When Teddy Roosevelt Gave a Speech After Being Shot In Chest By Would Be Assassin


If Not For The Case For The Spectacles of Teddy Roosevelt (like this set auctioned in 2005) the Name of John F. Schrank Might Be As Well Known as that of John Wilkes Booth

On This Date in History: Lost to much of the pages of history are attempted assassinations. (Here is a list of failed presidential assassinations) President Theodore Roosevelt in 1912 was a former President who was running to get his old job back. He had filled the term of the assassinated President McKinley and finished his own term in 1908. In deference to the precedent set by President Washington, Teddy Roosevelt decided against running in 1908, instead promoting his Vice-President William Howard Taft who won handily. Teddy was not happy with the way in which Taft ran things and decided to challenge him for the Republican nomination for the 1912 election but power interests in the party which had fared better with Taft than Roosevelt, backed Taft and Roosevelt did not get the Republican nomination at the 1912 Republican Convention. So, he formed his own party, the Progressive Party, which came to be known as the “Bull Moose Party” after TR’s tough-guy bull-moose image. Roosevelt ended up getting more votes than Taft but the pair split the Republican vote which led to the election of Woodrow Wilson as President.

While on the campaign trail prior to the election, on October 14, 1912, Theodore Roosevelt got into a car after dining at a hotel in Milwaukee. He was headed to give a speech. When he turned to wave to the crowd, a shot rang out from the .38 caliber revolver in the hand of John F. Schrank. Schrank, a Bavarian-born immigrant, had been stalking Roosevelt since at least September 1912 when he left New York in pursuit of his prey .  It was reported that the assailant felt that no one should get more than two terms as president and had also been having dreams of William McKinley.  His dream supposedly occured on the September 6 anniversary of the assassination of President William McKinley which vaulted the then young Vice-President Roosevelt into office.  His dream was said to have involved McKinley in a coffin.  McKinley suddenly sat up straight and pointed to Roosevelt who was dressed like a monk.  The dead president floating around Schrank’s head then said, “This is my murderer. Avenge my death!”  So. Schrank did his best to follow the orders of the ghost in his dream.  When Roosevelt turned to the crowd from his car, it opened up an opportunity for Schrank to shoot the candidate at close range.

Chest X-Ray of Teddy Roosevelt Shows Location of Bullet That Was Never Removed

The shot struck Roosevelt squarely in the chest. But, in his breast pocket, Teddy had the thick,  folded up 50-page text of his planned 90 minute speech.  It must have been some pocket because, in addition to the 4-dozen sheets of paper the pocket also contained a metal spectacle case.  The bullet was slowed by the eye-glasses case and the thick manuscript.  The bullet, however, entered his body but it did not penetrate his heart. Initially, Roosevelt did not realize that he had been shot.  Once he had discovered that he was indeed the victim of a gunshot wound he still insisted on giving his speech. Using his experience as an avid hunter as a guide, he reasoned that since he was not coughing up blood, then no major organs were damaged.  Roosevelt survived an assassination attempt and had not been assassinated so, when he arrived on the podium. Teddy proudly showed the crowd the hole in his speech and thundered, ” it would take more than that to kill a Bull Moose!”   While the speech (text of speech) was abbreviated, most accounts report that Mr. Roosevelt still spoke before the crowd for 80-90 minutes and rebuffed attempts to get him to conclude the speech so he could go to the hospital for attention.  

Mrs. Medill McCormick and TR daughter Alice Roosevelt Longwell Leaving Mercy Hospital Oct 15, 1912 After Visting the Original Bull Moose

Only after he concluded his speech did Roosevelt finally go to the hospital in Milwaukee and reluctantly allowed for a tetnus injection.  On This Date in 1912, the former president was in Chicago’s Mercy Hospital where he stayed for observation for 8 days. the bullet was found lodged in tissue such that it would be more dangerous to attempt its removal.  The slug remained in Roosevelt’s body for the rest of his life.  After making the determination that the bullet would stay where it was,  Teddy was  released  from Mercy Hospital on October 23.  Both Woodrow Wilson and William Howard Taft suspended their campaigns until Roosevelt was released but they were back on the campaign trail with  just a little more than a week before the election.  While his opponents were back on the stump, TR was prevented from making important campaign stops.  Some speculate that his absence from the campaign trail in the critical final days may have influenced the election results.  In any event, Roosevelt was unable to convince enough Republicans to swing his way and the GOP vote was split between he and Taft.  While he received 88 electoral votes to the sitting president’s 8, Wilson skated to victory with 435 votes from the Electoral College.  However, Wilson’s popular vote total was about 6.3 million while, collectively, Taft and Roosevelt collected 7.6 million votes.  

Schrank Lived His Lonely Final 31 Years in a Mental Hospital Only To See the 2 Term Tradition Broken By Teddy's Cousin

Wilson went on to be re-elected in 1916, again with less than a majority of the popular vote.  He took in 49.2% of the vote and became a two term president never to receive a majority of the popular vote by a narrow 277-254 electoral victory over his Republican opponent, Charles E. Hughes.  18 times in US presidential elections has the winner not received a majority of popular votes since the popular vote was first reliably recorded in 1824.  So, it’s not that unusual.  However, only Woodrow Wilson, Grover Cleveland and Bill Clinton served two terms and never received a majority of the popular vote.  For his part, Schrank was whisked away to a mental institution where he remained for the rest of his life.  Apparently, no one came to visit him. His health began to fail in 1940 shortly after he learned that Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 5th cousin of Theodore Roosevelt, was going to run for a 3rd term as President of the United States. Schrank died at the Central State Mental Hospital in Waupun, Wisconson on September 16, 1943; about a year before FDR was elected to a 4th term.

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7 Responses

  1. I suppose it’s only an indication of my own slightly warped sense of humor that I laugh aloud at things like someone dreaming of William McKinley or beginning to fail physically at the thought of a presidential third term.

    And I don’t (DO NOT) mean this to be a comment on the individuals’ politics. I’m only musing that part of the appeal of people like Ms. Palin over President Obama may be some peoples’ hunger for someone who seems to have a firmer grasp on the realities of life in a physical world, e.g.: Using his experience as an avid hunter as a guide, he reasoned that since he was not coughing up blood, then no major organs were damaged.

    Now that’s some clear thinking, right there ;-)

  2. A momma grizzley does not a Bull Moose make

  3. Taft was secretary of war, not VP when he sought the presidency.

  4. So…I see. If that is the case, please inform the audience who was Teddy Roosevelt’s Vice President, if it was not William Howard Taft? You may be confusing Taft with Teddy, who had been undersecretary of the Navy before he joined the Rough Riders and then was McKinley’s VP before rising to the Presidency following McKinley’s assassination.

  5. Charles Fairbanks was TR’s VP. Details here: http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/generic/VP_Charles_Fairbanks.htm

    Here’s background on Taft’s pre-presidential career: http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/williamhowardtaft

  6. File this under “check your facts and don’t rely on a fading memory.” You, sir, are correct. I humbly apologize for the snarky comment and failure to even give you the respect that you deserve and to not at least bother to look it up before talking. Tis one thing to be ignorant, tis quite another to open one’s mouth and prove it.

    Lesson learned..again.

  7. No worries. Thanks for a very interesting post.

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