Archive for Monday, October 15, 2012

100 years ago: Roosevelt injured in Milwaukee assassination attempt

October 15, 2012


From the Lawrence Daily Journal-World for Oct. 15, 1912:

  • "Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, shot by John Schrank, a would-be assassin, in Milwaukee last night, lies today in the Mercy Hospital [in Chicago] 'resting easily.' Half a dozen of the most noted and skilled surgeons in Chicago, led by Dr. John B. Murphy, made an X-Ray examination of the Colonel's wound and announced that the bullet did not pierce the lung, but had lodged in the chest.... A large crowd gathered in front of Mercy Hospital eager for news of the Colonel's condition. In spite of the size of the throng it was quiet, and nothing but a subdued murmur came from it as messengers hurried back and forth.... Telegrams began pouring in and many were read by the Colonel himself. One from Burt A. Miller, a nephew of President McKinley, read: 'You have been wounded in the same battle for humanity in which my uncle, William McKinley, lost his life. May you live to carry forward this righteous war.'... Sitting up in bed and taking tea and toast, Colonel Roosevelt this afternoon read a volume of Essays. He expressed regret, it was said, that his managers had decided to have him give up the rest of his campaign trip.... President Taft issued a statement: 'I cannot withhold an expression of horror at the act of the maniac who attempted to assassinate Colonel Roosevelt.'... The hero of the attempted assassination is Elbert E. Martin, one of the Colonel's secretaries, who overpowered Schrank, preventing him from firing a second time. Two days ago Martin had said to another secretary: 'What I would like to do is to spend all my life in working for the Colonel.'... John Schrank pleaded guilty to the charge of attempted murder when given his preliminary arraignment before Judge M. B. Neelan in the [Milwaukee] district court today. Judge Neelan bound Schrank over to the criminal court for trial and placed his bond at $7,500. The trial will come up in the November term of court."
  • [Editorial] "The attempted assassination of Theodore Roosevelt is another of the long list of tragedies that have disgraced America. That it was done by an irresponsible crank only emphasizes the fact that this land of the free can be too free.... There was no conspiracy back of it of course, there was just the depravity of the crank, of the criminal imbecile. This will not have any effect in the presidential campaign.... America has prided itself on its freedom and yet our high officials are in constant danger. They have to be guarded or left in peril. Col. Roosevelt is the greatest man in the world and this attack on him is likewise an attack on the highest form of civic righteousness.... All people will earnestly pray for the speedy recovery of Roosevelt."


Sarah St. John 5 years, 6 months ago


  1. Both Taft and Wilson suspended their campaigns during the week that TR was in the hospital. I can't imagine that happening today! Of course they all resumed campaigning after that. Historians generally agree that this attempt on TR's life effectively ended his campaign, as he was released from the hospital only a few days before the election. TR finished second in the historic three-way race, ahead of incumbent president Taft but behind Woodrow Wilson.

  2. TR is said to have told his Chicago surgeon (Dr. John Murphy), "I've been a hunter long enough to know that you can't kill a Bull Moose with a short gun."

  3. The bullet passed through the copy of his speech TR had in his pocket (about fifty pages folded) and his (steel!) eyeglasses case before lodging in his chest. The damaged items are on display at the Roosevelt Birthplace national park site in New York. See them here:

  4. TR often carried a gun and had once said that if he were attacked, he would shoot back. However, on that fateful day, he was not armed.

  5. TR knew anatomy and he knew that he had not suffered artery damage. He went on to deliver his speech, after which he collapsed and was taken to the hospital. Here is an account from a contemporary news source: "The manuscript of his speech doubtless had done much to save his life. When he had come upon the platform at the Auditorium he drew the manuscript from his vest pocket during his first few words, the torn sheets of paper, showing many stains blood, showed also that the bullet had gone through the manuscript. 'You see,' cried the colonel holding up the manuscript so that the audience could see the bullet hole through the sheets of paper, 'It takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.'" (Detroit Free Press, Oct. 15, 1912)

  6. Less than two days later, TR was ordering breakfast in Chicago's Mercy Hospital -- soft-boiled eggs, bacon, buttered toast, and "piping hot" coffee -- and saying that he'd had a "bully" night's sleep.

  7. Doctors determined that the placement of the bullet was not harmful to his long-term health and that any attempts at removal could actually prove more dangerous than leaving it in. (Here's his X-ray: TR carried the bullet in his chest for the remainder of his life (he died in January 1919), but it caused him health problems which prevented his daily exercise routine and eventually led to obesity.

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