Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at dublinhistory@yahoo.com.

Friday, April 13, 2012

A NIGHT TO REMEMBER - THE TITANIC AND THE GEORGIANS ABOARD





There is scarcely anyone around who hasn't heard the story of the RMS Titanic, which struck a North Atlantic iceberg a century ago today. Although many don't know the exact number of those who died that fateful April Sunday evening, the story has been told and retold in countless movies, books and television shows. What you might not know is that four of her passengers had ties to Central Georgia.

Linnie Futrelle never got over the news she received in her home in Adrian, Georgia, that her son Jacques was one of the 1517 souls who perished early in the morning of April 15, 1912. Futrelle and his wife May were cruising across the Atlantic Ocean aboard the unsinkable queen of the White Star Line. His mortal remains lie on the ocean floor among the layers of rock, silt, and the deteriorating hull of the world's most famous luxury liner, the H.M.S. Titanic.

His grieving mother, seeking closure to the death of her son, caused a marker to be erected to commemorate his tragic and noble death. You may have driven by the marker many times and never noticed it. This is the story of a man whose cenotaph stands in the cemetery of Poplar Springs Methodist Church, just east of Scott, Georgia. The marker reads, "Jacques, son of W.H.H. & Linnie Futrelle, Apr. 9, 1875, Lost on Titanic, Apr. 15. 1912, Who in the supreme test, proved himself. Nearly fifteen weeks later on July 28, 1912, Linnie Futrelle passed away into Heaven to rejoin her son.

Jacques Heath Futrelle, a native of Pike County, Georgia, grew up to appreciate literature. Jacques worked first as a printer's devil and then as Business Manager of the Atlanta Journal. He oversaw the establishment of the first sports department of the Journal. After his return to Atlanta, Jacques took the hand of the love of his life, the beautiful Lillie May Peel, in marriage on July 17, 1895. The Futrelles moved to New York, where Jacques became the telegraph editor of the New York Herald.

Futrelle left journalism to manage a theater in Richmond, Virginia. He began to write, direct, and act in plays for a couple of years before returning to Boston to work for the icon of newspaper publishers, William Randolph Hearst. What Jacques enjoyed most was writing - in particular, mysteries. His most famous work, "The Thinking Machine," was first published as a serial in "The Boston American." Futrelle is most remembered for his character of Professor S.F.X. Van Dusen, who was "The Thinking Machine." Professor Van Dusen's most well read case was "The Problem of Cell 13." Jacques wrote more than a dozen novels and even more magazine articles for leading magazines of the day, including The Saturday Evening Post.

In January 1912, the Futrelles traveled to Europe to promote Jacques' novels and to give him a change of scenery to write even more magazine articles. After, their vacation was cut short, the Futrelles gathered with friends to celebrate Jacques' 37th birthday before setting sail for the return trip to America the next day. Futrelle (LEFT)  never made it to bed that night, but was on time to board the world's greatest luxury liner on her maiden voyage. The H.M.S. Titanic was the pride of the White Star Line. She was considered to be unsinkable, the best passenger ship in the history of the World. He had just finished his last work, "My Lady's Garter."

As the ship steamed toward home, all was well. After a lavish dinner, the wealthy men aboard milled around talking about the issues of the day, the upcoming presidential election, the troubles in Europe, and so forth. Suddenly and without a solitary hint of a warning, the unthinkable happened. The ship struck an iceberg, which tore into her hull. Passengers felt a jolt, but were oblivious to their impending fate. Jacques and May were in their state room when they felt a slight concussion. Jacques had been complaining of a headache. May was reading a book. Presuming it to be a "baby iceberg," Jacques reassured May, "Oh, I guess it's nothing." May wasn't as positive. She ordered Jacques to go out to ascertain the true extent of what was happening. Within a few minutes, Jacques returned to inform her of the situation, which he believed to be of little consequence. A few minutes later, stewards knocked on the door with the grave news, the unsinkable ship was sinking. The couple got fully dressed and put on their ship supplied life jackets.

Jacques escorted May (LEFT)  to the lifeboat section, pleading for her to get aboard. She refused. Jacques coaxed her into the boat with the assurance that he would come along later in another boat, ignorant of the fact that there would not be enough lifeboats aboard to handle all of the passengers and crew. At the moment her lifeboat was about to be lowered into the water, May jumped out to find Jacques. May found Jacques down below the deck. He was standing with a group of gentlemen, who appeared unconcerned with their destiny. May and Jacques embraced for the final time. Jacques escorted May back to the life boats. He told her to think of the children. He convinced May that once the ship went underwater, that he could survive by clinging to the side of a life boat. May hesitated. The boat was about to leave the deck. Jacques screamed out, "For God's sake, go! It's your last chance, go!" May still lingered in anguish on the edge of the boat. An officer pushed her into the boat and to safety.

At that instant, May knew that she would never see Jacques alive again. May wrote, "The last I saw of my husband, he was standing beside Colonel John Jacob Astor. He had a cigarette in his mouth. As I watched him, he lit a match and held it in his cupped hands before his face. By its light I could see his eyes roam anxiously over the water. Then he dropped his head toward his hand and lit his cigarette. I know those hands never trembled." May wondered why there were fifty-one open places in the sixty-five man lifeboat. May survived the horror of that night, but her thoughts of Jacques standing on the deck never faded from her mind.

Major Archibald W. Butt (LEFT) was one of the most popular military officers of his day. He volunteered for military service during the Spanish American War. A native of Augusta, Archie Butt began his journalistic career with the Louisville Journal in Kentucky. In the early 1890s, Butt went to work with the Macon Telegraph as a reporter and later as its editor. After working with newspapers in Atlanta and Washington, Butt took his first government job as a secretary in the American Embassy in Mexico City.

On the first business day of the year 1900, Butt was commissioned a captain in the United States Volunteers, then serving in the Philippines. After his return from the war zone, Butt met President Theodore Roosevelt, who in 1908 made the Captain his chief military aide. Captain Butt remained on the job when Roosevelt was succeeded by William Howard Taft. When it became apparent that Taft and Roosevelt would run against each other, Butt received permission from Taft to go on a vacation to Europe in an attempt to get some rest.

Butt was enjoying a game of cards in the smoking room of the first class section of the Titanic when the ship hit an iceberg. When informed of the dire consequences of the ship's condition, Butt immediately went into his military mode, made his way to the deck, and assumed command of helping women and children into lifeboats.

"Archie Butt was a Major to the last. God never made a firmer nobleman than he. The sight of that man, calm, gentle and yet as firm as a rock will never leave me," said Mrs. Henry B. Harris who was one of the last women to leave the Titanic in a lifeboat. Mrs. Harris observed a moment when a panic-stricken male passenger attempted to board a lifeboat filled with women and children.

"Major Butt shot one arm off, caught him by the neck and jerked him backward like a pillow," Mrs. Harris recalled. Butt firmly scolded the man saying, "Women will be attended to first or I'll break every d d bone in your body."

Mrs. Harris recalled, "I stayed until the last and I saw how inspiring he was." Major Butt calmly and respectfully helped the poor frightened women and children from the steerage section into the lifeboats. "He was one of God's greatest noblemen," Mrs. Harris concluded.

"The last person to whom I spoke on the board of the Titanic was Archie Butt (seen in the background aboard the Titanic - left)  and his good brave, face, smiling at me from the deck of the steamers, was the last I could distinguish as the boat pulled away from the steamer's side," said Ruth Young, the last woman to leave the Titanic.

Miss Young echoed other stories of Butt's heroism, "Archie himself put me into the boat, wrapped blankets around me and tucked me in as carefully as if we were starting a motor ride." The Washington. D.C. resident, recalled Butt's performing little courtesies as calmly with a smiling face as if death was far away, instead of being but a few moments removed from him.

"Goodbye Miss Young. Luck is with you. Will you kindly remember me to the folks back home?," were his last words to the grateful survivor. Then, Major Butt climbed back to the rail of the ship. "Archie was looking down, his hat raised and the same old genial, brave smile was on his face," Young related as her most lingering memory of the tragedy.

Although it was claimed that the remains of Archibald Butt were later found among other bodies floating in the sea, it is likely that the dauntless Major Butt survived the sinking for at least a few days. For on July 31, some 97 days after the sinking of the Titanic a message was found in a bottle floating off the shore of Pawtucket, Rhode Island. The message read, "April 16, Midocean - Help-on a raft-Titanic sinking-no water or food. Major Butt." His remains were never found

Major Butt's death greatly grieved his boss, President Taft, who was just beginning his campaign for reelection. The Georgia native was honored in his hometown of Augusta with the naming of a bridge as well as three national monuments in Washington, D.C.. in Arlington Cemetery, the National Cathedral and the grounds of the White House.

The final Georgian to lose his life aboard the Titanic was Isidor Strauss. Strauss, who lived in the West Central Georgia town of Talbotton, was a co-owner of Macy's Department Store in New York. Straus moved to Talbotton, where his father opened a general store in 1854. When the Civil War broke out, Straus attempted to join the Confederate Army. His enlistment was disallowed when it was discovered that he was only sixteen years old. After the war, Straus joined his brother Nathan in opening a department in Macy's Department Store.

Straus and his wife Ida (LEFT)  were returning from a visit to Germany aboard the Titanic. The often told story is that Mrs. Straus refused to leave her husband behind aboard the sinking ship. Because of his social status, a crew member invited Straus to join his wife aboard the lifeboat. Straus refused and let his wife's maid have his place instead. The Strauses were last seen sitting in deck chairs, holding hands as a large wave washed them into the dark, frigid ocean waters in a scene depicted in all three Titanic films, although it was deleted from the 1997 blockbuster movie.

Of lasting importance to the people of Laurens County, the loss of the Titanic led to the prohibition of passengers traveling aboard freight steamboats along the Oconee. That pastime was very popular among local residents and the usual treat for convention visitors to Dublin, which hosted eight state wide gatherings in 1912.




One hundred years after the sinking of the unsinkable HMS Titanic, the tragedy is still ingrained in our minds. The heroism, the senseless, negligent actions of the ship's officers and builders, and horrible tragedy of it all remains a night to remember.

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