Remembering the attempted assassination of Teddy Roosevelt

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MILWAUKEE -- On Sunday afternoon, October 14th  Milwaukee will remember the 100th anniversary of the attempted assassination of Teddy Roosevelt on a downtown street.

By 1912, Roosevelt had already served two terms in the oval office, since he first took over for William McKinley after his assassination in 1901.

Upset by the job his replacement (William Howard Taft) was doing, Roosevelt decided to run again as a third party reform candidate, in what he called the Progressive Party.

Historian John Cooper says Roosevelt's followers had another name for the movement.

"That's what they called the Bull Moose party because somebody asked TR 'how do you feel?' and he said, 'I feel as fit as a Bull Moose,''' said Cooper.   

A vibrant 53 years old, there was no stopping Roosevelt at a time when term limits didn't exit.

The only thing in his way were the Republican Taft, and Democrat Woodrow Wilson.

"He wants to get the votes in Wisconsin," said Cooper.

So on October 14, 1912, Roosevelt made his way to Milwaukee as part of his campaign tour.

However, the trip wasn't going well that day.

"The problem was he strained his voice," said Cooper.

Frequent stops and speeches were taking their toll, so that afternoon Roosevelt rested briefly in his room at the old Gilpatrick Hotel on 3rd and Kilbourn, now site of the Hyatt in downtown Milwaukee.

 "And then he had come out, and just gotten into his car when John Schrank shot him. Schrank was standing about seven feet away," said Cooper.

Schrank, was later found to be mentally insane, had traveled all the way from Brooklyn, following Roosevelt with the intent to kill him, according to reports at the time.

"He was obsessed with the constitution, and he felt that Roosevelt shouldn't run for a third term, that he must be stopped at all costs," said Anna-Marie Opgenorth, Executive Director of Historic Milwaukee.

Professor Cooper says the bullet's path is probably what saved Roosevelt's life.

"The bullet went through the overcoat, the suit coat, it nicked the side, it went through the edge of the glasses case, and then it went through the pages of the speech, and penetrated his chest," said Cooper.   

Roosevelt refused being taken to the hospital, and insisted on giving his campaign speech at the old Milwaukee Auditorium down the street.

His team obliged, despite what happened.

An avid hunter and outdoorsman, Roosevelt felt confident he could go on without immediately seeing a doctor.

"TR claimed that he knew it hadn't entered his lung and he wasn't mortally wounded. He later claimed this because he took a handkerchief, coughed into it and he didn't cough any blood," said Cooper.

Down the block, a crowd of about 9,000 people greeted the one time Colonel with a powerful reception.

 "He was introduced, and when he walked on, a huge standing ovation. He said, 'I've just been shot, please be quiet, I can't talk as loud as I normally do,'" said Opgenorth.

The length of Roosevelt's speech that day varies, according to a number of reports, from an hour to almost an hour and a half.

"He began to show the effects of shock and blood loss, and he began to get a bit incoherent," said Cooper.

Eventually the former President would be treated at a Milwaukee hospital before he was rushed to Chicago where doctors decided to leave the bullet in his chest, determining it wasn't a threat to his internal organs.

Cooper says Roosevelt didn't give another speech until two days before the election at Madison Square Garden in New York.

He and Taft would go on to lose the race to Wilson.

Roosevelt would go on to live until January 6, 1919 when he died at his home in Oyster Bay, New York from a blood clot.

But as Professor Cooper says, even during the shooting Roosevelt reminded people, "it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose."

Sunday afternoon at 3pm, Historic Milwaukee and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett will host a reenactment of the shooting, starting outside the Hyatt downtown before walking to the Milwaukee Theater for speeches and refreshments.

For more information on Sunday's event remembering the Roosevelt shooting in downtown Milwaukee, visit Historic Milwaukee, here.

To read news coverage of the shooting visit, click here.