Tom Robertson was curious when, as a boy, he discovered a white tie and coattails in his grandfather’s closet.
Apart from getting married, there was no need for such formal wear in Augusta.
His grandfather explained that the fancy get-up dated back to his college days at the University of Maryland, when his cousin, Archibald Butt, invited him to galas at the White House.
At the time, Butt, a native Augustan, was a military aide to President William Howard Taft and managed the president’s social calendar.
Butt “was quite the party giver over there,” said Robertson, a civil engineer at Augusta’s Cranston Engineering Group.
Butt, 46, was returning from a trip abroad in 1912 when he died along with about 1,500 others aboard the Titanic. He never married and had no direct descendants, but his relatives still claim him with pride.
Robertson, a distant cousin, keeps the family collection of Butt memorabilia, including the original letter signed by Taft offering his condolences to the family.
Ross Snellings, the broker for Sand Hills Properties, traces his interest in Butt back to the 1980s when the Butt Memorial Bridge over the Augusta Canal was under threat of being torn down. Snellings was familiar with Butt and his fatal trip on the Titanic, “but I didn’t know until I started reading about it (that) he was recognized as the most heroic figure.”
Snellings helped create the Archibald Butt Memorial Bridge Legal Defense Fund, which saved the only Titanic memorial in Georgia. He knew the long legal battle had turned a corner when James Cameron’s film Titanic was released and lead actors Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio threw their weight behind the petition.
“I think it’s one of the best looking things in Augusta and one of the most recognizable,” Snellings said about the bridge. “It’s an enormous piece of sculpture, really.”