Originally created 02/21/00

Titanic hero's trunk goes to auction block



When Augusta native Archibald Butt boarded the Titanic for its fateful maiden voyage in 1912, he left something behind: a pine trunk inscribed with the hero's now-famous name.

The former newspaper reporter, whose ornate namesake bridge is on 15th Street, died with 1,500 others when the luxury liner struck an iceberg and sank April 14-15, 1912.

Butt's remains were never found. But the oblong trunk, taken to Washington state by an Augusta teen-ager many years ago and rediscovered at a yard sale, will be auctioned in April to the highest bidder.

"We're going to sell it on April 15, the anniversary of the day the Titanic actually sank," said Alan Gorsuch, owner of Sanford and Son Antiques and Auctions in Tacoma, Wash.

Mr. Gorsuch, who auctioned an unused Titanic ticket last year for $110,000, bought the trunk for $3,500 from the man who acquired it at a yard sale.

That seller, he said, recognized Butt's name immediately.

"From what we can tell, it came West via a University of Washington student from Augusta," Mr. Gorsuch said.

The trunk, apparently labeled before its owner's promotion to major in the Army, is inscribed in block letters, "Capt. Archibald W. Butt, Quartermaster USA," and includes the Augusta address and name of his father, Lewis Butt.

The chest likely was made to transport Springfield rifles of the vintage used during the Spanish-American War in 1898, Mr. Gorsuch said.

Butt -- an aide to President William H. Taft, who frequently vacationed in Augusta -- helped scores of frantic women and children into lifeboats as the Titanic foundered in the North Atlantic, disaster survivors told authorities after the sinking.

In May 1912, two weeks after the sinking, Taft delivered Butt's eulogy before thousands at Augusta's Grand Opera House.

The president returned to Augusta on April 14, 1914, to dedicate Butt Memorial Bridge over Augusta Canal as a permanent reminder of the loss of a hometown hero.

Mr. Gorsuch isn't sure what price the trunk will bring, but he is hoping for a good return on his investment.

Other Titanic memorabilia in the auction include 13 original "Marconi-grams," or telegrams, sent by passengers plucked from the ocean by the Carpathia, the ship that rescued the few survivors.

Pre-auction estimates for those items range from $1,000 to $2,500 apiece, Mr. Gorsuch said.

"The Butt chest, we don't know," he said. "That's a tough one to predict. There's no track record for anything like that. But he's one of the main heroes of the Titanic. And until the movie (Titanic), not many people knew who he was."

Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 119.