Bits of Stone
90 Years ago today, Blount had perhaps its biggest armistice day
For the benefit of younger readers, today is known as Veterans Day on which we honor our veterans who fought in defense of America. Originally, it was known as Armistice Day, marking the end of World War I in Europe. It ended at 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month: 11 a.m., Nov. 11, 1918.
Traditionally stores had closed that day and at 11 a.m. a moment of silence, church bells rang and industrial plant whistles were blown for five minutes. Forty-five residents of Blount County were killed in World War I. Another local connection, the supreme U.S. commander in Europe was Gen. John J. “Blackjack” Pershing whose mother, Anne Elizabeth Thompson, was born in Blount County.
However, Saturday, Nov. 11, 1922, was a different day. Four years after the Armistice and the first one on a Saturday, it was decided that Saturday was such a busy day for merchants they should remain open.
Most of the veterans were back home, settled down and J. Rollo Emert, a veteran and pilot in WWI, was commander of Post 13 of the American Legion. Rollo was advertising director of the Maryville Times and his brother Clyde B. Emert was publisher.
In order to write this column, Rollo’s grandson Joe provided access to his well-documented record of the day’s events. In earlier years, the local Army veterans had played the Navy veterans in football on that day but it was becoming too injurious for the veterans so the agenda was amended:
• The major parade, with four divisions and 20 Cherokee Indians, formed on West Main Street (now West Broadway Avenue), proceeded down College Street, then Depot Street (now Ellis Avenue), then along High Street to the Blount County Courthouse.
Speakers included Maryville Mayor John A. Cox, UT Dean Malcolm McDermott and Congressman Sam R. Sells. Mayor Cox wrote an article for the full newspaper page promoting the event and Rollo Emert wrote a tribute honoring those who served.
• Maryville Polytechnic Institute, located at the present Maryville High site, hosted a football game with Polk County.
• Maryvillian W.C. Mendenhall had contacts among the Cherokee Indians in North Carolina and arranged for two teams to be in Maryville to play a stick ball game, an event which was repeated in the early 1950s. In this 1922 event, the Cherokees walked from North Carolina to Elkmont where they boarded a Little River Railroad train to Maryville. The Indian teams were housed in tents in the Maryville College Woods. One team came from Yellow Hill and the other from Big Cove, Yellow Hill won, 12-9, in a 45-minute game played at Maryville College.
While they obtained rain insurance, it must have been a pretty day since there was no indication they had to collect.
Referring to those very early days of aviation, Joe recalls his grandfather made only two flights over enemy territory. Bad weather prevented a third one. At that time the average number of flights before becoming a victim was three!
Rollo was the second commander of Post 13, named for Emerson J. Lones, a company commander who was killed in the war. Rollo’s community initiative is being carried on by grandson Joe who is one of the key people working toward establishing a statue of Sam Houston in downtown Maryville.
Foiled assassination attempt on Teddy Roosevelt 100 years ago
Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt had left politics in 1909 when his presidency ended but was so disappointed with the performance of his hand-picked successor, William Howard Taft, he was running against him. As a result of his disappointment in Taft, in 1912 Teddy had formed the National Progressive Party, better known as the Bull Moose Party. Teddy was the Bull Moose.
Roosevelt was opposing Taft and the Republican party, the Democrats and Woodrow Wilson and the Socialist ticket headed by Eugene Debs.
He had campaigned in more states (38) than any of his opponents, the Smithsonian magazine noted in an outstanding article by Patricia O’Toole in its November issue.
On Oct. 14, 1919, his life was saved from a bullet by 50 sheets of paper in a folded speech in his coat pocket.
He began the day in Chicago and headed to Racine, Wis., before going to Milwaukee. He was tired and his voice was nearly gone. He left the Gilpatrick Hotel in Milwaukee to go to the auditorium where he was to speak. He was wearing his Army overcoat and carrying a 50-page speech which was doubled to fit into his breast pocket where he had also tucked his metal spectacles case.
As he was settling in the back seat of the open vehicle, he stood to wave, recognizing the crowd support. John Schrank, an unemployed saloon keeper standing four or five feet away, fired a Colt .38 revolver at Roosevelt’s chest. The assailant was quickly tackled and taken away. Roosevelt, over the protest of his companions, said he was going to the auditorium and deliver his speech.
Familiar with guns as a hunter, cowboy and officer during the Spanish-American War, Teddy knew enough to put a finger to his lips to see if he was bleeding from the mouth. When he saw that he was not, he concluded that the bullet had not entered his lung.
Three doctors examined him backstage at the auditorium, revealing the bullet had been slowed by the thick manuscript and the spectacles case but there was a dime-size hole in his chest and a fist-size stain on his shirt. He requested a clean handkerchief for the wound and headed for the stage. When someone shouted, “Fake!” Roosevelt stepped forward to show the crowd his shirt and the bullet hole.
The Smithsonian magazine quotes him as saying, “Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot — but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.”
Half an hour into the speech, his campaign manager walked to Teddy’s side.
The speaker remarked his friends were more nervous than he, and Roosevelt continued for another 50 minutes. Once off the stage he agreed to go to a hospital where X-rays showed the bullet lodged against a rib where it remained throughout his life. He resumed campaigning.
After five court-appointed psychiatrists found the assailant insane, he was committed to a mental institution where he died in 1943.
Teddy later told a friend that after years of expecting an assassination, he was not surprised. Like the frontiersmen and soldiers he had admired, he was determined not to wilt under attack. “In the unlikely event of the wound being mortal I wished to die with my boots on.”
Dean Stone is editor of The Daily Times.