October 14: Teddy Roosevelt Survives

TeddyIn 1912, there was a split in the Republican Party. While most of the party was standing behind sitting president William Howard Taft, a large faction of the party had grown dissatisfied with Taft’s leadership. The most vocal of these critics was former president Theodore Roosevelt, who broke from the Republicans and formed the Progressive Party (nicknamed the Bull Moose Party). Yes, once upon a time a group of Republicans willingly called themselves progressives. So, the 1912 presidential election saw three major parties duking it out for the presidency: President Taft’s Republicans, (former) President Roosevelt’s Progressives and Woodrow Wilson’s Democrats.

So, this brings us to Milwaukee, Wisconsin on the evening of October 14, 1912. Roosevelt had just finished dinner at the Gilpatrick Hotel and was about to hop into a car, so he could deliver a speech at the Milwaukee Auditorium. Just then, a saloon owner named John Flammang Schrank approached Roosevelt and shot him in the chest!

Schrank would later explain that he was opposed to a president having more than two terms and that he wasn’t trying to kill Roosevelt the man, but “Roosevelt, the third-termer.” He also would claim that the ghost of William McKinley (who Roosevelt succeeded as president after McKinley had been assassinated) had told him to perform the act as revenge.

Amazingly, the bullet did not kill Roosevelt. It first passed through his steel eyeglass case and the 50 page speech he was scheduled to deliver that night, and then finally lodged in his chest. Now, Roosevelt had a lot of experience as a hunter and an anatomist, so he quickly determined that although he was bleeding, he was not coughing up blood, meaning that the bullet had not pierced his lung; so despite his aides’ suggestions that he go to a hospital, he decided to go ahead and deliver his speech. Upon arriving at the Auditorium, Roosevelt began his speech by addressing the bloody elephant in the room:

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.

Roosevelt then delivered his 90 minute speech, with blood seeping into his shirt and coat and his voice sometimes dropping to a whisper, and was rushed to a hospital upon completing it. The doctors eventually determined that it would actually be more dangerous to remove the bullet, and so Roosevelt would carry that bullet for the remaining six years of his life. Schrank would be committed to a state mental hospital where he would spend the rest of his life. Upon Roosevelt’s death in 1919, he would comment that he was sorry to hear of the death of such a great American. Schrank died in 1943, ironically living long enough to see Franklin Roosevelt become “Roosevelt, the third-termer.”

Today we’ve got a rather interesting drink to celebrate the president’s survival. It’s a drink called the Rough Rider, which is obviously named after cavalry regiment Roosevelt led in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. Fittingly, it tastes not too dissimilar to a Cuba Libre, However, this drink has a twist, namely it uses the non-alcoholic cordial Kola Tonic. Now, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that over 99% of the American public has no clue what Kola Tonic is. Well, it’s a sweet cordial made from the kola nut that used to be popular in the 1930s, but now is almost exclusively sold and produced in South Africa. Conveniently, you can purchase Kola Tonic from African Hut and other fine websites that import South African products.

Rough Rider

  • 1 1/2 ounces Rum
  • 1/2 ounce Gin
  • 1/2 ounce lime juice
  • 1 ounce Kola Tonic
  • Dash Bitters

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Tomorrow: The Golden Age of Ballooning takes flight.



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