One of my favorite stand-up comedy routines is when Jerry Seinfeld talks about the fear of public speaking. Seinfeld says, “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than giving the eulogy.” BA DUM TSSS! That bit gets me every time!
The fear of public speaking even has its very own medical term—glossophobia. Personally, I think maybe the fear of public speaking took root on October 14, 1912. Why? Because that was the day President Theodore Roosevelt was shot in the chest by a deranged stalker, but decided to go ahead and give his speech anyway!
A Tough Son of a Gun
Following President McKinley’s assassination in 1901, Theodore Roosevelt became president, and in 1904, he was elected to a second term. President William Howard Taft was then elected the 27th President of the United States in 1908, which gave Roosevelt a nice little break, but he still felt that the office should be his one more time. When the Republican Party disagreed with that, Roosevelt formed his own Party—the Progressive Party, also known as the Bull Moose Party. “Bull Moose” was a reference to a reporter questioning Roosevelt about the experience of the Battle of San Juan Hill. He told the reporter, “I’m feeling like a bull moose!”
Bull Moose Season
Roosevelt was on the campaign trail on that fateful day in 1912 when a would-be assassin declared open season on the nation’s most powerful bull moose. The former President was giving fifteen to twenty speeches per day at that point, and since he most assuredly did not suffer from glossophobia, Roosevelt’s speeches occasionally lasted as long as an hour. His marathon speech making tour had landed him in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on the day he found himself on the wrong end of a .38 caliber revolver.
Now that I think about it, John Schrank, the triggerman, was also on the wrong end of a .38 caliber revolver on that day. Schrank, a German born saloon keeper, had immigrated to the United States at the age of nine. Schrank strongly opposed Roosevelt’s bid for a third term as President. He later told police that the ghost of President William McKinley visited and told him, “Let not a murderer take the presidential chair, avenge my death.”
That wasn’t the first time Schrank felt McKinley had given him instructions. Schrank reported that years earlier he had a dream about McKinley. He stated, “I saw President McKinley sit up in his coffin, pointing at a man in a monk’s attire in who I recognized as Theodore Roosevelt. The dead President then said, “This is my murderer, avenge my death.” Well . . . alrighty then!
Schrank purchased a revolver in New York and began stalking Roosevelt on the campaign trail. He followed Roosevelt to Charleston, S.C., Atlanta, GA, Chattanooga, TN, Evansville, IN, Indianapolis, IN and Chicago, IL. Evidently tracking a Bull Moose required dedication! Schrank finally found his opportunity to open fire on President Roosevelt in Milwaukee, on that fateful day.
Dodge a Bullet
While Roosevelt dined inside the Hotel Gilpatrick, Schrank waited outside. As Roosevelt stepped into the car that would take him to the Milwaukee Civic Auditorium, he turned to wave to the onlookers. That’s when Schrank went for the gun. Roosevelt’s secretary tackled Schrank, jostling him and disrupting his aim, but a shot was fired off. Where did it go? It seemed to have vanished in thin air.
After urging the crowd to not hurt Schrank, the Bull Moose candidate headed for the auditorium. He was in the car when he reached into his overcoat and felt the trickling blood. Until then, no one had realized Roosevelt had been hit.
The bullet had found its way to Roosevelt’s chest. But, why was it not a fatal wound? Miraculously, before hitting his chest, the bullet had hit his eyeglass case and traveled through the fifty pages of notes for the speech he was about to deliver! The manuscript had been folded in half and slipped into Roosevelt’s coat pocket. That wad of paper saved his life! That was one time when being long-winded turned out to be a good thing.
Stick to One’s Guns
Not one to disappoint his supporters, Roosevelt remarkably continued on to the venue. Though doctors urged him to go to the hospital instead, Roosevelt knew a political opportunity when he saw one. The consummate politician marched onto the stage and opened his jacket, revealing his bloody shirt. He showed the audience of 9,000 his bullet torn manuscript and said, “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; 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.”
And do his best he did! Roosevelt spoke for at least fifty-five minutes. Some sources say it was closer to ninety minutes. That was one whale of a speech!
Afterwards, Roosevelt finally agreed to go to the hospital. X-rays revealed that the bullet was lodged in one of his ribs, here seen in the lower left of the film, arrow pointing to it. Doctors determined that it was safer to leave the bullet where it was. After spending eight days in the hospital, the Bull Moose walked around with a bullet lodged in his chest for the remainder of his life.
The Rest of the Story
Schrank was determined to be insane. He spent the rest of his life in the Central State Mental Hospital in Waupun, WI, passing away in 1943, of pneumonia. It is said that he never once had a visitor.
Sadly, after facing down both the number one human fear, public speaking, and the number two fear, death, Roosevelt lost the election to Woodrow Wilson. He may have lost the election, but no matter how you slice it, he won the speech…as well as our hearts!