Milwaukee’s Assassination Attempt

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by Paul Piaskoski

MILWAUKEE---Wisconsin is front and center in the race for the White House.

There is a new conservative movement within the Republican Party and a national tug of war between organized labor and big business.

It’s not the presidential race of 2012 that’s being described, but 1912 and something that happened on the streets of Old Milwaukee 100 years ago this week.

It was an event that nearly changed the course of history and Milwaukee’s place in it.

In 1921 Milwaukee was trimmed with gas lamps and cobblestones.

Early automobiles still shared the road with horse drawn fire wagons and that spring, the journal carried headlines about a ship named Titanic.

It was a different place in a different time, but not completely unfamiliar.

"A lot of the downtown buildings were here. City hall in 1895, the Pabst Theater in 1895.S o much of the downtown would be very familiar," said local historian John Gurda.

It was in October of 1912 that Teddy Roosevelt arrived on the streets of Old Milwaukee.

He was a popular former President recently split from the Republican Party, seeking what would effectively be a third term in the White House.

"Roosevelt had served almost all of McKinley's term after he was assassinated and then was elected to a term in his own right. So he had almost 8 years in office," Gurda said.

Historians say that is also what brought a German immigrant by the name of John Schrank to Milwaukee.

"John Schrank was the classical person who heard voices. His only cogent argument was that he opposed a third term," Gurda said.

In 1912 the Hotel Gilpatrick stood on the site of what is now the downtown Hyatt and it was there, after following Roosevelt around for weeks that Schrank finally got close enough to act.

"He had agreed to give a speech at the Milwaukee Auditorium, now the Milwaukee Theater," Gurda said.

"So Roosevelt leaves the hotel, goes to a car that was waiting on 3rd Street, and at roughly point-blank range, Shrank fires a .38 revolver and the bullet pierce's Teddy Roosevelt’s chest," Gurda added.

"He did not fall, kind of staggered, but did not fall, and they wrestled the gunman to the ground immediately, and Roosevelt had the presence of mind to say, bring him here, and make sure no harm comes to him," Gurda continued.

"The amazing thing is that he still went to the auditorium and gave his speech," Gurda said.

Doctors were finally able to examine Roosevelt once he arrived at the auditorium just a few blocks away and what they found was astonishing.

"What saved his life was a 50-page speech that was folded over. The bullet penetrated the entire manuscript. It put a dent in his metal glasses case and still had enough force to lodge in his chest," Gurda said.

In keeping with his larger than life persona, Roosevelt would speak for over an hour that day eventually delivering the line that would become his lasting legacy.

"He teetered a couple of times. His aides were waiting just in case he fell, but he finished it and as he said,’ it takes more than one bullet to kill a bull moose’," Gurda said.

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