10/14/1912 - Refreshed after his 1909-1910 hunting expedition to east and central Africa (sponsored by the Smithsonian Institute and the American Museum of Natural History in New York), 53-year-old former president Theodore Roosevelt decides to seek a third term in the White House. Beaten for the Republican nomination by his former protege, William Howard Taft, Roosevelt creates the Progressive Party (for Roosevelt, it is nicknamed the Bull Moose Party) so he can still run for president. After an autumn that has seen him shake hands, give speeches, and kiss babies from New Orleans up to the northern border of the United States, October finds the dynamo politician in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, making his final push for victory before the country votes in November.
Also in Milwaukee is a 36-year-old madman named John Flammang Schrank ... a madman who is intent on seeing that Roosevelt never leaves the city!
Born in Erding, Bavaria, Schrank emigrates to America with his parents at the age of nine. The land of opportunity however soon turns dark when Schrank's parents die and he goes to live with an aunt and uncle in New York, helping the couple run their tavern ... a tavern which becomes Schrank's when the aunt and uncle die. Good life beckoning, but not to be, instead, Schrank goes quietly off the deep end when his first and only girlfriend, Emily Ziegler, perishes in the General Slocum fire disaster of 1904 (over 1,000 people are burnt to death or drown when the vessel catches fire in the East River of New York City). Properties sold, Schrank spends the majority of his time reading the Bible, debating politics in various saloons, writing poetry, and taking long walks at night. Sleeping off a bender, sometime in 1912, the ghost of assassinated President William McKinley comes to Schrank in a dream and tells the maniac that Roosevelt must be killed to prevent him from becoming the first three-time president ... and not playing with a full deck, the loon agrees to do as the shade says!
Washed Ashore Victims of the General Slocum
Residing at Milwaukee's Gilpatrick Hotel while in town for his speech (information widely disseminated by the local newspapers),
on 10/14/1912, Roosevelt eats a hearty dinner with the hotel's owner, and then walks outside, through a crowd of well-wishers to where an open-air touring car is waiting next to the sidewalk to take him to his speech at the Milwaukee Auditorium. Next to the car, Schrank is waiting. It is 8:00 in the evening.
Pulling his .38 Colt revolver from a coat pocket, from five feet away Schrank fires a single shot at Roosevelt as the former president stands in the car and waves his hat at the crowd with his right hand. One chance only, before the maniac can get off a second shot, Roosevelt's stenographer puts the would-be assassin in a half-nelson and grabs Schrank's right wrist. Then, the now very irate crowd gets involved and begins pummeling the captive ... a beating that Roosevelt ends immediately. "Don't hurt him. Bring him here. I want to see him." "What did you do it for," Roosevelt asks his assailant, but when Schrank remains mute, he ends the brief meeting by stating, "Oh, what's the use. Turn him over to the police."
Only after Schrank is hauled away does Roosevelt do an injury assessment on himself, and discovers it is a miracle he is still living ... the bad intention bullet heading for Roosevelt heart is stopped by the candidate's heavy overcoat, a steel glass case, and his fifty page speech, folded in half and pocketed. Feeling the dime size hole on the right side of his chest, "He pinked me," Roosevelt states to a nearby party official as he coughs three times to establish whether he is bleeding internally from his lungs ... and finding he isn't, he overrules his doctor, and orders his driver to take him to the speech and not the hospital. "You get me to that speech," Roosevelt demands!
Damaged Glass Case
Page From the Speech
And get there for the speech he does! Stepping to the podium in the Milwaukee Auditorium, Roosevelt shocks the audience by unbuttoning his vest to expose his bloodstained shirt. "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. It takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose!" He then pulls the bullet holed speech out of his coat pocket and waves it at the crowd. "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 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." And being a man of his word, toughened by the hundreds of adventures his life has been filled with, Roosevelt spends the next ninety minutes giving the entire speech!
Only after the speech is over does Roosevelt agree to go to the hospital for some patch work. Bullet found lodged against Roosevelt's fourth right rib, doctors decide the former president would be in more danger from the piece of lead's removal, than from leaving the round as is ... and so the bullet stays in Roosevelt and is buried with him when he passes away at the age of 60 in 1919 (though Roosevelt is graced by an outpouring of sympathy and support from across the country, with the votes split between the Republican Party and the Progressive Party, Democratic Woodrow Wilson becomes the 28th President of the United States).
Roosevelt's Bloody Shirts
Bed bug crazy, after a thorough examination by several doctors, it is determined that Schrank is suffering from 'insane delusions, grandiose in character' and the former saloon keeper is declared insane. Rubber room committed to the Central State Mental Hospital in Waupun, Wisconsin, he will remain there until his death from bronchial pneumonia in 1943 at the age 67, all the while proclaiming he had no animus towards "Citizen" Roosevelt, he just couldn't allow the man a third term (his body is donated to the Medical School of Marquette University where it is dissected and then disposed of).
10/14/1912 ... American almost loses one of its greatest to an assassin's bullet ... almost!
Husband and Father