1,517 people died when the Titanic plunged to the bottom of the North Atlantic in 1912; a valued presidential adviser was among the men, women, and children that perished—Major Archibald Butt.
In a written statement dated April 19, 1912, President William Howard Taft eulogized, “His character was a simple one in the sense that he was incapable of intrigue or insincerity. He was gentle and considerate to every one, high and low. He never lost, under any conditions, his sense of proper regard to what he considered the respect due to constituted authority. He was an earnest member of the Episcopal Church, and loved that communion. He was a soldier, every inch of him; a most competent and successful quartermaster, and devotee of his profession.”
Butt, a member of both the Taft and the Theodore Roosevelt administrations, voyaged on the Titanic with his housemate, Francis Davis Millet, who was a painter, a sculptor, and a journalist. Another member of Washington’s power circle, “Millet served as vice chairman of the Commission of Fine Arts, a committee that has review over the ‘design and aesthetics’ of construction within Washington, D.C.,” states the National Park Service on its web site. “The commission is also partly responsible for the design and plan of the National Mall, just a short walk from the fountain.”
NPS.gov also affirms that Millet, married with three children, had “several same-sex relationships in his life.” Rumors about a homosexual relationship surround the duo; by all accounts, Butt and Millet are the only United States government officials to die on the Titanic. Sculpted by Daniel Chester French, the Butt-Millet Memorial Fountain on the Ellipse honors them.
Distraught by Butt’s death, Taft declined to attend Opening Day for the Washington Senators on April 19th—four days after the Titanic sunk. “It was a crowd prepared to be enthusiastic, but the blight of the saddest story of the seas’ history could not be cast off. One year previously President Taft had attended, throwing the first ball, and Maj. Archie Butt had been with him in the chief executive’s box,” reported Joe S. Jackson in the Washington Post. “Yesterday the President could not be present for obvious reasons, and the many friends of his late aid were forced to absent themselves in deference to his memory. Vice President [James] Sherman was there, and as the representative of the administration and of official life here, threw the first ball out onto the diamond.
In 1910, Taft inaugurated the tradition of throwing out the first ball.
The Senators blanked the Philadelphia Athletics 6-0 to kick off the 1912 season, an impressive feat considering the A’s were the World Series champions. Walter Johnson struck out eight, walked two, contributed two hits to the Senators’ tall of 10, and stranded six A’s on base. Except for the sixth inning, the A’s never had two players on base.
1912 was a banner year for Johnson, who overpowered American League lineups like a sledgehammer to a thumbtack; the “Train” led the major leagues with:
- 303 strikeouts
- .908 WHIP (Walks + Hits / Innings Pitched)
- 1.39 ERA
It was the first of four times that Johnson had the best ERA in the major leagues.
Another 1912 standout for the Senators was outfielder Clyde Milan, who led the major leagues with 88 stolen bases. In addition, Milan stood tall against American League batters in several categories:
- Tied for 3rd in singles
- Tied for 2nd in games played
- 9th in runs scored
- 3rd in at bats
Washingtonians rejoiced in the Senators’ record of 91-61 in 1912. Though respectable, it trailed the Red Sox by a highly significant margin—Boston’s ballplayers notched a 105-47 record, led the American League in attendance, and defeated the New York Giants in the World Series.
A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on April 19, 2016.