Eight Republican candidates debated Tuesday evening at the historic Milwaukee Theatre. The venue choice is an interesting one for the Republican party: 103 years ago, popular Republican president Theodore Roosevelt was nearly assassinated minutes before his scheduled speech at the same venue. The would-be assassin was 36-year-old Bavarian immigrant named John Schrank. But who was he, and why did he want to kill Roosevelt?

John Shrank

John Flammand Schrank was born in Bavaria in 1876. He came to America with his parents at the age of 9, and when they died soon after, John was cared for by his aunt and uncle in New York. Schrank seems to have been positioned for a happy life: he grew up working in his uncle’s tavern, and he had a sweetheart named Emily Ziegler.

john_schrank

Everything started changing in 1904, when Emily was killed in the General Slocum excursion ship fire. Within a few years, Schrank’s aunt and uncle passed away. They left everything to their nephew, and their generosity should have allowed him to live comfortably. But Schrank had never recovered from Emily’s death, and with the loss of his aunt and uncle, his mind began to waver.

Overcome with loneliness, Schrank sold his inheritance and studied the Bible and the American Constitution intensely. John also wrote poetry, and was known to be intelligent and sensitive.  He spent most of his time alone, taking long, aimless walks, sometimes late into the night.

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