As President McKinley was dying, no one knew where Vice President Teddy Roosevelt was. When located in the wilderness he raced all night down mountain roads on a buckboard wagon in pitch black and pouring rains to be sworn in.
Only a few hours ago, he had been missing, hundreds of miles away from the dying President on the slopes of New York’s highest peak, Mount Marcy.
Vice President Theodore Roosevelt’s wild midnight ride to the Oval Office was set in motion with an assassin’s bullet, an eerily trending catalyst of change in the preceding and succeeding decades.
On September 6, 1901, while attending the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, President McKinley was shot twice by Leon Czolgosz, a self-proclaimed anarchist.
Upon learning of the tragic developments, Roosevelt hastily scampered 400 miles from a speaking engagement at Isle La Motte in the middle of Lake Champlain to Buffalo, to be by the President.
In the days following Roosevelt’s arrival in Buffalo, optimism among the doctors operating on McKinley grew after a surgical operation was completed and the President’s condition seemingly improved.
Assured that the President might survive after all from his wounds, Roosevelt shuttled up to the Adirondacks in a gesture of good faith to the American public.
When the weather began to deteriorate the next day, Roosevelt’s wife Edith and the children returned to the Tahawus Club, while the Vice President and a small group led by LaCasse pressed onwards and upwards to the summit of Mt. Marcy, increasingly engulfed by ominous rainclouds.
After receiving telegrams regarding McKinley’s weakening status, Loeb traveled to the terminus of the Adirondack railway in North Creek with a special Delaware & Hudson Company train that would await Roosevelt’s arrival.
He telephoned the Tahawus Club, the very end of the telephone line, and pronounced one of the telegrams intended for Roosevelt, “The President appears to be dying and members of the Cabinet in Buffalo think you should lose no time coming.” Thus began the wild goose chase for the Vice President on Friday the 13th.
“I felt at once that he had bad news and, sure enough, he handed me a telegram saying that the President’s condition was much worse and that I must come to Buffalo immediately,” Roosevelt later recalled.
Just before midnight, Roosevelt’s ascension to his presidency and legacy began with his descent down from the Tahawus Club.
Over the next five hours and 35 miles, in sheer darkness on muddy and dubious roads, Roosevelt would endure a relay series of three horse-drawn buckboard wagon rides through some of the most rugged terrain on the East Coast.
Somewhere between Tahawus and Aiden Lair Lodge in Minerva, New York, Roosevelt would become the 26th President of the United States.
Without knowing it, Roosevelt’s return to civilization thus marked his first official act as President of the United States.
About an hour later a modest swearing-in ceremony began at the Wilcox house and at 3:30PM, Theodore Roosevelt was officially sworn in.
After a virtually sleepless twenty-one hour journey of 500 miles by foot, horse, and train across the entirety of New York State, there would be no moment of rest for Roosevelt.
Moreover, a Vice President today would never even be allowed to attempt a ride like Roosevelt’s not only for security reasons, but also because of the nature of our times of comfort and ease.
Like Washington crossing the Delaware, Jefferson presenting the Declaration of Independence, or Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address, Roosevelt’s midnight ride down his home state’s geographic pinnacle to the pinnacle of American power should be considered a seminal moment in understanding the man, his presidency, and his era.
It is only speculation to find purposeful intent in his dramatic entrance to the presidency, but this perilous exhibition of strength through a great wilderness was certainly a foreshadowing of the new modern presidency for a new American century that Roosevelt would mold.
Paul Revere’s iconic midnight ride was a rallying call of the American Revolution, but it was Roosevelt’s “midnight ride to the presidency” down the treacherous slopes of New York’s highest peak that symbolically announced America’s 20th century ascendance as a world power.
“Theodore Roosevelt’s Midnight Ride.” The Post-Star (Glens Falls, NY), Nov. 24, 2008
Theodore Roosevelt’s Night Ride to the Presidency.
“The Ride Heard Around the World: Theodore Roosevelt’s Ride to the Presidency,” Schroon Lake, NY.
“The Inauguration of Theodore Roosevelt.” Harper’s Weekly 21 Sept.
“Theodore Roosevelt, President.” Eyewitness account.