Shot In The Chest, Theodore Roosevelt Kept Talking In Milwaukee

by Dean Robbins
| October 14, 2016
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President Theodore Roosevelt was on his way to a campaign rally in Milwaukee when he was shot at close range by a would-be assassin. Dean Robbins tells us what happened on that October day.

Memphis is linked to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and Dallas to that of John F. Kennedy. Milwaukee might have become similarly notorious if it weren’t for a pair of spectacles and a thick sheaf of paper.

In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt ran for another term as president of the United States on a third-party ticket. The colorful politician had declared himself “as fit as a bull moose” when he entered the race, so his new party became known as the Bull Moose Party. Supporters greeted him with moose calls, and women’s colleges formed Moosette leagues. Among his campaign songs was “Oh, You Beautiful Moose.”

The Bull Moose theme reflected Roosevelt’s indomitable spirit, not to mention his playfulness. His campaign itself, however, was as serious as could be. Roosevelt passionately supported desegregation, women’s suffrage, and other radical ideas for the time. This made him a lot of enemies, and assassination threats dogged him on the trail.

At one campaign stop, Roosevelt fended off an attacker using jujitsu moves. Then came Milwaukee on October 14. On the way to his  speech, Roosevelt left the Hotel Gilpatrick for his car. As he waved to the crowd, a man named John Schrank shot him in the chest from only five feet away. The bullet might have killed the ex-president had it not been slowed by his metal spectacles case and folded 50-page speech. Nevertheless, it lodged in his rib, and he bled profusely.

A normal man would have gone straight to the hospital. But this was no man—this was a Bull Moose. Roosevelt insisted on proceeding to Milwaukee Auditorium for his speech.No one could talk him out of it.

Audience members were aghast when a pale, unsteady Theodore Roosevelt took to the stage. He showed them his bloody shirt and held up the bullet scarred pages of his speech. “Friends,” he said, “I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot!”

Amazingly, Roosevelt continued for 90 minutes, delivering his full speech. Only then did he allow aides to rush him to the hospital.

Schrank, the would-be assassin, was shipped to the Central State Mental Hospital in Waupun, never to return. The Hotel Gilpatrick erected a plaque to mark the spot where Roosevelt survived the attack, and it remains in the Hyatt Regency that took the Gilpatrick’s place on Kilbourn Avenue.

Theodore Roosevelt received more votes in the 1912 election than any third-party candidate in history but still lost to Woodrow Wilson. One thing he didn’t lose was the bullet – it  stayed in his chest for the rest of his life, though he paid it little mind. The Milwaukee shooting barely slowed down this Bull Moose on his trot to Mount Rushmore.

Tags: Theodore Roosevelt / assassin / speech / Bull Moose / President Roosevelt / President / Progressive party / bullet / campaign / Milwaukee
Dean Robbins

Dean Robbins is a journalist and author based in Madison. He has won state and national awards for arts, features and news stories, and has contributed to magazines and newspapers around the country.