On the afternoon that President McKinley was shot by an anarchist in Buffalo, his Vice President was on an island in Lake Champlain, preparing to address the annual meeting of the Vermont Fish and Game League. Roosevelt, who found the Vice-Presidency so boring he was planning on using the time to study law, was the featured speaker at the League’s summer outing, and just about to give his speech when he was pulled aside, abruptly, and given terrible news: the President had been shot; whether he would live or die was uncertain.
Roosevelt, stunned but a moment, sprang into action. He would head to the side of the stricken President; he would leave the island, by rowboat, by yacht, by train; he would wire, immediately, for more information. Here, hastily scrawled on the back of a railroad timetable, is that urgent, and respectful, message:
Director of Hospital or House at which President lies Buffalo NY.
Wire me at once full particulars to Van Ness House Burlington Vermont.
Roosevelt’s unusual use of the appellation “Vice President” was added, no doubt, to assure any and all that he was not, nor would not for a second presume to be, anything but the Vice President.
But as this message is, in and of itself, historic, one needs but to turn it over, to see the historian’s hand – the anonymous recording, in pencil, of exactly what Roosevelt said on hearing that President McKinley had been shot, and later, on hearing that McKinley would survive. “I am so inexpressibly shocked & horrified that I cannot say anything,” Roosevelt first remarked. Upon learning that McKinley was likely to recover, he said, “I am overjoyed to express it feebly." His joy, however, would be short-lived: eight days later, McKinley was dead, and Roosevelt, the President.
Autograph Telegram Signed, as Vice-President, in pencil, 2 pages, oblong quarto, no place [Isle La Motte, Vermont], no date [September 6, 1901]. To the Director of the Hospital, or house at which President McKinley lay, in Buffalo, New York; written hastily on the back of a printed Rutland Railroad timetable cover [circa January 1, 1901]. With Roosevelt's statements on verso, recorded in pencil in an unknown hand.