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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Daily TWiP - Theodore Roosevelt delivers campaign speech after being shot today in 1912

Week in Preview

Welcome to Daily TWiP, your daily dose of all the holidays and history we couldn’t cram into The Week in Preview.

Today (Oct. 14) in 1912, Theodore Roosevelt proved himself one tough cookie when he took a bullet to the chest in Milwaukee, Wisc., and still delivered his 90-minute presidential campaign speech as planned.

It was a good thing Roosevelt’s speech was as long as it was. Had it not been for the 50-page speech and steel eyeglass case he was carrying in his jacket, the bullet would have gone deeper into his chest and penetrated his lung.

The would-be assassin was John Schrank, who claimed the ghost of William McKinley had appeared to him in a dream and ordered him to avenge his death by killing Roosevelt. Roosevelt had been McKinley’s vice president and had therefore succeeded to the presidency upon McKinley’s assassination.

After taking a hiatus from the political realm (and going on safari in Africa), Roosevelt decided to throw his hat into the presidential ring once again and campaign for a third term. Schrank trailed Roosevelt from campaign stop to campaign stop, waiting for the opportune moment.

The moment came as Roosevelt was leaving the Hotel Gilpatrick to deliver his speech at the Milwaukee Auditorium. Schrank positioned himself next to Roosevelt’s car. He waited until Roosevelt was mere feet away and aimed it at Roosevelt’s head. A bystander swung his arm in front of Schrank’s, causing the bullet to hit Roosevelt in the chest instead of the head.

The crowd that had gathered to see Roosevelt off from the hotel, however, saw Roosevelt reel from the impact of the bullet and thought Schrank had killed him. Had it not been for Roosevelt’s intervention, Schrank would have been lynched on the spot.

After ascertaining that the bullet hadn’t punctured his lung and that he wasn’t bleeding internally, Roosevelt proceeded to the auditorium and delivered his campaign speech, much to the horror of his staff.

Milwaukee was home to many Progressives and securing their votes was vital to Roosevelt’s campaign. He made his audience aware of the assassination attempt that had just transpired and stressed that he placed greater value on his political beliefs than on his own life.

When most politicians express sentiments to that effect, listeners tend to write it off as lip service. When those words are delivered by a candidate with a bleeding chest wound who has delayed medical treatment to clarify his position on the issues, they carry a bit more weight.

Although Roosevelt won sympathy and many accolades for this feat, he unfortunately lost the election. He did, however, get to keep the bullet. Doctors decided it was more dangerous to remove it, so they left it in his chest,

Schrank was committed to the Northern State Hospital for the Insane in Oshkosh, Wisc. According to historic record, he received neither letters nor visitors during the decades he spent in state custody before his death in 1943.

Daily TWiP appears Monday through Friday courtesy of The Week in Preview. Check out The Week in Preview online in our Columnists section at or read it in print on Mondays in our Nashua and Region section.

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- Teresa Santoski