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Artifacts tell inside story of Teddy Roosevelt assassination attempt

This 1912 photograph of Theodore Roosevelt in Oyster

This 1912 photograph of Theodore Roosevelt in Oyster Bay by Charlie Duprez is claimed to be the most used photograph ever taken by any photographer of Roosevelt. Used by John Faber in his book, "Great Moments in News Photography," it was also Teddy's favorite of himself. Credit: Charles Duprez

It isn't initially obvious what caused the damage to the leather-covered metal eyeglass case. But a closer look reveals an entry hole from a bullet in one corner with a matching exit hole on the other side.

The case belonged to Theodore Roosevelt and was in his pocket when he was in Milwaukee in 1912 trying to regain the presidency in a third-party run as head of the Progressive ticket. When a would-be assassin fired at TR, the bullet penetrated the case and a folded speech -- losing some velocity and possibly saving Roosevelt's life -- before lodging in his chest.

The seriously wounded Roosevelt insisted on giving an almost 90-minute speech before going to the hospital.

Now history buffs on Long Island will have a chance to see the eyeglass case, pages from the speech, the revolver that fired the bullet and other artifacts from TR's campaign in a centennial exhibition opening Saturday at the Oyster Bay Historical Society.

"TR in 12," on display through Nov. 11, was organized by the Theodore Roosevelt Association in partnership with the National Park Service and the historical society, with assistance and artifacts from collectors Gregory Wynn and Rick Marschall.

"It's a great exhibit because it's timely," said society executive director Philip Blocklyn. "A lot of what's in the show has parallels with what's happening now."

Blocklyn expects the exhibition to set an attendance record.

It was first shown at Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site in Manhattan where TRA executive director Terrence Brown noticed empty display cabinets and decided they could house an exhibit about the four-party race for the presidency in 1912. Brown said the maneuvering by Republican Party bosses to deprive TR of the nomination, the subsequent creation of the Progressive Party campaign that outpolled Republican incumbent William Howard Taft and the election of Democrat Woodrow Wilson was a great story with artifacts to help tell it.

The most compelling are those from when TR entered an open car in Milwaukee and was shot at point-blank range by Brooklyn bartender John Schrank, who was obsessed with the idea that no president should have a third term. Despite the bullet that would remain in his chest for the rest of his life, Roosevelt refused medical attention until he gave his speech, telling the crowd " . . . I have been shot but it takes more than that to kill a bull moose." "Bull moose" was the nickname of the Progressive Party.

Other artifacts include Progressive Party red bandannas, political cartoons, campaign literature and party pins, sheet music and photographs.

Tweed Roosevelt, of Boston, a great-grandson of the 26th president and board president of the Theodore Roosevelt Association, said: "It's an extraordinary exhibit. This assemblage of artifacts will probably never be put together again."

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