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Lincoln Shot

April 14, 1865, while watching a performance of “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theater with his wife, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated from a gunshot wound to the back of …

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The day a shot to the chest failed to stop TR’s speech

Theodore Roosevelt riding a bull mooseTomorrow, October 14th, 2012, will be the hundredth anniversary of the day Theodore Roosevelt was shot in the chest and then proceeded to deliver a 90 minute speech to an aghast crowd as blood seeped through his shirt and his breath shortened. Only when he was finished delivering his prepared remarks did he allow his aides to rush him to the hospital.

TR was on the campaign trail in Milwaukee, running for president as a candidate for the Progressive Party. He had already served two terms as President, the first from 1901 to 1905 when he finished William McKinley’s term due to McKinley’s assassination six months after he took office. The second, 1905 to 1909, was his only elected term. He deliberately chose not to run for a third consecutive term in the 1908 election, supporting William Howard Taft over his own Vice President Charles Fairbanks.

Taft as TR's sheep; political cartoon by William H. Walker, 1908Taft won the election, but TR would soon fall out with the successor he had picked. Although Taft prosecuted more trusts than Roosevelt had, as a lawyer and judge he believed any such actions to be the role of the judiciary. Roosevelt was disappointed with what he saw as Taft’s do-nothing administration, and Taft’s conservative rhetoric had little in common with Teddy’s heated defense of the consumer and government by, for and of the people. On a somewhat two-faced note, he also resented the Taft government’s 1911 attempt to break up U.S. Steel, whose purchase of its main competitor Roosevelt had personally approved in 1907.

Theodore Roosevelt thus decided to run again for President in 1912. Things got raw on that campaign trail. Roosevelt called Taft a shill for the bosses and politically corrupt; Taft called him the greatest menace to American instutions. Roosevelt called Taft a “puzzlewit” and Taft called him a “prize honeyfugler,” which I think we can all agree is objectively awesome. Roosevelt won nine out of twelve Republican primaries that spring, but most of the states didn’t hold primaries. Their delegates were assigned at state conventions and caucuses via deals in smoke-filled rooms.

Republican National Convention, June 1912At the Republican National Convention in Chicago in June, the Republican National Committee, controlled by the conservative wing of the party which supported Taft, assigned all disputed delegates to their man. It was mayhem on the convention floor. After all Roosevelt’s attempts to secure more delegates failed, he walked out of the Chicago Coliseum and told his pledged delegates not to vote. In August, he founded the Progressive Party, also known as the Bull Moose Party, and ran for President against Taft, Democratic Party candidate Woodrow Wilson and Socialist Party candidate Eugene V. Debs.

With a four-way race and all these political tectonic plates clashing against each other, the presidential campaign of 1912 was a tense one, to say the least. Enter John Flammang Schrank, a Bavarian immigrant who had moved to the United States when he was 9 years old. His parents died soon thereafter, and he was raised by his aunt and uncle who ran a saloon in New York City’s Lower East Side.

John Schrank under arrest after assassination attemptIn 1904 when Schrank was 28, his 19-year-old girlfriend Emily Ziegler was on her way to a church picnic on Long Island when the steamboat she was on, the General Slocum, caught fire. John was supposed to accompany her that day, but he couldn’t find anyone to cover his shift at the tavern. Emily and 1,020 other people died by fire or drowned in the East River. There were only 321 survivors. Schrank was reported in the local newspapers as having shown up at the morgue “wild-eyed” where he identified her burned body. The General Slocum disaster was New York’s worst tragedy in terms of lives lost until September 11, 2001.

Schrank’s uncle and aunt died in 1910 and 1911, leaving him their property. He was devastated, seeing them more as adoptive parents than as relatives. He sold his inheritance and holed up in sleazy motels, drinking, writing poetry, reading the Bible and several newspapers daily. Although he had admired Roosevelt, even going so far as to have his picture on the wall along with those of Lincoln, Grant and Garfield (the first and third of whom were assassinated, just for the record), when TR sought a third term and even went so far as to create a new party to secure his nomination, Schrank saw Roosevelt’s ambition as a slap in the face to the Founding Fathers (Washington had refused a third term and all presidents after him had also served no more than two terms, although Grant tried and failed to get a nomination for his third). To Schrank, Roosevelt’s campaign spelled certain disaster for the country: if he won, they’d have a Caesar in power; if he lost, he’d call foul like he had at the Republican Convention and plunge the country into another Civil War.

Then there was the dream. In writings the police found in Schrank’s possession, he described a dream he had had:

In a dream I saw President McKinley sit up in his coffin, pointing at a man in a monk’s attire in whom I recognized Theo. Roosevelt. The dead president said “This is my murderer, avenge my death.”

In an alternate version also found among his writings, it was more of a vision:

Schrank's writing regarding his motiveWhile writing a poem someone tapped me on the shoulder and said Let not a murderer take the presidential chair, avenge my death. I could clearly see Mr. McKinley’s features.

Before the Allmighty God, I swear that the above written is nothing but the truth.

So long as Japan could rise to be one of the greatest powers of the world despite her surviving a tradition more than 2000 years old, as General Nogi so nobly demonstrated. It is the death of the U.S.A. to uphold the third term tradition. Let every third termer be regarded as a traitor to the American cause. Let it be the right and duty of every citizen to forcibly remove a third termer.

That note is dated September 14, 1912, the same date on which President McKinley had died 13 years earlier after being shot by anarchist Leon Czolgosz (assuming it wasn’t TR in disguise as a monk all along, of course). General Nogi was a hero of the Russo-Japanese War who offered to kill himself when he felt he had lost too many in the process of capturing Port Arthur (1904-1905). Emperor Meiji declined, but on the day of the emperor’s funeral, September 13th, 1912, Nogi committed ritual suicide so as not to outlive his master.

He seems to be saying that Japan became a world power despite its 2000-year tradition of feudal submission even unto death, but that an equal dedication to American tradition even unto death is what will keep the Republic alive in the face of third-termer would-be kings.

Schrank's revolverBy September 14th, Schrank had been following Roosevelt around the country on campaign stops for four days. He kept at it for another month, waiting for the perfect opening to take a shot. That opening happened in Milwaukee on October 14th. Roosevelt, on the way to give a speech at the Milwaukee Auditorium, took a moment to wave to the crowd from his car when Schrank raised his Smith & Wesson .38 caliber revolver and fired a single shot. Roosevelt bounced back up, at first unaware that he had been hit. His secretary Albert Martin jumped on the shooter, and he and the police kept him safe from the furious crowd demanding Schrank be lynched on the spot.

Roosevelt asked that Schrank be brought before him so he could ask why he had shot him. Schrank did not reply, although he would tell the police everything after his arrest. With an expression of pity for the poor deranged man, Roosevelt and his team got back in the car and headed to the auditorium. On the way, one of his companions noticed there was a hole in TR’s overcoat. Teddy touched it and saw that he was bleeding, that he had in fact been shot. His escorts of course wanted to change direction and drive straight to the hospital; however, Teddy Roosevelt coughed a couple of times and when he saw no blood, figured the bullet hadn’t made it to his lungs, so he insisted on being driven to his speaking engagement as planned.

This is how he opened the speech:

Speech with bullet hole, now bound and on display at the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace museumFriends, 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.

TR's eyeglass case with bullet holeHe opened his overcoat to show the crowd the bloody bullet hole. His 50-page speech had two bullet holes in it (it was folded in half in his pocket) and his eyeglasses case had a hole in it too. These obstacles had slowed down the bullet enough to keep it in the fleshy part of his chest, although it was on an upward trajectory towards his heart.

Roosevelt's chest X-ray, bullet in the bottom leftAn hour and a half later, his speech finally done, he was taken to Johnston Emergency Hospital where six surgeons operated but could not find the bullet. X-rays showed that the bullet was 3.5 inches under the surface of the right side of his chest, touching his fourth rib. Only a thin layer of tissue separated the bullet from the pleural cavity. He recovered for a week at a Chicago hospital. Seeing that he was improving, doctors decided it was better to leave the bullet where it was than to attempt to remove it surgically with all the attendant risks.

Theodore Roosevelt campaigning, October 4, 1912Roosevelt got much sympathy from the people and from the other candidates, who suspended their stump speeches because Roosevelt was unable to deliver his. He was not, however, carried to the presidency on a wave of pity. He beat Taft in popular and electoral votes, but both of them were defeated handily by Woodrow Wilson. President Taft, in one of his last presidential acts, pardoned Captain Van Schaick, the captain of the General Slocum who had been convicted of criminal negligence in the disaster and sentenced to ten years in Sing Sing.

Schrank pled guilty to attempted murder, was found to be insane and was confined for the rest of his life to Central State Mental Hopsital in Waupun, Wisconsin. He died of bronchial pneumonia in 1943 at the age of 67. Theodore Roosevelt died in his sleep of coronary thrombosis in 1919. He was 61 years old.

Theodore Roosevelt’s birthplace at 28 East 20th Street in New York City is now a National Park. They had an exhibit on the 1912 campaign earlier this summer which has now moved to the Oyster Bay Historical Society where it will be on view until November 11th. To get a virtual dose of TR, see the Library of Congress’ collection of Teddy Roosevelt captured on film and audio recordings of some of his speeches.


Earliest films shot in natural color digitally restored

In 1899, British photographer Edward Raymond Turner and his financier Frederick Lee patented a process for making natural color moving pictures. Color was seen in film from the very beginning. The Annabelle Serpentine Dance was filmed in Edison’s Black Maria Studios in 1895, but it was hand-tinted after the film was shot. At least three inventors had patented natural color processes before him, but Turner’s system was the first that led to a working model.

Turner had worked for still photographers since he was 15 years old. Ten years later in 1898, he worked as an assistant to photographic pioneer Frederic Eugene Ives on his newly-invented Kromskop (pronounced “chrome scope”) color still photography system. Ives’ method involved taking three black-and-white photographs on a single glass plate through red, green and blue filters. When viewed through the Kromskop device’s color filters and mirrored surfaces, those three pictures would combine into one brilliantly colored image. Ives sold prepared sets of pictures called Kromgrams for viewing through a Kromskop. These were immensely popular for Victorian audiences in Britain and the US, especially the stereoscopic model which showed the pictures in 3D as well as color. You can see some beautiful examples of Kromgrams of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake in this post.

While assisting Ives, Turner worked simultaneously on a way to take moving pictures using the three-filter additive process. What he came up with a camera that had a rotating wheel with sections of red, green and blue filters placed in front of the lens. This would record a frame of film three successive times, one in each color. Since the subjects were in motion, each frame was slightly different from the next.

The patent was the easy part. The hard part was making a working a model which would record the film and then a projector that could do the work of the Kromskop on moving pictures. After two years of failures and with money running out, in 1901 Lee and Turner went to American film producer Charles Urban who financed continuing development and enlisted engineer and camera inventor Alfred Darling to help make theory reality.

Darling built a camera that used 38mm film to record moving pictures through Turner’s filter system. They filmed a variety of test subjects — Turner’s three children playing with sunflowers in their back yard, his daughter Agnes on a swing, a goldfish in a bowl, a scarlet macaw, the Brighton pier, a street scene of Knightsbridge in London.

In 1902, Darling built a projector that would play films recorded using the Turner and Lee process. It had a speed of 48 frames per second (much faster than most black-and-white films which ran at 16 frames per second) and a lens that superimposed the red, blue and green frames simultaneously onto the screen. A rotating filter wheel behind the lens applied the proper filter color to each frame. Unfortunately, it didn’t work in practice. The timing of the rotating filters had to be exact relative to the speed of the film and the distance from the screen precisely calibrated or else the results were painfully blurry and unwatchable. They kept working on it until Edward Turner died suddenly of a massive heart attack in his workshop on March 9th, 1903. He was 29 years old.

Urban still thought the process had potential, so he brought in his associate George Albert Smith, a pioneering filmmaker and inventor, to keep developing it. Smith kept slogging at it for a while, then realized if he abandoned the blue, the remaining red and green would produce respectable color pictures with much less trouble. G.A. Smith patented the two-color system in 1906 calling it Kinemacolor. Kinemacolor cameras used rotating red and green filters to record alternating frames which were then projected through two-color filters. Here are two of G. A. Smith’s early films using the Kinemacolor process. He chose his subjects — Tartans of Scottish Clans (1906) and Woman Draped in Patterned Handkerchiefs (1908) — wisely to be particularly flush with reds and greens.

Smith’s system was successful for five years. At its peak, 300 theaters in Britain had Kinemacolor projectors installed. Smith was sued for patent infringement by William Friese-Greene in 1914 who had patented a red-green system of his called Biocolour before Smith. Friese-Greene won and put Smith out of the film business for good.

In 1937, Charles Urban donated his collection of films, including the Lee & Turner test films, to the London Science Museum. Four years ago the collection was transferred to the National Media Museum where it was kept in storage until Curator of Cinematography Michael Harvey found it languishing there and decided to see if modern technology could make Turner’s colors come alive.

The first obstacle was the non-standard 38mm film size. In order to scan the frames, experts first had to create a custom gate — a devise that holds film in projectors — that would isolate a frame. They would center a frame of film in the gate, place it into an optical printer, scan the frame, and then start again with the next frame. It was a painstaking process, centering the film to ensure it’s in exactly the same position as the frame before; they topped out at 26 frames per hour.

Once the frames were scanned, the digital file was sent to Prime Focus, a special effects, conversion and restoration company, which used digital editing software to put the proper red, green or blue filter over each frame. Turner lent a hand from the grave, since he had noted which frames were which colors in the margin of the film. They used the exact process as described in the patent: that is, filter frames 1, 2 and 3, and combine them, then frames 4, 5 and 6, and combine them, etc.

Finally, they found themselves watching Edwardian color movies.

The Lee and Turner films, the recording and projecting equipment are now on display at the National Media Museum in Bradford.


Court Packing Plan Shot Down

On July 22, 1937, the US Senate voted down the Judicial Procedures Reform Bill of 1937, nicknamed FDR’s Court Packing Plan. The point of the bill was to change the makeup of the Supreme Court. Previous to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s election as president, conservative justices had been placed on the Supreme Court who had a strict constructionist view of federal regulations and the Constitution. Roosevelt was attempting to add members to the Supreme Court who would uphold measures of the New Deal.

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Opera glasses Lincoln was holding when shot on sale

Abraham Lincoln's Black enameled Gebruder Strausshof Optiker, Berlin opera glassesThe opera glasses Abraham Lincoln brought to Ford’s Theater to view “Our American Cousin” in binocular close-up on the night he was assassinated are going up for sale at Nate D. Sanders’ April auction.

On the night of April 14, 1865, Lincoln was holding the German-made opera glasses when John Wilkes Booth entered the Presidential Box at 10:13 PM and shot him in the back of the head. Three doctors who happened to be at the theater that night attended the mortally wounded President in the box, and then decided to move him. A shockless carriage ride to the White House being out of the question, the doctors, some soldiers in the audience and an on-duty Washington City Guard and Union veteran Captain named James M. McCamly carried Lincoln’s unconscious body across the street to William Petersen’s boarding house.

While crossing the street, McCamly saw a pair of opera glasses fall from Lincoln’s body. He picked them up and pocketed them, barely paying attention. He remained at the vigil all night. At 7:22 AM, April 15, 1865, Abraham Lincoln died. After the President’s body was brought to the White House, McCamly was relieved of duty and went home to finally get some sleep. It was at his quarters that he realized he still had the opera glasses.

Captain McCamly commanded the Veteran Reserve Corps honor guard that accompanied Lincoln’s body back to Springfield, Illinois for the funeral. The men of the honor guard were the only ones allowed to move the coffin. James McCamly was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for this somber service.

1968 letter from Chief Curator of the National Park Service Harold L. PetersonThere is extensive documentation of McCamly’s role in the aftermath of the assassination, some of which is included in the lot. Most relevant in terms of authentication, in 1968 the Chief Curator of the National Park Service, Harold L. Peterson, wrote to Robert C. Hartt, Mrs. James McCamly’s great-grandson, that he had checked the opera glasses against the carrying case that is in the Ford’s Theatre National Park Collection and found that they “precisely fit the opera glass case.”

The opera glasses remained in McCamly’s family for three generations until they were sold in 1979 to magazine publisher Malcolm Forbes Sr. The current owner is anonymous. The last time the glasses were offered for sale in June 2011, with a pre-sale estimate of $500,000 to $700,000, they failed to sell. The Sanders’ estimate is the same exact range, $500,000 to $700,000. It’s three days before the auction and already 14 online bids have brought the price to $252,582.

I’m guessing at these prices the National Park Service isn’t in the bidding, which is a big shame because it would be great if the glasses and the case could be reunited in the Ford’s Theater collection. Fingers crossed for a public-minded benefactor.


William McKinley Shot

On September 5, 1901, Leon Czolgosz shot President William McKinley. The President was attending the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. Czolgosz was an anarchist. McKinley did not die until …

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President Garfield Shot

On July 2, 1881, President James Garfield was shot two times while waiting for a train at a train station. His assassin, Charles Guiteau, a lawyer whose application to …

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‘New Rome’ Shot Down

There’s an ongoing argument about whether Constantinople, the new Roman capital established by Emperor Constantine, was ever officially known as ‘New Rome’. Dennis McHenry has taken a look at this on his classical blog, and argues forcefully for a ‘no’.  I found it interesting reading and thought I’d share.

Lincoln Shot

April 14, 1865, while watching a performance of “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theater with his wife, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated from a gunshot wound to the back of…

Lincoln Shot

April 14, 1865, while watching a performance of “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theater with his wife, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated from a gunshot wound to the back of …

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Dr. Martin Luther King Shot

On April 4, 1968 civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King was shot dead at a motel in Memphis, Tennessee. In 1963, he became world famous for his “I…

Dr. Martin Luther King Shot

On April 4, 1968 civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King was shot dead at a motel in Memphis, Tennessee. In 1963, he became world famous for his “I have a dream” speech.

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