November 11, 1848 – Francis Davis Millet
Francis Davis Millet was a polymath and a real overachiever; a Harvard educated painter, sculptor, and writer, who went down with the ship in 1912.
He studied at Royal Academy of Fine Arts at Antwerp and was the first student to win a silver medal in his first year; and a gold medal the next. In the Russo‐Turkish war of 1877–78, he was a war correspondent for the New York Herald, the London Daily News, and the National Graphic. He was decorated by Russia for his bravery under fire and his services to the wounded.
Millet was a member of the Society of American Artists, the National Academy of Design, a trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art. He was one the founders of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Millet painted the murals at the beautiful Trinity Church in Boston. He was decorations director for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.
He invented the first compressed air spray-painting device. Millet was also a writer and journalist. He translated the works of Leo Tolstoy to English and wrote essays and short stories. He was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and was an honorary member of the American Institute of Architects.
He designed the 1907 Civil War Medal at the request of the U.S. Army and United States War Department and the 1908 Spanish Campaign Medal. He painted a mural on the ceiling at the U.S. Custom House at Baltimore, Maryland.
As if he wasn’t accomplished enough, Millet also palled around with writers Aldous Huxley, Mark Twain, and painter John Singer Sargent.
If you were to walk away from the White House’s South Lawn, past Melania‘s free pile, and Eric and Barron‘s playground teeter-totter, there is a humble monument with a connection to the passenger ship Titanic, which struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage on April 15, 1912. You might not even notice it. The piece is not very large; a subdued, yet elegant fountain titled Tribute to Friendship, in honor of Millet and military man Archibald Willingham DeGraffenreid Clarendon Butt (1865 –1912), two men who went down, not on each other, but on that fateful vessel, selflessly assisting women and children as the ship sank. Millet was 60 years old, and Butt was 46.
The two men were ”devoted friends” who shared a house in Washington DC, even though Millet was married (his wife lived ”far away”). Butt described Millet as ”my artist friend who lives with me”. Their only known fight was over the wallpaper Millet had chosen for their home. It was too busy with too many red and pink roses for Butt’s taste (I am not inserting a joke here). They had live-in Filipino houseboys who served presidents, cabinet members, ambassadors and Supreme Court justices at the men’s extravagant parties and lux dinners that they were famous for. Butt served as a military advisor to Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, and Taft wept openly when he learned that Butt had perished in the Titanic tragedy. Yet, this power couple are mostly forgotten.
The monument is a stone fountain designed by the sculptor Daniel Chester French, the acclaimed American sculptor best known for his design of the monumental statue, Abraham Lincoln (1920), in the Lincoln Memorial, and architect Thomas Hastings. Hastings designed the graceful amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery, but his best-known building is the New York Public Library. French’s also did the Dupont Circle Fountain, a noted cruising spot. Anyway, my point is, the design team boasted impeccable pedigrees.
Their memorial was paid for by money raised privately by friends of the two men, both of whom were known as a couple in Washington DC’s cultural, social, and political circles. Major Butt’s (note to self: a chapter title in my memoir?) White House office was not far from where the fountain can be found.
The two men had a ”tenant” in their Washington home, a handsome young diplomat named Archie Clark Kerr (1882 – 1951) who worked at the British Embassy. 35 years later, now known as Lord Inverchapel, Kerr served as the British Ambassador to America. Kerr scandalized the Washington DC elites by suddenly disappearing to Iowa, to be with a strapping young farm boy Kerr had chanced upon while the rube was waiting for a bus on the streets of Washington.
Millet had a studio in Rome in the early 1870s, and one in Venice a few years later. While in Venice, Millet had an affair with and lived togeher with Charles Warren Stoddard (1843–1909) an American writer and editor of travel books about Polynesian life, also noted for his affair with Japanese writer Yone Noguchi. But the most important relationship of Millet’s life was not with Stoddard or his wife – it was with Butt.
On an April day in 1912, Millet and Butt boarded the steamship Berlin for a six-week trip to Europe. They were quite a conspicuous couple. Butt wore bright, copper-colored trousers with a Norfolk jacket, fastened by big ball-shaped buttons of red porcelain, a lavender tie, a tall collar, broad-brimmed hat, patent leather shoes with white tops, a bunch of lilies in his buttonhole and a handkerchief tucked into his sleeve.
The two men returned home to America together in first class cabins aboard the Whitestar line’s just launched ”unsinkable” RMS Titanic. On the night of April 14, the ship struck an iceberg and by morning it had sunk with Butt and Millet among the 1,517 who drowned. It was reported that they had joined John Jacob Astor IV (the richest passenger on the Titanic) on deck, helping to load women and children into lifeboats, and then say that the three men returned to a first-class drawing room, where they played cards as they awaited their fate.
Although the relationship between Millet and Butt is never mentioned in the history books, it was common knowledge among Washington insiders, and the fact that their friends erected a monument to the two of them is a notable and poignant tribute, especially considering of the era.
The 8-foot tall marble fountain has bas-reliefs of both men. On one side of the big shaft placed atop the fountain is a military figure with sword and shield representing Butt, and an artist with palette and brush representing Millet. Besides being a memorial, the fountain is also a water fountain for the horses ridden by U.S. Park Police while on patrol.