Roosevelt, In Hartford, Urges Support For War

Admiral William Sheffield Cowles and his wife, Anna "Bamie" Roosevelt Cowles, must have slipped into Union Station quietly, without being recognized.

Had the mid-day travelers in the lobby noticed them, they would certainly have put two and two together and known what was soon to come. The elderly Cowles walked up the stairs to the platform in the calm before the commotion.

But a New Haven Railroad freight handler, in a switch tower south of Hartford, picked up the information and passed it to a friend at Union Station: The next train to arrive would be carrying Bamie's brother, Theodore Roosevelt.

"The rumor swept through the crowd like an electric shock," The Courant reported, "as the voice of the announcer rolled out the train's approach, little knots of excited people, curious men and craning women, clustered near the platform doorway at the top of the stairs."

As Theodore Roosevelt, the former president who wished now to be referred to as "Colonel Roosevelt," prepared to get off his train, one might imagine the speech he was soon to deliver at the State Armory was folded and stuffed into the breast pocket of his overcoat, along with his eyeglass case.

Five years earlier, his life was saved when the papers of a speech and his eyeglass case slowed an assassin's bullet in Milwaukee. Roosevelt spoke despite his wound that day, and though his throat was ailing him now and the acoustics, the Courant noted, were less than ideal, he would speak to 15,000 people who would jam every nook and cranny of The Armory for the "Roosevelt War Rally" on this night, Nov. 2, 1917, as Americans were beginning to fight and die in Europe in World War I.

"Not a trace of discouraging gray brushed his temples," The Courant said, "he seemed in excellent health and spirits. The same old Colonel, vigorous and still youthful."

Dinner At The Twain House

Roosevelt, who had come many times to Hartford, had been in politics 35 years and was a household name since he led a regiment of cavalry, recklessly but victoriously, up San Juan Hill during the war with Spain in 1898.

Elected governor of New York, he was too independent for the Republican bosses of the time and, hoping to sent him to oblivion, they maneuvered him into the vice presidency. When William McKinley was assassinated, Roosevelt became president at age 42 in September 1901 and led the nation on a 7 ½-year progressive ride.

He moved to break up monopolies, regulate big business, conserve the nation's natural resources and endangered species. He took control of the isthmus of Panama and started to cleave a great canal, and brokered peace between Russia and Japan, garnering the Nobel Peace Prize.

Roosevelt then campaigned tirelessly to elect his chosen successor, William Howard Taft, and went big-game hunting after his inauguration.

There has been no president quite like Teddy Roosevelt, and no ex-president like him, either.

Breaking with Taft, Roosevelt tried to get the presidential nomination in 1912. When he failed, he ran as a third party candidate, splitting the party and assuring the election of Democrat Woodrow Wilson.

When war broke out in Europe, Roosevelt derided Wilson's policy of neutrality and called stridently for America to get involved as more U.S. ships were sunk by German U-Boats. When Wilson and the Congress declared war in April 1917, Roosevelt, now 58, his health damaged by the malaria he had contracted during an exploration of the Amazon in 1914, wanted to form four divisions and lead them in Europe. Wilson, with no desire to let Roosevelt, whom he considered a demagogue, garner that kind of publicity, had coldly refused.

So the Colonel was left to fight the war with his rhetorical gifts, as all four of his sons entered the armed services. Roosevelt's voice and speaking manner were well-known, thanks to recordings of his speeches.

"His teeth snap shut between the syllables," author Julian Street wrote, "biting them apart. Each accented syllable is emphasized with a sharp, forward thrust of the head that seems to throw the word clattering into the air."

When Roosevelt meant to be sarcastic, as he often did, his voice would curl up in pitch almost to a squeak. He would point, pound his right fist into his left palm, and he would raise his arms triumphantly as he battered opponents verbally. His audiences couldn't get enough.

Roosevelt's train pulled in and stopped on the elevated platform at 5:27 p.m. The day was fair, but chilly as he stepped to greet his older sister and her husband. Exuberantly, he fought through the crowd that jammed the stairwell and out to a waiting automobile for the short drive up Farmington Ave to the home of R.M. Bissell of the Connecticut State Council of Defense.

The Bissells, who had purchased the mansion from Mark Twain, had Roosevelt and his party to dinner. Twain, who died seven years earlier, would not have been pleased — he and Roosevelt had a well-documented animus for one another.