Phone call that shocked Teddy Roosevelt came 122 years ago today in Isle LaMotte

Teddy Roosevelt takes the oath of office in Buffalo, NY, just days after learning in Isle LaMotte that President William McKinley had been shot. Library of Congress drawing featured in “This Place In History” four-minute video produced with the Vermont Historical Society by ABC-22/Fox 44.

by Guy Page

On September 6, 1901, the United States took an unexpected, fateful step into its 20th century destiny as the leading nation of the world. And the man of the hour – some might say the Father of the American Century – was in Isle La Motte, then as now a quiet lakeside town in Grand Isle County.

Vice-President Theodore Roosevelt was the guest of honor at a Vermont Fish & Game League dinner hosted by Lt. Gov. Nelson Fisk at his large, west-facing summer home. Roosevelt was in his element: surrounded by gentlemen hunters and naturalists, all admirers of the Wild West adventurer who led the charge of San Juan Hill at the head of the U.S. Cavalry volunteer Rough Riders. (Elements of the all-black U.S. Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers also participated. A Buffalo Soldier unit was later stationed at Fort Ethan Allen in Colchester.)

Then the phone rang. As historical novelist Jeff Shaara (“The Old Lion,” 2023) tells the story, the aide’s face grew somber. Roosevelt was summoned to the phone, where he learned that President William McKinley (just four years earlier also a guest of honor of a Fish & Game dinner at the Fisk home) had been shot by an anarchist – the third president to fall victim to an assassin’s bullet in 36 years.

Fisk hustled Roosevelt onto a steamer, on which the VP traveled to the Adirondacks. When McKinley died days later in Buffalo, Roosevelt traveled to Buffalo to take the oath of office.

McKinley was the last president of the 19th century. Speaking in general terms, his era was marked by American isolationism, leaders whose military policies were informed by their personal experience of the horror of the Civil War, business interests over natural conservation, food safety and almost everything else, a widespread assumption of white racial supremacy, male-only suffrage and a strong Congress.

Just 42 when he took the oath, for decades Roosevelt had been busting at the seams to create what he considered to be positive change. The fearless reformer took on the large corporate trusts and their abuses, created the national park system, invited a black man (Booker T. Washington) to dinner at the White House, sent the U.S. fleet around the world, and oversaw the creation of the Panama Canal.

The U.S. Century was born, and if it can be said to have a father, he was Theodore Roosevelt. For good or for ill, the first sign of it was a ringing phone in Isle LaMotte, Vermont.

Categories: History

1 reply »

  1. There’s a reason Theodore Roosevelt’s face is sculpted on Mount Rushmore. They just don’t make men like him anymore…