On the 100th anniversary of the sinking of RMS Titanic, it is worth remembering that there were plenty of gay people on board that frightful night.

With passengers and crew of 2,223 people, and using the standard current guess of 4% gay, that would mean 89 gay men and women on board. However, knowing homosexuality was (and is) common in both marine and travel industries, we can guess the numbers below decks where significantly higher than that 4% figure.

Archie Butt (right) and President Howard Taft

There were certainly gay people among the gentry as well. Historians have looked most carefully at one pair of passengers, Archie Butt, an aide to President Howard Taft, and Frank Millet, a painter. After sharing a stateroom together in Berlin they traveled in separate berths on the doomed ship. Butt was a lifelong bachelor who courted rumors of interests in women but declared he would not marry. He was close to his mother, loved his flashy uniforms which he kept in top shape at all times, and took seven steamer trunks along with him for his six week trip to Europe. (Ahem.) Millet was older than Butt, and well known to be gay. He was married but lived apart from his wife. Millet was the man who convinced Butt to join him on the trip to Europe.

While people of that time didn’t spoke openly of homosexuality, the relationship between Butt and Millet was so well known their friends erected a fountain in the pair’s honor in Washington, DC after their deaths. As the Secretary of the American Civic Association, Richard Walrous, said in the New York Times of the April 17, 1912:

“No Damon and Pythias* friendship could have been closer than the friendship of Major Butt and Millet,” said Mr. Watrous. “The two kept quarters together and were inseparable when both were in Washington. They lived near the Metropolitan Club, Butt being, as is well known, a bachelor, and Mr. Millet’s family being quartered at his home in England… Among all of us who knew of the close friendship of Major Butt and Mr. Millet there has been the tensest of feeling since the news of disaster to the Titanic reached us.”

* Damon and Pythias were used as a code for gay relationships as they where two male mythical figures who demonstrated their undying love for each other.

[Update, July 2012]

I recently dined with my buddy Kamran in the original dining room of the Titanic.

Kami and I were blessed with a cruise to Alaska with my family on the Celebrity Millenium. (Loved Alaska! Proof in our way-too-many pics here.) On top of being overstuffed daily, we booked a table one night in the ship’s upscale restaurant, the Olympic, a room originally built as the fancy dining room of the Titanic.

The Olympic was the sister ship of Titanic, and according to the story Celebrity tells the Olympic was finished first, so Cunard switched the names of the ships so the first shipped launched would be named Titanic. So this dining room was actually built to be the Titanic’s, but sailed with the moniker Olympic. After years of service the dining room paneling was dismantled and installed in a stately old English home, and then later sold off as a setting for fancy cruise ship dining.

Regardless. The food was unbelievable, the service impecable and fun, and we ate until we were bursting. Hard to imagine the Titanic’s passengers ate better, and if nothing else it makes for a great story. ;-)