About Connections: Love it or hate it, history is a map. Those who hate history think it irrelevant; many who love history think it escapism. In truth, history is the clearest road map to how we got here: America in the 21st century.
Last week’s column was about the Red Lion Inn. Theodore Roosevelt’s accident was not the focus of the column but, apparently, it was the focus for the readers. So here is the whole story.
Sept. 3, 1902: With David J. Pratt of Dalton driving, President Theodore Roosevelt is riding down South Street, Pittsfield, in a horse-drawn carriage. With him are Gov. Winthrop Murray Crane, personal secretary (later secretary of commerce and labor) George B. Cortelyou and agent William Craig. Arguably every occupant of that carriage is of interest but, surprisingly, Craig is the most interesting.
Abraham Lincoln signed the order to establish the United States Secret Service on April 14, 1865 – the day he was assassinated. It may sound ironic to us, but not in 1865. The original purpose of the USSS was not to guard presidents. The Secret Service was a branch of the Treasury Department established to find and arrest counterfeiters and destroy counterfeit currency.
Thirty-six years later, President William McKinley was shot in Buffalo, New York. When McKinley died, he became the third president assassinated in that 36 years. As a result of the Sept. 6, 1901, assassination three things happened: Theodore Roosevelt became president of the United States, the function of the USSS expanded to include guarding the U.S. president and William Craig was assigned to guard Roosevelt.
Now, one year later almost to the day, Roosevelt’s horse-drawn carriage is traveling down South Street. Beside it is Pittsfield Electric Railway Car #29, an eight-bench open car on the “Country Club Line.” Car #29 hits the rear wheel of the open landau. The president is pitched unceremoniously out onto South Street.
The governor is unhurt. The president and his secretary have minor cuts and bruises. Most noticeable is the swelling of the president’s face. Pratt is seriously injured. One horse is so badly injured that it is put down, and William Craig is dead. He is the first agent to die in the line of duty.
At 6’4”, Craig is a giant of a man. Born in 1855, he joins the USSS in 1900 at the age of 45. His physique and demeanor is that of a sober Scotsman. He inspires confidence, is liked and respected. In commemoration, Roosevelt writes, “The man who was killed was one of whom I was fond and whom I greatly prized for his loyalty and faithfulness.”
The motorman of Car #29, Pittsfield resident Euclid Madden, the conductor James Kelly and the passengers are uninjured. There are reports that the trolley was speeding. Some say the two vehicles appeared to be racing; others say Car #29 was behind schedule and trying to make up the time. Whatever the facts, by the time of Craig’s funeral on Sept. 7, newspapers from Maine to California had whipped up sentiment about the tragic loss of the agent and the inexcusable indignity of our president thrust onto the pavement.
People are angry and, in their opinion, the president was put at risk by an irresponsible motorman. Motorman and conductor are taken in charge. Kelly is released, but Madden is fined $300 and serves six months in jail.
The Pittsfield Electric Railway Company pays the fine for Madden and re-hires him when he is released from the Berkshire County House of Corrections. It is an indication of what many felt: Madden was made the scapegoat and punished to appease public outrage.
As for O’Brien, the doorman at the Red Lion and his memory, there are many possibilities. Perhaps, when he reported Roosevelt was not injured, he meant not seriously injured. Compared to Pratt and Craig, the president’s injuries certainly were not serious. Perhaps O’Brien did see Roosevelt at the Red Lion before the accident. However, that is less likely since the president’s route was from Dalton south to Lenox and Stockbridge. Perhaps O’Brien didn’t notice the swelling, or perhaps he was too gentlemanly to mention it.