The Speech that Stopped a Bullet
Theodore Roosevelt’s life almost ended on the campaign trail. In 1912, while running for a third presidential term, Roosevelt was the victim of an assassination attempt at the hands of a violent and deluded saloonkeeper, John Flammang Schrank.
John Flammang Schrank
John Schrank faced a series of personal tragedies, losing his parents as a child and later his first and only girlfriend. He drifted around the East Coast for several years until eventually, he suffered what doctors later termed “insane delusions.” Believing former president William McKinley had visited him in a dream and told him to exact revenge on T.R., Schrank soon began following Roosevelt on the campaign trail, planning his attack.
It happened at a Milwaukee campaign stop while T.R. was running for another presidential term with the Bull Moose Party. The former president was leaving his hotel to attend a campaign event when the vengeful Schrank stepped from the crowd and fired. Two things saved his life: a steel case for his glasses, and a manuscript of the 50-page speech. Both objects slowed the bullet, which ultimately lodged in Roosevelt’s chest, stopping just short of any vital organs.
An angry mob quickly formed around Schrank as enraged Roosevelt supporters realized what had just happened. Teddy was able to calm the crowd, stopping them from hurting the would-be assassin until the police arrived. Refusing medical attention, T.R. went on to give the life-saving speech while bleeding copiously through his shirt. He famously told the crowd “it takes more than [a bullet] to kill a Bull Moose.”
The Bloody Shirt
After finishing the speech, T.R. was finally taken to the hospital by aides. Doctors concluded it was safer to leave the bullet in his chest rather than risk removing it. T.R.'s bloodstained shirt remains a symbol for the lengths Roosevelt would go to achieve his convictions—and the mercy he would show to the man who tried to kill him. Schrank was sentenced to life in Wisconsin’s Central State Mental Hospital where he died after 29 years.