Major Archibald Butt was a respected military aide to President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908. When President Taft took office in 1909, Butt remained as presidential advisor. In early 1912, he took a long-awaited vacation to Europe with writer and artist Francis Millet and visited with Pope Pius X. For their return trip to Washington D.C., Butt and Millet booked first class cabins aboard the Titanic.
On the night of April 14, Major Butt attended a private dinner party in Titanic’s ala carte restaurant. Captain Smith and railroad executive John Thayer were also at the party. Afterwards, Butt went to the first class smoking room to play cards. When the ship struck the iceberg, a few survivors claimed he helped passengers board the lifeboats and aided in the evacuation in other ways. Others claimed he returned to the smoking room. Yet others, including Walter Lord, author of A Night to Remember, stated Major Butt may have assisted but most likely watched the proceedings quietly. His body was not recovered.
A memorial service took place a few weeks later, with 1500 mourners attending. President Taft delivered the eulogy:
“If Archie could have selected a time to die he would have chosen the one God gave him. His life was spent in self–sacrifice, serving others. His forgetfulness of self had become a part of his nature. Everybody who knew him called him Archie. I couldn't prepare anything in advance to say here. I tried, but couldn't. He was too near me. He was loyal to my predecessor, Mr. Roosevelt, who selected him to be military aide, and to me he had become as a son or a brother.”
Another service was held in Major Butt’s honor in Washington D.C. Again, President Taft spoke, but was unable to finish when he broke down and wept.
President William Howard Taft and Major Archibald Butt
A fountain near the White House is dedicated to Archibald Butt and Francis Merritt. Other memorials to Archibald Butt include an empty tomb at Arlington National Cemetery.
Butt-Merritt Memorial Fountain, Washington DC
photo credits: Encyclopedia Titanica, Maritimequest.com.