Schrank, John Flammang

John Flammang Schrank (March 5, 1876-September 15, 1943) attempted to assassinate Theodore Roosevelt on October 14, 1912. As a young child, Schrank immigrated from Bavaria with his parents, who died soon after their arrival in New York. The deaths of his girlfriend and the aunt and uncle who raised him clearly took a toll on his emotional health. After a short stint as a saloon owner, Schrank lived on the margins of society writing poetry and seeking solace in religion.  

Historians look to a letter of September 15, 1912, found on Schrank after the assassination attempt, to explain his motives. The document suggests that he opposed a third presidential term, but it also recounts a dream in which President McKinley appeared to Schrank, blaming Theodore Roosevelt for his death and directing Schrank to seek revenge. Presumably because of this, Schrank followed Roosevelt, the Progressive Party candidate, on the 1912 presidential campaign tour. He saw his chance on October 14, as Roosevelt was leaving Milwaukee’s Pfister Hotel and readying to deliver a stump speech. Just before Roosevelt stepped into a waiting car, Schrank pulled out a 38 Colt revolver and shot Theodore Roosevelt at close range. Deciding that he was not mortally wounded, Roosevelt stopped the angry crowd from harming Schrank and then delivered his hour-long address, stunning the audience at the Milwaukee Auditorium when he stated calmly, "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." Meanwhile, local police took Schrank into custody.

After the talk, Roosevelt went to a local hospital before being transferred to Chicago’s Mercy Hospital. The bullet’s progress had been slowed as it passed through a folded copy of his lengthy address, his glasses case, and his heavy winter coat. The bullet broke his fourth rib and lodged near his right lung. Doctors determined that the bullet should not be removed.

Although physicians declared Schrank insane and committed him to an asylum in 1914, Roosevelt wrote his friend, John St. Loe Strachey, two months after the assassination attempt that he believed Schrank “was not really a madman at all,” but rather “a man of the same disordered brain which most criminals, and a great many noncriminals, have.” Roosevelt pointed out that Schrank had tracked Roosevelt from Louisiana to Wisconsin, and “had quite enough sense to avoid shooting me in any Southern State, where he would have been lynched, and he waited until he got into a State where there was no death penalty.”

Schrank died in the Central State Mental Hospital in Wisconsin, outliving Theodore Roosevelt by twenty-four years.