“He was mad, and I don’t want to say maybe. I never saw a man so disgruntled and so utterly mad as Theodore Roosevelt on this noon day of September 3, 1902, in Pittsfield, Mass.”
It is probably the only honest eyewitness account of Theodore Roosevelt’s reaction to the crash that shocked the nation and nearly changed US history 50 years ago today in Pittsfield.
Elizur Y. Smith of New York, formerly of Lenox, wrote in 1947 that he was a young boy on that day of infamy. He had met the President the previous day at the Dalton home of Governor W. Murray Crane. Roosevelt had slapped him on the back and urged him to “stand up straight, young lad”.
Smith was following the presidential entourage on horseback just a few paces behind the carriage when the Pittsfield Street Railway Company carriage crashed into the presidential vehicle, spilling its diplomatic contents onto the ground at the foot of Howard’s Hill on South Street. President Roosevelt’s trusted aide and Secret Service agent William Craig was killed instantly. The president received a cut on the lip.
There were about 20 witnesses to the tragedy, and over the years their repeated accounts have been enriched with embellishments, but Smith’s report seems to be the only one to admit the president’s acute displeasure with the incident.
Pittsfield, for days, blushed in shame over the incident which captured national attention. Motorman Euclid Madden bore the brunt of the only punishment. He served a prison sentence for manslaughter. The court found the motorist guilty of the crime, but time has never proven that Madden was the sole agent responsible for the tragedy. There have been subtle hints over the years that Madden was carrying a burden that should have been shared by others.
President Roosevelt, like presidents after him, had a full complement of press representatives on his tour of the Berkshires. Unfortunately, the press was well ahead of the presidential party at the time of the accident. There was no correspondent anywhere. But that didn’t turn out to be a liability for seasoned journalists. Oars and copy oars flowed from Pittsfield that day recounting the narrow escape of the President of the United States.
This story within a story is selected from the archives by Jeannie Maschino, The Berkshire Eagle.