Wednesday, February 10, 2010

It's a Small World After All

Major Archibald Butt

Despite his unfortunate name, Archibald Butt lived a distinguished life. Born in war-torn Georgia just a few months after the end of the Civil War in 1865, Archie’s uncle was General William Boggs, a Confederate general noted for his defense of Savannah, Georgia, where a fort was named after him.

The Butts were a prominent family in Augusta, Georgia, in the antebellum days preceding the Civil War, but the war cost the family its place in society and by the time young Archie was fourteen, his father died and he was forced to take odd jobs around town to support his mother and siblings.

Heading off to college at age eighteen, he graduated in 1888 and began work as a journalist. He first worked for the Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky, before transitioning to Washington, D.C., where he worked as a congressional reporter for several southern newspapers. By the late 1890’s, his connections in Washington allowed him to become the secretary to Matt Ransom, U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. Ransom had been a lieutenant colonel in the Confederate army and a veteran of Antietam.

In 1898, when the Spanish-American war began, Archie joined the army as a lieutenant, serving in the Philippines from 1900 to 1904. During his tour of duty there, he took part in the founding of the Military Order of the Caribao, a social organization for military personnel that is still around today and has counted among its ranks people like former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, two former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and former NASA chairman Sean O’Keefe.

In 1906, Archie was sent to Cuba by President Roosevelt, and two years later he returned to Washington to serve as Roosevelt’s chief military aide. He continued this position under the following president, William Howard Taft, attaining the rank of Major in 1911. During his time serving these two presidents, he wrote numerous letters to his sister in California. These letters are still around today and have proven invaluable to historians for their insights into the private side of the Roosevelt and Taft presidencies.

In the picture below, Archie is standing in uniform to the far left, with President Taft at center, flanked by two British ambassadors.

In 1912, Teddy Roosevelt was considering another run at the presidency, running against Taft, and Archie felt torn between loyalties to the two men. At President Taft’s insistence, Archie decided to take a well-deserved overseas vacation in the spring of that year, in order to recuperate and prepare for the coming election. He took a 6-week trip to Europe, which included delivering a personal message to Pope Pius X from President Taft.

In 1910, Archie had accompanied the president when Taft famously threw out the first pitch of that year’s baseball season for the Washington Senators. Archie again accompanied the president in 1911. In 1912, he was due to return from Europe just in time to accompany Taft a third time to Washington’s Griffith Stadium.

He never made it.

And neither did President Taft. The Vice-President, James Sherman, went in the president’s stead.

Taft was too distraught with grief.

Walter Douglas

Born in Iowa 1861, Walter Douglas was a first generation American, born to a Scottish father and Irish mother. Attending school at the prestigious Shattuck Military Academy in Fairbault, Minnesota, Walter later became a successful businessman, working in the mill industry that would become a hallmark of Minnesota infrastructure. In this endeavor, he followed in his father’s footsteps. His father, George Douglas, owned a large cereal mill in Iowa that, in 1901, would merge with several other grain companies to form the Quaker Oats Company.

After starting several businesses with his brother that grew to great success, and then selling them for windfall amounts, Walter became a partner in a large grain company in Minneapolis in 1899. In that same year, his first wife died, leaving him a widower with two young sons. He remarried in 1907.

In time, he became a well-known businessman in Minneapolis, serving on the boards of several large companies, including his father’s Quaker Oats Company, Empire Elevator Company, and the First National Bank of Minneapolis.

At the age of 50, on January 1, 1912, Walter retired a millionaire. With the children now grown, and a new wife at his side, he wintered in Europe, where he and his wife spent three months finding swank furnishings for their new retirement villa in Lake Minnetonka, Minnesota.

It must have been a magical three months, knowing years of hard work were behind him, and knowing he had an easy and fabulously wealthy retirement ahead.

But he never made it to Lake Minnetonka.

His wife returned there alone.

Father Thomas Byles

Thomas Byles was born in Leeds in 1870, the eldest of seven children to a Congregationalist minister and his wife. Young Thomas showed signs of intellectual curiosity and advancement from a young age, and ultimately graduated from Balliol College, Oxford, in 1894 with a degree in theology, having served as the vice-president of the school’s elite debating society.

While at Oxford, Thomas had converted to Roman Catholicism, and for several years after he attained his degree, he taught at a Catholic boys’ school in Hertfordshire, where he published a book on Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians.

In 1899, Thomas traveled to Rome to study for the priesthood at Gregorian University. Once ordained, he was assigned to St. Helen’s Parish in Essex, where he served starting in 1905.

During his many years of study and travel, a number of his siblings had left England for the United States. In early 1912, his younger brother, William, asked him to come to New York to officiate at his wedding. Thomas readily agreed.

But Thomas never made it to New York.

Another clergyman officiated at William’s wedding.

Jacques Futrelle

Despite his French name, Jacques Futrelle was an American, born in Georgia in 1875. An intellectual and a brilliantly gifted writer, Futrelle attended a series of public and private schools and also learned French and other liberal arts basics from his father, a professor at an Atlanta college.

At the age of 18, Futrelle got his first writing job, working for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where he would eventually establish that newspaper’s sports department. From there, his gifts quickly earned him ever increasing notability. He worked for the New York Herald and later the Boston Post.

In 1902, Futrelle moved from journalism into theater, managing a theatrical company in Virginia and splitting his time between production and acting.

In 1904, Futrelle went back into journalism, taking a position with William Randolph Hearst’s Boston American. While writing for Boston American, Futrelle published a serialized novel called The Problem of Cell 13. This book featured as its detective Professor Augustus Van Dusen, who would go on to appear in more than 40 of Futrelle’s short stories. Van Dusen became a famous literary character, well-known for his uncompromising use of logic to solve crimes. The character would later inspire Agatha Christie’s work.

Thanks to the success of the Professor Van Dusen short stories, Futrelle quit his job at Boston American in 1906 to pursue writing full time. He and his wife and their two children moved to a sprawling home called The Stepping Stones in Plymouth County, Massachusetts, on the wind-swept coast of Cape Cod Bay. There, Futrelle wrote seven novels and two short story collections, all of which helped solidify his fame as an emerging mystery writer.

In the spring of 1912, Jacque and his wife traveled to Europe for a 3-week vacation, which culminated with his 37th birthday party in London. On returning home, Jacque expected to publish his latest novel, My Lady’s Garter.

The novel was published, but Jacques didn’t make it home to see it in print.

His wife wrote the book’s dedication.

Michel Navratil

Born poor in Slovakia in 1880, Michel later moved to Hungary and finally Nice, France, where he became a tailor in 1902.

In 1907, he married an Italian woman in London, Marcelle Caretto, and the couple had two boys. Within a few years, however, things began to get rough for the Navratil family. Michel’s business began to fail and he discovered that his wife of five years was having an affair. In early 1912, the couple separated, with his wife gaining custody of the children. Michel was devastated by this.

Granted visitation for Easter that year, Michel was due to meet his estranged wife in Nice so she could pick the boys up. When she arrived at Michel’s house, no one was there and the place looked abandoned.

Michel had taken the boys to London, where they were bunked at the Charing Cross Hotel. His plan was to take the boys with him to America and begin a new life.

The boys arrived in New York as orphans.

Mauritz Adahl

Born in Sweden in 1881, Mauritz grew up in a family of laborers, learning the trade of carpentry and take odd jobs around Sweden during his youth. In 1903, he immigrated to America in hopes of making more money and providing better for his family. In 1906, his fiancé, Emelie, arrived and the two were married in 1907. Two daughters came later, in 1908 and 1910.

Mauritz was finding moderate work as a carpenter and providing a modest living for his family, but his wife began to feel homesick. She returned to Sweden for an extended stay in 1911, and when Mauritz’s father died later the same year, he followed her. Arriving for Christmas, he stayed for several months to help his mother in the wake of his father’s death.

Mauritz’s wife, Emelie, had decided to stay in Sweden for good with the children, but Mauritz intended to return to America to continue working for a few more years so the family could build a home on a piece of property they had purchased in the town of Asarum.

Mauritz never made it back to America, and Emelie and her children never got their dream home.

Irene Colvin

Irene Colvin was born in Utah in the early 1880’s, the daughter of a Mormon bishop. A typical 19th century Mormon housewife, she married a man named Walter Corbett and had three children.

In 1911, moved to enter into the medical field, she traveled to London to study nursing at a Mormon mission, leaving her children behind to stay with her parents. She planned on returning in the spring with several Mormon elders.

She never arrived home.


On April 10, 1912, the R.M.S. Titanic sailed from Southampton, England, with 2200 passengers and crew. On the night of April 14, the ship struck an iceberg and sank. Only 700 people survived, most of them women and children from among the 1st and 2nd class passengers.

Millvina Dean, the youngest passenger on the Titanic at nine weeks old, was also the last Titanic survivor to die. She died just last year, May 31, 2009, at the age of 97.


Anonymous said...

Outstanding! I very much enjoyed it. :) I do think it's funny that if you click on the picture of Taft, it opens in a separate window and indicates that you have named the file taftbutt.

Scott said...

hahahahahahaha. I'm glad you noticed that. I chuckled when I named it.