Wisconsin History March 16, 2019
by Nicole Most Wisconsinites Don’t Know About The Failed Presidential Assassination Attempt That Took Place Here
In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt had served two terms as a Republican president and decided to seek a third term, this time as a member of the newly-formed Progressive Party. That wasn’t necessarily the most popular choice as it angered the Republicans that he was challenging their candidate, William Taft, who’d been Roosevelt’s vice president. He was also up against Woodrow Wilson. However, Roosevelt had been a popular president and still had plenty of supporters. He set off across the country, making speeches and rallying support for himself and the new Progressive Party.
On October 14, 1912, a man who’d been following Roosevelt for at least eight stops on this journey saw an opening and took his chance.
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Teddy Roosevelt had served two terms as President and though the tradition was that presidents served no more than two terms, that wasn't actually a law. The Republican Party decided not to go with Roosevelt as their candidate. According to Wikipedia, "After a bitter confrontation at the Republican Convention, (William Howard) Taft won renomination. Roosevelt led a bolt of his followers, who held a convention and nominated him for President on the ticket of the Progressive Party, nicknamed the "Bull Moose Party." Taft and his supporters attacked Roosevelt for being power-hungry, and seeking to break the tradition that U.S. Presidents only serve up to two terms in office.
John Flammang Schrank was a New York saloonkeeper that believed had a dream in which he believed that former President William McKinley rose from a coffin and point at Roosevelt, who was wearing a monk's robe. That dream led him to believe that he needed to kill Teddy Roosevelt. Schrank had no ties to Milwaukee; it was just that in Milwaukee, he finally saw an opportunity to make his move. He'd been following Roosevelt since New Orleans and had heard that Roosevelt was staying at the Gilpatrick Hotel (now the Hyatt) and would be later giving a speech at the Milwaukee Auditorium.
Schrank approached Roosevelt as he was outside the Gilpatrick Hotel, heading to a car that would take him to the Auditorium. Roosevelt stopped to wave and acknowledge those who had gathered and Schrank shot Roosevelt in the chest at close range. It was a shot that should have had serious implications for Roosevelt and likely would have been fatal.
Schrank had the misfortune of choosing the worst possible spot to try to shoot Roosevelt. The President was carrying a 50-page speech in his breast pocket, alongside his glasses case, which was made of metal. These items took most of the impact from the bullet. He was still shot, but the bullet didn't do nearly as much damage as it could have.
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Despite what should have been a near-death experience, Roosevelt was barely fazed. He continued on into the car and headed to the auditorium where he went on to deliver a speech that lasted more than 80 minutes. The President walked in and informed the gathered crowd what had just happened.
According to the Theodore Roosevelt Association, he said, "Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don't know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose. But fortunately I had my manuscript, so you see I was going to make a long speech, and there is a bullet - there is where the bullet went through - and it probably saved me from it going into my heart. The bullet is in me now, so that I cannot make a very long speech, but I will try my best."
In fact, that bullet remained in Roosevelt for the rest of his life, lodged in his chest muscle. Doctors decided it was more dangerous to remove it than to just let it be. Roosevelt was already larger-than-life in many ways and he helped cement his reputation with this incredible stunt. Pieces of the bullet-torn speech were left behind and people kept them as souvenirs. The shirt he had on, complete with a bullet hole, is on display at the Visitors Center at Teddy Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.
This picture shows Roosevelt, still very much upright and walking, after leaving Milwaukee for Chicago. Eventually in the Windy City, he'd head to a hospital to get checked out. Immediately after being shot, he coughed a few times and not finding any blood, he decided he hadn't been shot in the lungs and he could indeed carry on. Already with a high-pitched voice, Roosevelt became harder to hear and his breath became shorter as the speech progressed, but he simply kept on with his near 90-minute speech.
Have you ever heard this fascinating piece of Wisconsin history?
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