Archive for September 2018

The Prologue of My New Book “When Teddy Came to Town”

September 15, 2018

My new novel When Teddy Came to Town was published recently. It’s a novel about the 1913 libel trial in Marquette when former President Theodore Roosevelt sued the Ishpeming newspaper editor, George Newett, of the Iron Ore, for calling him a drunkard. Here is the prologue:

Prologue

On Wednesday, October 9, 1912, former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, who now styled himself Colonel Roosevelt, based on his past military experience, arrived by train in Marquette, Michigan. He was there to campaign as the Progressive “Bull Moose” Party candidate for the presidency of the United States.

Teddy Roosevelt’s Libel Trial began on May 26, 1913 in Marquette, Michigan.

An estimated six thousand people turned out to see Roosevelt—most would not be able to hear him because the crowd was so thick. Throngs of people squeezed into the train yard surrounding the depot and on both sides of Front Street near the makeshift platform erected for him in downtown Marquette.

Among Roosevelt’s listeners was George A. Newett, editor of the Iron Ore, a newspaper published in the city of Ishpeming, some fifteen miles west of Marquette.

Because Newett and his paper were staunch supporters of the Republican Party, Newett was already inclined to have an unfavorable view of Roosevelt’s speech. Newett was angry that Roosevelt had broken with the Republican Party after it had nominated incumbent U.S. President William Howard Taft over himself for its presidential candidate. Roosevelt had then decided to form his own Progressive Party and be its candidate. The result had been division within the Republican Party since many of its members chose to support Roosevelt.

No doubt many other Republicans present were not fans of Roosevelt, but regardless, the enormous crowd was thrilled to see a former U.S. president. The only other president ever to have visited Marquette had been President Taft the year before, so regardless of Roosevelt’s politics, the community saw it as a day worth celebrating.

Although Roosevelt had never before visited Marquette, he knew several of the local politicians, including George Shiras III, who summered in Marquette and had served as a congressman for Pennsylvania in Washington, D.C. Roosevelt and Shiras had developed a friendship because of a bill Shiras had introduced to protect wildfowl. Roosevelt shared Shiras’ conservation interests, and since they had met, he had taken great interest in Shiras’ efforts to photograph wildlife. Now seeing Shiras in the crowd, Roosevelt shouted to him, “Did you get your beaver picture yet?” Shiras shouted back that the glass plate had not yet been developed. Then Roosevelt’s attention was diverted away from his friend, and in a few more seconds, he was ready to give his speech.

A presidential candidate’s speeches are notorious for pointing out what is wrong with his opponent’s position on various issues, and Roosevelt’s speech that day was no different. He spoke out boldly against the steel trust, which he blamed for taking over the Republican convention and preventing him from getting the presidential nomination. But today Roosevelt was in steel country. Marquette County’s economy relied on its iron mines, which shipped ore to the great cities of Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Buffalo, where the ore was turned into steel. In fact, George Newett’s newspaper, the Iron Ore, was named for the community’s bread-and-butter.

Roosevelt did not let Marquette’s interests in steel dissuade him. Instead, he addressed the situation directly. Speaking without hesitation, he declared, “The steel trust is here in Marquette County, and its attorney, the congressman against whom—”

“That is not true!” a man interrupted him.

The man was John Van Evera, former warden of the Marquette Branch Prison, and a strong supporter of the Republican Party.

Roosevelt, without blinking an eye, shot back, “You stand for theft and you stand for lying and false witness bearing. Another thing I will give you a chance to deny: that every paper influenced by the steel corporation in Marquette and by the standpatters is against us in this county.”

Van Evera replied, “I am not afraid of a Bull Moose.”

Roosevelt continued, “It is perfectly natural that you should object to hearing the truth told about the side you are championing; and it is perfectly natural that you should come here to try to interrupt a meeting in which I am exposing the falsities and misinterpretations of your side.”

“Then tell the truth,” persisted Van Evera.

Roosevelt continued, naming local politicians, including Horace O. Young of nearby Ishpeming, who was currently a member of the Michigan State House of Representatives. “Mr. Young is the ex-attorney of the Steel Trust, and his law partner is attorney for the Steel Trust now. I understand, sir, that I am telling you the truth; I speak here from the information given me; but when I speak of the Chicago convention of last June, I speak of what I know. You are supporting the receivers of stolen goods, and a man engaged with the theft; and if you are a man of intelligence and education, you are acting as dishonorably as if you were supporting a man who had stolen a purse. Now you ask to hear the truth. You have heard it. A man who approves of the commission of theft, or who brazenly defends it, is no better than the thief himself.”

Roosevelt continued his speech without any further interruptions. When he was finished, the crowd applauded, and soon the former president was off to his next stop on the campaign trail. Meanwhile, the local newspapers’ headlines declared:

‘Big Bull Moose’s’ Tour a Continual Triumph

Upper Peninsula Turned Out More Than 40,000 People Wednesday to Welcome the Great Progressive Chieftain

He Was Seen and Heard in Marquette County by Larger Throngs Than Ever Before Had Greeted a Great National Leader

All that said, Roosevelt had already given several speeches that day, and his voice had been somewhat raspy, which caused some people to wonder, especially when he became so animated while responding to Mr. Van Evera’s charges, whether he might have been intoxicated.

George Newett did more than wonder. He went home and wrote the following editorial, which appeared in the Iron Ore on October 12, 1912.

The Roosevelt Way
According to Roosevelt, he is the only man who can call others liars, rascals and thieves, terms he applies to Republicans generally.
All that Roosevelt has gained politically he received from the hands of the Republican Party.
Had he won in the Republican convention in Chicago, then the Republican Party would still be a good party, and all others would have been made up of liars and thieves and scoundrels generally.
But if anyone calls Roosevelt a liar he raves and roars and takes on in an awful way, and yet Roosevelt is a pretty good liar himself. Where a lie will serve to advance his position, he employs it.
Roosevelt lies and curses in the most disgusting way; he gets drunk, too, and that not infrequently, and all of his intimates know about it.
What’s the use mincing things with him when he maltreats everyone not for him?
Because he has been president gives him no privileges above other men and his conduct is just as deserving censure as is that of any other offender against decency.
How can Roosevelt expect to go unlashed when he maliciously and untruthfully strikes out at other people?
It’s just as Mr. Harlan said, he’s the greatest little fighter in the country when he’s alone in the ring, but he acts like a madman if anyone dares criticize him. All who oppose him are wreckers of the country, liars, knaves and undesirables.
He alone is pure and entitled to a halo. Rats! For so great a fighter, self-styled, he’s the poorest loser we ever knew.

Two days later, October 14, would be a doubly fateful day for the former president. Roosevelt was continuing his campaign, traveling that day from Chicago to Milwaukee. He was already experiencing a sore throat from all the speeches he had given, but he planned to give another that evening. That same day, he would be handed a copy of Newett’s editorial by Oscar King Davis, his party’s secretary. After reading the article, Roosevelt whispered to Davis, “Let’s go after him.” Then, while en route to Milwaukee, the former president sent instructions to Henry M. Wallace, the Progressive national committeeman from Michigan, to retain a lawyer and file a libel suit against Newett.

Once Roosevelt arrived in Milwaukee, he went to the Gilpatrick Hotel, where the hotel owner, a supporter of Roosevelt, provided dinner for him. Word quickly got out that Roosevelt was dining at the Gilpatrick. When he prepared to leave the hotel for Milwaukee Auditorium, where he would give his speech, he found a crowd outside, clamoring to see him.

Roosevelt got into the open convertible waiting for him at the hotel entrance. At first, he sat down, but when the crowd cheered for him, he stood to acknowledge and wave to his supporters.

Suddenly, a gunshot was heard. A man, standing just seven feet from Roosevelt, had drawn a revolver from his vest and shot the former president.

The bullet struck Roosevelt in the chest and knocked him back down into his seat.

The would-be assassin was John Flammang Schrank, a former saloonkeeper from New York who had become profoundly religious. He had followed Roosevelt from New Orleans to Milwaukee. Schrank would later claim he had been writing a poem in the night when the ghost of President William McKinley appeared to him. McKinley had asked Schrank to avenge his death and pointed at a photograph of Roosevelt.

Schrank was immediately arrested. He would later maintain that he had nothing against Roosevelt and he had not intended to kill “the citizen Roosevelt,” but rather “Roosevelt, the third-termer,” claiming that President McKinley had told him to shoot Roosevelt as a warning to other third-termers. Schrank would be diagnosed by doctors as suffering from delusions and insanity. He would then be committed to the Central State Mental Hospital in Waupun, Wisconsin, for life.

As for Roosevelt, the bullet had lodged itself in his chest, but first, it had penetrated his steel eyeglass case and passed through the folded fifty pages of his speech in his suit pocket. Being a hunter, Roosevelt had a good knowledge of anatomy; because he was not coughing up blood, he knew the bullet had not sunk far enough into his chest to hit his lung, so he refused to go to the hospital until after he gave his speech. His motorcar proceeded to the Milwaukee Auditorium.

When Roosevelt took the stage in the auditorium, he began to address the crowd by saying, “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.”

The former president went on to deliver his speech, and although at times his voice was hardly more than a whisper, he spoke for ninety minutes, and when he had finished, he was cheered by the crowd. Only then did he agree to be taken to the hospital.

At the hospital, Roosevelt was attended by his personal physician, Dr. Terrell. An x-ray showed the bullet lodged in Roosevelt’s chest muscle; the bullet had also broken his fourth rib. Dr. Terrell determined that because the bullet had not penetrated Roosevelt’s pleura, it would be less dangerous to leave it in place. The former president would carry the bullet inside him for the rest of his life. Because it would hinder his ability to exercise, it would cause him to gain significant weight in his later years.

Roosevelt remained in the hospital for a week. During that time, one highlight of his stay was receiving a photograph from his friend George Shiras. On the back was inscribed the note, “Here is the answer to your question!” It was a nighttime photograph of a beaver gnawing on a tree trunk.

Although the election would be held on November 5, only three weeks away, Roosevelt’s opponents, President Taft of the Republican Party and Democratic nominee Woodrow Wilson, both halted their own campaigns out of a sense of fair play while Roosevelt was hospitalized. Once Roosevelt was released from the hospital, all three candidates resumed their campaigns, although Roosevelt himself would only make two more speeches before Election Day.

Roosevelt would not garner enough votes to be elected president, although his 4.1 million votes surpassed the 3.5 million of his Republican opponent, Taft. Because Wilson’s 6.3 million votes won him the electoral vote, he would be sworn in as twenty-eighth president of the United States.

With the election over, Roosevelt would quickly turn his attention to his lawsuit against George Newett.

Newett’s charge that Roosevelt was a drunkard had not been the first accusation made to that effect. Several reasons existed for these accusations. First, Roosevelt had a very animated presence when he spoke. His voice boomed and he liked to wave his arms about. He did this largely so the people in the back of the crowd could see and hear him, but it often led to people thinking his behavior somewhat erratic and possibly influenced by alcohol. Second, Roosevelt usually gave multiple speeches a day on the campaign trail and he had to speak so loudly to be heard by the massive crowds that his voice often became quite hoarse and, sometimes, it even sounded like he slurred his words. Finally, the prohibition of alcohol was being hotly debated across the country, but Roosevelt remained uncommitted on the issue. When he was asked for his opinion on prohibition by reporters, he often shrugged off the question or muttered a barely audible response. This attitude made people speculate that he was not in favor of prohibition, the reason being that he was a heavy drinker himself. None of these speculations, however, had sufficient support to prove Roosevelt was a drunk.

Tired of all the accusations about his drinking, Roosevelt decided he would make an example of the Iron Ore and its editor. On October 25, 1912, his lawyer, James H. Pound of Detroit, filed an extensive Declaration of Intention in Marquette County, and four days later, Pound filed the following formal and detailed complaint:

That the said defendant, George A. Newett, did upon October, the twelfth, A.D. 1912, publish the following false, scandalous, malicious and defamatory words…“The Roosevelt Way.”

That the entire article is libelous. But that Theodore Roosevelt waives all claims for damages for any of the libels contained in said article, except the words, “Roosevelt lies and curses in a most disgusting way. He gets drunk, too, and that not infrequently and all of his intimates know about it.”

That Theodore Roosevelt does hereby begin an action of Trespass, in the Circuit Court for the County of Marquette and claims as his damages, the sum of Ten Thousand Dollars.

Newett then hired his own lawyer, William P. Bedell, of Ishpeming, and filed the following response to Roosevelt’s allegations of libel:

Take notice, the defendant will give in evidence and insist in his defense that the words charged in the plaintiff’s declaration, were published in good faith, without any malice, and under circumstances creating a qualified privilege, vis.: That at the time the plaintiff was a candidate for the office of the President of the United States, and that as such candidate his public conduct and his fitness for said high office were properly subject to discussion as matters of common and general interest.

And the said defendant will further give in evidence and insists in his defense, the plaintiff had been and was guilty of the facts and acts charged and imputed to him in the publication.

Newett and Bedell now set out to prove that what Newett had printed was true. They began by collecting depositions to support the statement that Roosevelt often became drunk. Upon hearing of their actions, Roosevelt convinced the court to order that the depositions not be made public until the time of the trial, scheduled to begin at the Marquette County Courthouse on May 26, 1913. A great deal of media attention and interest would build throughout the nation as the trial approached.

When Teddy Came to Town is available locally in Marquette at the Marquette Regional History Center, Snowbound Books, Michigan Fair (downtown and Meijer’s) and Touch of Finland. It is also available online at Amazon and in ebook editions at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Google Play. Copies autographed by the author can be purchased at www.MarquetteFiction.com.

Advertisements