“Oh, he’s still standing. Welp, I’m dead.”
~John Flammang Schrank
We don’t try to hide our infatuation towards Teddy Roosevelt here at America Fun Fact of the Day, and that has very little to do with the fact that great-great-grandsire Johnny Roosevelt is our editor-in-chief here. We’ve extolled his American greatness here before, and the greatness of his children time and time again. The man was badass, to put it bluntly, and we could write in depth AFFotD articles about hundreds of the things he did in his life. But when we think of Teddy Roosevelt, there’s one story in particular which really shows that, as far as unbridled American badasses go, Roosevelt was the cream of the crop, a giant among giants, and the kind of person you most definitely would never want to fuck with.
This is the story about the time someone tried to fuck with Teddy Roosevelt.
The Teddy Roosevelt Assassination Attempt of 1912
In 1901, Teddy Roosevelt was sworn in as the Vice President for William McKinley’s second Presidential term (McKinley’s first Vice President, Garret Hobart, died of heart disease in 1899, and there was no Vice President for the next two years, probably because Teddy Roosevelt doesn’t need anyone to warm a goddamn seat for him). Six months later, Roosevelt found himself promoted to the position of “President of, oh, you know, just the United States of Goddamn America” through the controversial “Jobs for Bullets” campaign waged by the anarchist Leon Czolgosz, making him the youngest President ever at the age of 42. He held onto that position for the next seven and a half years, becoming the first President to leave the country while in office, the first President to fly an airplane, and the first American to win the Nobel Prize.
After serving almost-but-not-quite two terms, Roosevelt decided to step aside and let his friend William Howard Taft take the 1908 Republican nomination. Taft obviously won, partly because he was a delightful-looking walrus man, but mainly because when Teddy Roosevelt tells America to vote for someone, they damn well better listen. He spent the next two years touring Africa and Europe, probably on a quest to find new kinds of animals to shoot, before returning in 1910 and finding that he wasn’t a big fan of how President Taft was running things.
This is what lead to Teddy Roosevelt’s ultimately unsuccessful bid to win back the Presidency as a member of the Progressive “Bull Moose” Party, which led to Teddy Roosevelt getting shot in the goddamn chest while giving a speech, which led to Teddy Roosevelt telling the nation that bullets can just get right the fuck out of here, he’s got no time for that nonsense.
With Roosevelt running for what essentially amounted to a third term, Taft was quick to decry him for being “power hungry,” an accusation he somehow was able to make without the hand of Roosevelt appearing out of nowhere to punch him right in the stupid walrus face. Despite the fact that Roosevelt only had been elected for one term, the notion of “three terms” had a lot of weight, because who could even begin to imagine the horrors of a country where someone named Roosevelt serves as President for more than eight years?
This “greedy politician trying to break with American political tradition” narrative particularly struck a chord with 36-year-old New York resident John Flammang Schrank, who responded to Roosevelt’s campaign with the strong opinion of, “Potato union holy hobgoblins must pay.” See, John Schrank was pretty fucking nuts, and claimed to have been visited by the ghost of William McKinley, which, as far as American historical figures to be haunted by, probably must be a bit of a letdown. “Oh sweet, I’m being haunted by the ghost of a President! So cool! Oh…it’s just McKinley. I mean, um, oh cool. It’s…McKinley. No, it’s fine. I like it. It’s fine, just drop it, okay?”
“Like, I could have been haunted by Ulysses S. Grant, but no, that one President who kind of looks like a young Mr. Potter from It’s A Wonderful Life is cool too, I guess. Sigh.”
Apart from being a nutjob, Schrank was a saloonkeeper who had lived a life that would be considered tragic in today’s terms, but “roughly par for the course” in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He immigrated to the United States at the age of 9, only to have his parents die soon after. He was then raised by his aunt and uncle, the latter of whom owned a tavern and some property in New York, which was left to Schrank when they too passed away early in Schrank’s adulthood. While Schrank was given valuable property to manage, he had also lost basically two sets of parents by this point in his life, so the universe felt it should pile shit on even more by shortly thereafter having his fiancé die in the General Slocum disaster—the steamboat that set fire and sunk on the East River that killed 1,021 of its 1,342 passengers and remains to this day the worst maritime disaster in New York’s history. Again, this is definitely not a storied life but, also, it isn’t quite Angela’s Ashes either. Either way, none of his life’s tragedies had anything to do with his particular dislike or distrust of Teddy Roosevelt. That was 100% McKinley’s ghost.
Apparently, on the early morning following McKinley’s assassination, Schrank had a vivid dream where McKinley sat up in his coffin and pointed a finger at Teddy Roosevelt in a Monk’s robes across the room, saying, “This is my murderer, avenge my death.” It’s basically the plot of Hamlet combined with that one scene in Red Dawn where Jed and Mat’s dad is all like, “Avenge me, avengeee meee” which would be pretty badass if it weren’t for that whole “trying to assassinate one of history’s best Presidents” thing. Some 11 years passed where he didn’t give the dream much additional thought until September of 1912 when Schrank claimed that he felt a tap on his shoulder and turned around to see the ghost of McKinley who told him, “Do not let a murderer sit in the president’s chair” before instructing him to assassinate Roosevelt. Naturally, the ghost failed to mention that Roosevelt was unkillable, and the whole thing probably was one of the first instances of a departed President returning to this realm simply to prank a Bavarian immigrant.
“Like, I could have been haunted by Ulysses S. Grant, but no, that one President who kind of looks Jeff Daniels in The Newsroom is cool too, I guess. Sigh.”
In October of 1912, Schrank checked into a hotel in Milwaukee, knowing Roosevelt was planning to make a campaign speech there, listing himself under the fake name of “Albert Ross” which is a common enough name that you know there are Albert Rosses out there who get kind of annoyed googling their names to find the odd article about Teddy Roosevelt’s attempted assassination (also, hi Al, can we call you Al? Anyway, hi Al, glad you found our site). Two days later, Roosevelt (who had made his schedule pretty public because Teddy Roosevelt basically was the human embodiment of the phrase, “Come at me, bro”) was walking to his car after a dinner at the hotel he was staying at to be driven to the Milwaukee Auditorium, where he was scheduled to give a speech, when Schrank ran up to Roosevelt and shot the man in the goddamned chest.
This is his bloody shirt, the only proof in history that Teddy Roosevelt’s skin was able to be pierced by the weapons of man.
Now, for those of you readers who have been shot in the chest before (Jesus Christ, we hope that doesn’t apply to any of you), you could probably confirm a theory we have about it for us. We hypothesize, and this was after careful study and deliberation, that it probably hurts like a motherfucking goddamned son of a bitch. If we’re wrong about that, please let us know in the comments.
Teddy Roosevelt, however, according to the original New York Times reporting of the incident, responded thusly— “Col. Roosevelt had barely moved when the shot was fired, and stood calmly looking on, as though nothing happened.” Motherfucker didn’t even blink. He was like, “Oh, cool, got shot. Whatever.”
The look on Teddy Roosevelt’s face when he gets shot is pretty much the same look he has when in the midst of a slightly-larger-than-average bowel movement.
Now, admittedly, Roosevelt didn’t take the full brunt of the point-blank shot—the bullet had to go through a fifty page manuscript of his speech and an eyeglasses case, which saved Roosevelt from whatever happens to a Highlander when you shoot him through the lungs. Yes, basically every movie that has the hero get shot only for him to open his jacket and show some random item placed at his chest taking the bullet for him is something that happens in real life, and it happened to Teddy fucking Roosevelt.
At this point, everyone else in the crowd was pretty pissed off since they just watched a guy try to kill Teddy Roosevelt, and they were riled up enough to kill Schrank there on the spot. Shouts of “lynch him” were heard as the crowd worked into a frenzy before Roosevelt shouted, “Stand back! Don’t hurt him!” Schrank was arrested, and the crowd calmed down as Roosevelt told them, “Missed me that time; I’m not hurt a bit.” The important thing to keep in mind here is that Roosevelt actually thought he wasn’t injured—he had no idea that there was a bullet in his chest at that very moment, because even the physical sensation of pain is afraid to cross Teddy Roosevelt.
The one thing we can’t figure out is why everyone in this photo of Schrank getting arrested seem so goddamn pleased with themselves. “You guys see that time I shot Teddy Roosevelt in the chest?” “Oh ya sure thing there, Johnny, quite a good joke, now let’s put these cuffs on ya.”
With that, Roosevelt hopped in the car and went to his speech. When one of his secretaries, John McGrath, pointed out the bullet hole in Roosevelt’s overcoat, Roosevelt put his fingers under his shirt, saw that he was bleeding, and said, “It looks as though I had been hit, but I don’t think it is anything serious.” As his physician and advisers implored him to go to the hospital, he determined that he wasn’t coughing blood, and decided, “That’s good enough for me, let’s deliver a motherfucking speech.”
He eventually gave a fifty minute speech, the bullet still in his chest, which he delivered with one of the most badass openings in the history of American public speaking. Specifically, he told the crowd:
Friends, I shall ask you to be quest as possible. I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot, but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose. But 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 it 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.”
Teddy Roosevelt, either immediately after being shot, or after hearing that his son only got a B+ on his History paper.
Because the medical industry in 1912 can best be described as, “Oh man, have you seen The Knick? That shit is gross,” the doctors referred to the wound as “a superficial flesh wound in the right breast…The bullet is probably somewhere in the chest wall…Col. Roosevelt is not suffering from the shock and is in no pain. His condition is so good that surgeons did not object to his continuing his journey to Chicago in his private car.” So, basically, he came in to the hospital with a bullet wound (over an hour after the initial shooting) and the doctors said, “You good?” and he was like, “Yeah, I poured some beer on it,” and they all high-fived and let Roosevelt go on his way. The only treatment he received was a tetanus shot (which he took “reluctantly”) and some local disinfectant being placed on the wound itself before he headed on his way.
The train to Chicago was delayed momentarily when they developed the X-Ray of the shooting and came to believe that the abdominal wall had been penetrated, and they wanted to send surgeons in on a special train from Chicago to remove the bullet before remembering who they were dealing with, and letting Roosevelt continue onward. He never got the bullet removed, and it stayed there for the remainder of his days.
An artist’s rendering of the bullet in Roosevelt’s chest as it saw who it was entering.
Since this happened just three weeks before the election (which Roosevelt finished in second place, besting Taft but losing to Woodrow Wilson), he was unable to do much campaigning after this, since putting the bullet in the chest of someone who had rheumatoid arthritis growing up probably isn’t very conducive for going the hectic pace of the political grind. Of course, that didn’t phase Roosevelt much, and when he was asked about the bullet in later years, he would reply, “I do not mind it any more than if it were in my waistcoat pocket” which is exactly the kind of response we were hoping Roosevelt would give to that question. Roosevelt also would go on to say, “I did not care a rap for being shot. It is a trade risk, which every prominent public man ought to accept as a matter of course” because of course he’d say that, he’s Teddy motherfucking Roosevelt.
The only reason Roosevelt didn’t feel the need to thank these two items for taking the bullet for him is that he probably knew the bullet would bounce off him anyway.
As for Roosevelt’s would-be assassin, Schrank ended up being sentenced to a mental institution, which is the sort of thing that happens when you say, “The ghost of President McKinley told me to kill Teddy Roosevelt,” though he insisted he felt no hatred for Roosevelt and that he only wanted to kill “Roosevelt, the third-termer” as opposed to “the citizen Roosevelt” which was probably a distinction that the has-a-bullet-in-his-chest-now Roosevelt didn’t particularly give a shit about. When Roosevelt died in 1919, Schrank expressed sorrow at his death, saying he was a great American, which, duh.
While the history of Presidential assassinations, successful and attempted, range from tragic to comically inept to “that one time Andrew Jackson beat the everloving shit out of his potential assassin” this particular instance has the distinction of reminding us why Teddy Roosevelt has such a strong endearing legacy today. We’re not allowed to have a “favorite failed assassination attempt” because God, that’s an awful thing to list favorites of, why would you even ask that, but we can say that the events of October 14th, 1912, at the very least, help remind us why Roosevelt is worth our admiration and affection all these years later.