The final words John “Jack” Astor IV spoke to his young wife Madeleine Force Astor were a promise he could never keep.
Aiken Standard article.
Madeleine was only 19 when Jack passed away. The night Jack died affected not only Madeleine but so many others.
It is a night that local author David Tavernier is focusing on in his newest book, “More Stories of the Rich and Famous: Aiken’s Winter Colony in the Gilded Age Volume II.”
The Astors were two members of Aiken’s Winter Colony.
Titanic. Madeleine and her unborn child survived the sinking of the ship; Jack did not.
It was through further research that Tavernier found other passengers connected to Aiken and Augusta: the Wideners and Maj. Archibald Butt.
Eleanor Widener was on the lifeboat with Madeline, according to Tavernier. Her husband George, her son Harry and Butt were left behind.
“I tapped my friend Eleanor on the shoulder, she turned, began a timid grin, and immediately I could see tears begin to well up,” Tavernier wrote. “‘Madeleine, I am so happy to see you. I had no idea that you were on this same lifeboat. We must have missed one another in the confusion when they were loading,” said Eleanor, while making a labored half-turn to embrace me.
“‘Do you see our men, together there, on the first class deck?’ I asked, as I pointed to the ever diminishing figures on one of the uppermost decks of the ship.”
It was from the lifeboats that Madeleine, Eleanor and the other survivors watched as the mighty cruise split and sank.
“Within an hour of the sinking there was total silence except for the lapping of the wavelets against the side of our small boat. Because there was no moon that night our vision was faint, but nonetheless, we could discern a silent, floating graveyard,” Tavernier wrote from Madeleine’s perspective.
Aiken Standard article.
Another key moment Tavernier brings in is the dedication of the Archibald W. Butt Memorial bridge.
Butt, who was a military aide to President Theodore Roosevelt and President William Taft, lived in Augusta, Ga.
Butt and Taft were very close. In fact, it was Taft who recommended Butt to the position of Roosevelt’s aide, Tavernier said.
“Because of (their relationship), Taft came to Augusta to play golf,” Tavernier said. “He was a golf enthusiatic...Taft also played at the Palmetto Club.”
Titanic sank. Located in downtown Augusta, the 100th anniversary of the dedication will be celebrated next April, according to Tavernier.
“Thousands turned out to hear the eulogies and witness the dedication (in 1914),” Tavernier wrote. “Maj. Butt was a member of the Temple-Noyes Lodge of Masons in Augusta who spearheaded the cornerstone ceremony, which was followed by the unveiling. President Taft spoke from the heart without notes as he and Mrs. Taft had been close to ‘Archie,’ as he was known, since the Theodore Roosevelt administration years.”
Tavernier’s book also mentions people like William K. Vanderbilt, his wife Anne Harriman Sands Rutherfurd Vanderbilt and Mlle. Hattie Forcier.
The book is a work-in-progress, including his title. Tavernier is currently writing the chapter that will focus on Tommy Hitchcock Jr.
Tavernier’s first book, “Stories of the Rich and Famous: Aiken’s Winter Colony in the Gilded Age,” touched on Hitchcock’s mother Louise Hitchcock, Frederick Willcox, Gaston Means and William C. Whitney.
“Why is Aiken so different?” he asked. “Look at our traditions, the Blessing of the Hounds. Look at the Steeplechase. Look at the polo. Where did they come from?”
He found it was the Winter Colonists and that fascinated him.
“It’s so unique,” he said.
Tavernier is not from Aiken, but his wife, Patrice Tavernier, is.
“Her father, who died at age 92, knew some of these people I’m writing about,” he said.
In 1921, Patrice’s grandfather George Durban opened Durban-Laird Insurance on Laurens Street.
In 1937, her father George Durban Jr., got into the business when he got out of college.
The younger George had a side-job to handle the Winter Colonist’s cottages. He’d prep them before the residents came down and tended to them during the off-season, Tavernier said.
Now, Patrice’s brother Paul Durban owns the family’s piece of Aiken’s history.
Tavernier is retired. He and his wife like to travel, and he is currently thinking up his third book.
“I love European history, but there will be a tie-in with an American, of course,” he said about the idea for his next book.
Tavernier will be signing and selling his first book at the Gaston Stable on July 4 at 4 p.m.
For more information on his first creation, visit www.outskirtspress.com/storiesoftherichandfamous.
Stephanie Turner has a hand on all areas of production for the Aiken Standard, where she reports, edits and lays out pages. She graduated in July 2012 with a journalism degree from Valdosta State University and lives with her family in Evans, Ga.