Titanic Victims Honored With A Watery Memorial

NPR's summer road trip series continues with a tribute to two influential Washington, D.C., figures from the early 1900s. A 12-foot fountain in the nation's capital honors the friends, who took an ill-fated trip in 1912 aboard a brand-new ocean liner called the Titantic. Emily Friedman reports.

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JOHN YDSTIE, Host:

Our summer road trip, Honey, Stop the Car, has been pulling over to monuments around the country that honor local heroes. This morning, a stop in the nation's capital by a 12-foot fountain. If you look carefully, you'll discover it memorializes two very different men who, reporter Emily Friedman tells us, shared a common fate.

EMILY FRIEDMAN: The fountain sits very close to the White House. In fact, the only buildings closer are security booths. So, it's clear that whoever these men were, they must have been really important people. But if you're trying to figure out exactly what they did to end up memorialized on such prime real estate, you have to do a little detective work. There are two figures carved into the marble. One holds a paint brush, the other holds a sword.

ELIZA MILLET BEAULAC: One represents art, and one represents the military.

FRIEDMAN: That's Eliza Millet Beaulac.

MILLET BEAULAC: And I am the great-great granddaughter of Francis Davis Millet.

FRIEDMAN: Millet is represented by the artist figure, though as his great-great granddaughter can attest, he was more than an artist. He was also a war correspondent and served on dozens of national arts committees, one of which was the Chicago World's Fair.

MILLET BEAULAC: If you're familiar with the Chicago World's Fair, they called it the White City because all the buildings there were painted in white, and he was in charge of figuring out how to get all the buildings painted white in a speedy amount of time, so he created the first spray paint.

FRIEDMAN: Millet lived in Washington D.C., as did his close friend, Archibald Butt. Butt was a military aide and friend to both Presidents Roosevelt and Taft. And by all accounts, Butt was what we might call a workaholic.

MILLET BEAULAC: Apparently he hadn't taken vacation in 12 years.

FRIEDMAN: And Millet, being a good friend, suggested he take a break.

MILLET BEAULAC: Butt said no, no, no. Can't go.

FRIEDMAN: Millet went to President Taft and convinced him to let Butt take a few weeks off. And so, in the spring of 1912, they went to Europe. And after Butt found himself sufficiently relaxed, they decided to sail back to Washington together on a brand new ocean liner.

MILLET BEAULAC: There are accounts of both Millet and Butt helping women and children off the Titanic.

FRIEDMAN: As soon as the ship started to sink, the men gave away their life preservers.

MILLET BEAULAC: At the end, when everybody was on board lifeboats, they went into the smoking lounge. You know, they knew that they weren't going to be saved.

FRIEDMAN: Within a month, their friends had raised enough money to build a memorial. Taft insisted the fountain be placed near the White House, where it sits today, nearly 100 years later. For NPR News, I'm Emily Friedman.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

YDSTIE: This is NPR News.

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