Teddy Roosevelt made impression on local residents
By JIM ZBICK
When the Mauch Chunk Daily Times announced that Theodore Roosevelt would be passing through town on Aug. 21, 1912, the news created quite a stir in the county seat.
Roosevelt, who was a third-party candidate for president, was headed for Wilkes-Barre where he was to attend a Jubilee Mass and service for Rev. J. J. Curran. Traveling over the Lehigh Valley Railroad, Roosevelt was expected to make a stop at the East Mauch Chunk station "for at least five minutes."
Local residents, and particularly the ladies, were thrilled at the opportunity to see the 26th president, who brought out crowds wherever he visited. With his exuberant personality, wide range of interests and achievements, and a "cowboy" persona, Roosevelt attracted a crowd in 1912 in much the same way people today are drawn to pro football player Tim Tebow.
Since 1912 was a presidential election year, Roosevelt was at the center of some intense party politicking heading into the fall balloting. Despite his contention that he was "as fit as a bull moose," the Republican Party denied Roosevelt its nomination for president and instead backed incumbent William Taft.
Four years earlier, Taft was Roosevelt's handpicked successor for the presidency but the two had a falling out. Taft called Roosevelt a "dangerous egotist" and a "demagogue." Roosevelt countered by referring to Taft as a "fathead" and a "puzzlewit."
Roosevelt bolted the Republican Party to run under the banner of the Progressive Party, which was renamed the Bull Moose Party in his honor.
Roosevelt's train was 35 minutes late arriving in Mauch Chunk on that Wednesday night. The crowd of 2,000 people assembled at the Lehigh Valley station included Rev. Curran who had come from Luzerne County to meet Roosevelt and accompany him back to Wilkes-Barre.
"Father Curran is a tall, distinguished looking man who wears a high silk hat," a reporter observed. "He mingled with the crowd and quite a few recognized him as the man who played such a prominent part in the great Anthracite mining strike of 1902, on which occasion he formed the acquaintance of Mr. Roosevelt."
When the train pulled into the station, there was a "wild, mad rush."
"A great cheer rent the air as someone in the crowd shrieked at the height of his voice 'There he is!' Then followed another mad rush of the surging, seething mass of people to the colonel's car," the newspaper report said.
A reporter noted there were many ladies, showing what a "great idol the colonel is in their eyes."
After exiting from his car, Roosevelt began shaking hands with the crowd.
"It was almost impossible for the ladies to get near the colonel in the jam but a few had the temerity to face the peril and have the honor of holding the colonel's hand," the reporter said. "Quite a few children were boosted to the shoulders of their fathers and in this manner reached the colonel."
One young man, who had a little boy hoisted on his shoulder, invited Roosevelt to "shake hands with the little Bull Mooser."
Roosevelt shook the boy's hand and replied, "Hurrah for little Bull Mooser."
A "sturdy miner" then made his way to Roosevelt's side and remarked, "You are in the hands of your friends ... the coal region is for you."
"Surely," Roosevelt responded as he grasped the miner's hand.
The writer stated that some in the crowd "displayed bad manners" by holding onto Roosevelt's handshake "longer than they should."
Although there were calls from the crowd for him to speak, the writer noted that the "time was too limited."
The brief visit, however, left quite a favorable impression.
"All were impressed with his magnetic personality, his fresh, athletic looking appearance and his splendid physique and constitution," the writer said.
Less than two months later, while campaigning in Milwaukee, Roosevelt became the target of an assassination attempt. A saloonkeeper named John Schrank shot him, but the bullet was slowed after penetrating his steel eyeglass case and then passing through a thick 50 page copy of the speech he was carrying in his jacket.
Roosevelt did not realize he was hit until someone noticed a hole in his overcoat. When Roosevelt reached inside the coat, he found blood on his fingers. He declined to immediately go to the hospital and remarkably, delivered a 90-minute speech! In his opening, he had a memorable line: "Ladies and gentlemen, 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!"
The 1912 election turned into a two-way race between Roosevelt and Wilson with Taft running a distant third, gaining only 8 electoral votes to Roosevelt's 88. Republicans had split their vote between Roosevelt and Taft, which allowed Wilson to gain the presidency with a 42 percent plurality.
Wilson's victory made him only the second Democrat to win the presidency since the Civil War.