Saturday, October 9, 2021

Podcast Episode 18 - Teddy Roosevelt's Third Term, Part VIII

The ghost of William McKinley appeared to him in a dream, and told him to kill Theodore Roosevelt.

John Schrank was thirty-six years old, unemployed, and unhinged. During the presidential campaign of 1912, “he read in two New York newspapers that the Colonel was determined to overthrow the Constitution.” It had been eleven years since the ghost of the slain President had pointed his finger at Roosevelt in Schrank’s nightmare and said, “This is my murderer, avenge my death.”

The time had come.

Presidential Safety Tip Number Two Hundred Fifty-Seven: President of the United States should always be the last job you ever have.

Teddy was getting ready to address a crowded auditorium in Milwaukee on October 14th, 1912. He had written his speech and folded it into his right jacket pocket. He left his hotel and went out to his open car and got seated. A crowd gathered, and he stood up to bow, waving his hat.

John Schrank, who had followed Teddy from New Orleans to Milwaukee, fired one shot, striking Teddy in the chest. One of Roosevelt's bodyguards, Elbert Martin, an ex-football player, tackled Schrank right when he fired, having seen the gun and rushed over.

Teddy had "dropped without a sound," and was feared dead, but he pulled himself up. He seemed unhurt, and asked Martin to bring the would-be assassin to the side of the car. "Don't hurt him," Teddy ordered. "Bring him here." Teddy took Schrank's head in both hands to see if he recognized him. All he saw was "the dull-eyed, unmistakable expressionlessness of insanity." He asked Schrank, "What did you do it for?" then, getting no answer, ordered his guards to turn Schrank over to the police.

Teddy told his guards that Schrank had "plinked" him. They tried to get him to go to the hospital. Teddy rasped, "You get me to that speech."


Teddy went on to speak for nearly an hour and half, tossing the sheets of his speech down as he reached the end of a page, as had always been his practice when giving speeches. (These pages were snapped up by the crowd as souvenirs. These were even better, as each page had a bullet hole in it). His aides stood waiting below to catch him if he passed out.

His face was white after eighty minutes, but he made it to the end of his speech. After that, amid the roaring and applause of the crowd, he told his doctor, "Now I am ready to go with you and do what you want."

He made it through the crowd, many of whom wanted to shake his hand and slap him on the back as if he didn't have a new bullet stuck in his ribs, and was checked in to Milwaukee's Emergency Hospital. The news of the assassination attempt flashed around the country. Edith Roosevelt was pulled out of her box at a theatre during the performance to be told. She said, "Take me to where I can talk to him or hear from him at once."

An X-ray found the bullet. After passing through Teddy's thick overcoat, fifty pages of his speech folded in half, his steel-reinforced spectacle case, his suspender belt, shirt and undershirt, the bullet still retained enough force to crack a rib. Two things had saved his life: the glasses he had needed since he was a small boy, and his penchant for giving long speeches.


For this episode and more stories like this check out The History's Trainwrecks Podcast at the links below or listen to this episode in the players at the bottom:


Morris, Edmund. “Colonel Roosevelt.” Random House, 2010.

Roosevelt, Theodore. “Autobiography of Theodore Roosevelt.”

Wikipedia, “William Howard Taft.” Retrieved August 9, 2021 from

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