses, live constantly in a home full of men, without being gay. We all know that, yes."
Gifford provides more ample evidence for the case of Butt's friend Millet being gay: "So far as I knew, Millet was the only gay man to die on the Titanic. Millet, though married, lived apart from his wife for a good deal of the time. It was largely his doing that Archie was with him on the ship at all."
Also published on the site are a series of letters written by Millet to writer Charles Warren Stoddard, which indicate that the two had a loving, sexual affair in Venice in 1875, 37 years before the Titanic's maiden voyage in 1912. Those letters were transcribed by OutHistory's Claude M. Gruener, a gay artist and writer in Albany. Reads one:
"My dear old Boy, I miss you more than you do me and gaum [pine] constantly – after dark -- Why should one go and the other stay. It is rough on the one who remains."
Gifford is not the first historian to make such implications about Butt and Millet. As he notes, Max Allan Collins' 1999 fictional novel "The Titanic Murders" also suggested the pair had been romantically involved during the voyage. Author Hugh Brewster also wrote of Butt and Millett in his book "Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage: The Titanic's First-Class Passengers and Their World," according to The Advocate.
But as OutHistory founder Jonathan Ned Katz told HuffPost Gay Voices, "Gifford's given us a more careful and documented account. He certainly would've been interested if he'd found evidence that they were lovers."
Katz did acknowledge one major difficulty in drawing too dramatic a conclusion over Gifford's essay: "The categories of homosexual and heterosexual weren't yet 'invented' at this point. They couldn't have thought of themselves in those exact terms." Katz added that while Gifford found no evidence of a truly homosexual relationship between the two, "he did end up thinking that when all of the aspects of [Butt's] personality were put together, it suggested to him that he may have been a repressed homosexual."
Take a look at a series of historical photos of the Titanic, along with shots of the wreck site, below:
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