John Flammang Schrank (March 5, 1876 – September 15, 1943) was a resident of New York, best known for his attempt to assassinate former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt on October 14, 1912, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Schrank was born in Erding, Bavaria on March 5, 1876. He emigrated to America at the age of 9. His parents died soon after, leaving Schrank to work for his uncle, a New York tavern owner and landlord. Upon their deaths Schrank's aunt and uncle left him valuable properties, with the expectation that Schrank could live a quiet and peaceful life. Schrank was heartbroken, not just because he had lost his second set of parents, but also because his first and only girlfriend Emily Ziegler had died in the General Slocum disaster on New York's East River.
Schrank sold the properties, and drifted around the East Coast for years. He became profoundly religious, and a fluent Bible scholar whose debating skills were well-known around his neighborhood's watering holes and public parks. He wrote spare and vivid poetry. He spent a great deal of time walking around city streets at night. He caused no documented trouble.
The 1912 Presidential election campaign was characterized by a serious split in the Republican Party between the conservative wing under President William Howard Taft and the liberal/reform wing under ex-President Theodore Roosevelt. After a bitter confrontation at the Republican Convention, Taft won renomination. Roosevelt led a bolt of his followers, who held a convention and nominated him for President on the ticket of the Progressive Party, nicknamed the "Bull Moose Party". Taft and his supporters attacked Roosevelt for being power-hungry, and seeking to break the tradition that U.S. Presidents only serve up to two terms in office.
On October 14, 1912, while Theodore Roosevelt was campaigning in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Schrank attempted to assassinate him.
According to documents found on Schrank after the attempted assassination, Schrank had written that he was advised by the ghost of William McKinley in a dream to avenge his death, pointing to a picture of Theodore Roosevelt. Different accounts claim that in the dream he instead saw McKinley rise from a coffin and point at Roosevelt, who was wearing a monk's robe.
Roosevelt was at the Gilpatrick Hotel at a dinner provided by the hotel's owner, a supporter. The ex-President was scheduled to deliver a speech at the Milwaukee Auditorium. News had circulated that Roosevelt was at the hotel, and Schrank (who had been following Roosevelt from New Orleans to Milwaukee) went to the hotel. The ex-President had finished his meal, and was leaving the hotel to enter his car when Schrank acted.
Schrank did shoot Roosevelt, but the bullet lodged in Roosevelt's chest only after hitting both his steel eyeglass case and a 50-page copy of his speech he was carrying in his jacket. Roosevelt deduced the bullet could not have penetrated to his lung because he did not cough up blood and, declining suggestions that he go to the hospital, delivered his scheduled speech. He spoke for ninety minutes, but sometimes managed no more than a whisper. His opening comments to the gathered crowd were:
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.
— Theodore Roosevelt, Address at Milwaukee, Wis., October 14, 1912
Afterwards, doctors determined that he was not seriously wounded and that it would be more dangerous to attempt to remove the bullet than to leave it in his chest. Roosevelt carried it with him until he died. In later years, when asked about the bullet inside him, Roosevelt would say, "I do not mind it any more than if it were in my waistcoat pocket."
Both Taft and Democratic nominee Woodrow Wilson suspended their own campaigning until Roosevelt recovered and resumed his. Roosevelt made only two more speeches in the campaign. Although Roosevelt won more votes and electoral votes than Taft, Wilson bested both of them and won the Presidency.
Schrank maintained, later, that he had nothing against the man himself, and he did not intend to kill "the citizen Roosevelt", but rather "Roosevelt, the third-termer." He claimed to have shot Roosevelt as a warning to other third-termers, and that it was the ghost of William McKinley that told him to perform the act. When Roosevelt died in 1919, Schrank conceded that he was a great American and was sorry to hear of his death.
Soon after the assassination attempt, doctors examined Schrank and reported that he was suffering from "insane delusions, grandiose in character," declaring him to be insane. Schrank was committed to the Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Waupun, Wisconsin, in 1914. He remained there for 29 more years, until he died on September 15, 1943 of bronchial pneumonia. His body was donated to the Medical School at Marquette University (now the Medical College of Wisconsin) for anatomical dissection.
While John F. Schrank was committed, he wrote a number of letters to the doctor he was consulting at the Mental Hospital, Dr. Adin Sherman. The University of North Carolina at Wilmington possesses twenty of them. The letters are dated between 1914 and 1918. The accession number in the Manuscripts Collection is 148.
The .38-caliber Colt Police Positive Special revolver that Schrank used to shoot Roosevelt
X-Ray of Schrank's bullet in Roosevelt's chest
The bullet-damaged speech and eyeglass case on display at the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace