239 Days in America

A Social Media Documentary following 'Abdu'l-Bahá in 1912

October 20, 1912
Milwaukee, WI
Storify Feature

The Stubborn Hide of the Bull Moose

‘ABDU’L-BAHÁ WAS SEATED in Phoebe Hearst’s garden in Pleasanton, California, when it happened.

The news “flashed outward along telephone and telegraph wires, jolting every night editor in the country,” writes biographer Edmund Morris, “penetrating even into the Casino Theatre in New York, where Edith Roosevelt sat watching Johann Strauss’s The Merry Countess. She emerged from the side entrance weeping. ‘Take me to where I can talk to him or hear from him at once.’ A police escort whisked her to the Progressive National Headquarters in the Manhattan Hotel, which had an open line to Milwaukee.” The presidential election was only three weeks away.


The former President had strolled out of the Gilpatrick Hotel on Third Street in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at exactly 8:10 p.m. on Monday, October 14, 1912. He had walked across the pavement, and sat down in his customary back seat on the right-hand side of his car — a roofless, seven-seater that would take him to the Milwaukee Auditorium for his speech. In response to the cheering crowd, which formed a dense mass for a block in every direction, Roosevelt stood and waved his hat. There was a glint of steel; a shot rang out. Seven feet from the car a “weedy little man,” Mr. John. F. Schrank of 370 10th Street, New York, stood holding a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver, still smoking from the discharge.

The bullet, Morris writes “lay embedded against the fourth right rib, four inches from the sternum. In its upward and inward trajectory, straight toward the heart, it had had to pass through Roosevelt’s dense overcoat into his suit jacket pocket, then through a hundred glazed pages of his bifolded speech into his vest pocket, which contained a steel-reinforced spectacle case three layers thick, and on through two webs of suspender belt, shirt fabric, and undershirt flannel, before eventually finding skin and bone.”

Teddy’s knees bent, he reached for the folded canopy of the convertible to steady himself, and then he hoisted himself back up. Below him on the pavement he saw one of his stenographers, Elbert Martin, trying to break the would-be assassin’s neck. “Don’t hurt him,” Roosevelt yelled. He placed his hands gently on either side of the man’s face, peered into his eyes, and asked, “What did you do it for?” His query received only a blank stare. “Oh, what’s the use? Turn him over to the police.”

Urged by his staff to go the hospital, Roosevelt insisted on keeping his appointment at the Auditorium instead. “You get me to that speech,” he rasped. And so, with a cracked rib, bleeding from a dime-sized hole in his chest, Roosevelt shook off his handlers and mounted the stage. It was only when he opened his fifty-page speech and saw its “double starburst perforation” that the emotions of what had happened finally hit him.

“Friends, I shall have to ask you to be as quiet as possible,” he began, in this era before microphones. “I do not know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot, but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.” He went on for an hour and fifteen minutes, throwing down leaf after leaf of his speech as he finished each page — fifty of them in all.

Roosevelt did not know the man who shot him, he said, but he was not surprised that the escalating rhetoric and personal attacks, which had suddenly become commonplace in this election, had led to violence. “I wish to say seriously to all the daily newspapers, to the republican, the democratic and the socialist parties that they cannot month in and month out and year in and year out make the kind of untruthful, of bitter assault that they have made and not expect that brutal violent natures . . . will be unaffected by it.”


  • Bob LeBlanc

    not sure what this story had to do with Abdu’l-Baha’?

    • Winnie

      One thing I like about this series is that it doesn’t just focus on what Abdu’l Baha was doing (Robert Stockman’s book does that very well). 239 days goes beyond to place the events of His visit in the context of what was happening in the history of the same days.

      • http://twitter.com/LoieMead Loie Mead

        Winnie, another thing I like about this series is that it draws parallels with the events of 2012. In the United States, is it not about time that we give attention to what freedom of speech really means? ‘Abdu’l-Baha demonstrated the way, I believe.

    • http://twitter.com/MasterCopyWrite Karridine

      ‘Abdu’l-Baha did not live, exist, ACT in a vacuum or on a stage with paid actors mouthing lines pre-written for them, Bob… When God passes by, He does so under the full glare of history, and in this day’s report, we see the history, the CONTEXT in which ‘Abdu’l-Baha was moving and constrained…

  • barbara

    Bob, I think your answer is found in the last lines of the article.

  • shahla

    It is difficult to understand freedom of speech without responsibility. Thankfully, many European countries have laws against hateful and otherwise destructive speech. “Free Speech” and sayings such as “sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me” are heard a lot these days. Baha’i teachings, however, tell us that words can have powerfully constructive or destructive effects. I’ll just quote two examples from many in the Baha’i sacred writings, and pray we all make every effort to gain wisdom and maturity to guide our words and actions—while at the same time, hope for wisdom for our listeners. Both quotations are from Baha’u’llah:

    “….For the tongue is a smouldering fire, and excess of speech a deadly poison. Material fire consumeth the body, whereas the fire of the tongue devoureth both heart and soul. The force of the former lasteth but for a time, whilst the effects of the latter endure a century.”

    Consort with all men, O people of Bahá, in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship. If ye be aware of a certain truth, if ye possess a jewel, of which others are deprived, share itwith them in a language of utmost kindliness and goodwill. If it be accepted, if it fulfill its purpose, your object is attained. If anyone should refuse it, leave him unto himself, and beseech God to guide him. Beware lest ye deal unkindly with him. A kindly tongue is the lodestone of the hearts of men. It is the bread of the spirit, it clotheth the words with meaning, it is the fountain of the light of wisdom and understanding.

  • steve mclean

    The Birth of the Bab; the gentle Youth gave His life for us~ 750 bullets seared His Flesh like a burnt offering from the Old Testament. Now which story is more important?~ the Bull Moose with one bullet hole or the sacrificed Lamb of God !!?

  • http://twitter.com/MasterCopyWrite Karridine

    Unfortunately, many European countries have laws against hateful and otherwise destructive speech, which leaves speakers open to legal consequences simply because someone shouts ‘Hate speech!’ (eg., Danish cartoon drawings lampooning a certain character).

    Freedom of speech DOES come with RESPONSIBILITY to SELF-CENSOR hateful, injurious or unkind speech, doesn’t it?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Pascal-Molineaux/1203381202 Pascal Molineaux

    Once again, a moving, relevant, context-filled article that helps us to understand ‘Abdul-Bahá’s clear warnnings as to the nefarious consequences of partisan politics. Yes, it is indeed very relevant to today’s money-riddled and openly false statements of one and the other candidates, as they vie, competititively and agressively, for the votes of one and all. It is sad indeed when, in the name of free speach, “all is allowed”. Personally I fully agree that some limits to free speach are needed, some limits to spending in political campaigns are needed, equal access to the media is needed. But above all, we have to devise a new system which is not so openly partisan, divisive, one in which public servants (becuase that is what they are) do not fight or desire, with great personal ambition, the job. That, as is obvious to any observer, leads to a corrupt, dishonest, blithely agressive campaign in which “all is alllowed”. that is what, I believe, ‘Abdul-Bahá warned us all against.This kind of political process does not contribute to unity in any way, shape or form.

  • Rosie S. Age 13

    This was a very amazing story for me. When Roosevelt was shot with the bullet, instead of completely hating the man who shot him, he asked him why he did it. It just comes to show how good on a man Roosevelt was. Even after he was shot, he continued with his speech because he had made a commitment. Later it was said that, “..they cannot month in and month out and year in and year out make the kind of untruthful, of bitter assault that they have made and not expect that brutal violent natures . . . will be unaffected by it.” I enjoyed this story because it gave me an inside look about what was happening in the life of ‘Abdu’l-Baha at the time. Something I learned from this story was to always try to forgive and forget even when its very hard.