The United States came close to losing two presidents within a year after a Pittsfield streetcar driver nearly killed President Theodore Roosevelt.
He succeeded in killing Roosevelt’s Secret Service agent, William Craig. And he came close to earning a rare distinction: getting beat up by the president of the United States.
Teddy Roosevelt rose to the presidency of the United States at the young age of 42. His political career skyrocketed from the time he charged up San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War. He rode that success to win election as governor of New York.
When President William McKinley ran for re-election in 1900, he had no running mate. His vice president, Garret Hobart, had died of a heart attack. McKinley left the choice of vice president to the convention, and the delegates chose the Republican Party’s rising star, the 41-year-old Teddy Roosevelt.
McKinley’s second term didn’t last long. Six months after he took the oath of office a second time, an anarchist shot him in Buffalo, N.Y. He died a week later on Sept. 14, 1901. After his death, the Secret Service took on the responsibility of guarding the president.
On Sept. 3, 1902, nearly a year to the day after McKinley died, Teddy Roosevelt traveled to Pittsfield, Mass. He had come to the city in the Berkshires as part of a two-week barnstorming tour to support Republican candidates in the upcoming election.
At 10:15 a.m., Roosevelt delivered his speech in the city park. He then got into an open four-horse carriage, joined by Massachusetts Gov. Winthrop Crane, his secretary George Courtelyou and his Secret Service agent, William Craig. A mounted escort and several carriages filled with VIPs completed the procession as it made its way through the streets of Pittsfield.
The Pittsfield Streetcar Driver
But the top brass of the Pittsfield Electric Street Railway wanted to take an open trolley to meet the president downtown. They either ignored or didn’t get the Secret Service orders to shut down the streetcar. They had to wait for stragglers, and the trolley got started 15 minutes behind schedule. The bosses urged the streetcar driver, Euclid Madden, to go faster.
Euclid Madden did as ordered. But as he rounded a steep curve near the country club, he saw to his horror the presidential carriage crossing the tracks. The streetcar driver frantically clanged the bell, but too late.
“Look out! Hold fast,” shouted Craig as he tried to shield the president. Those were his last words.
The streetcar barreled into the carriage, fatally injuring one of the horses, who screamed in pain. Craig fell under the trolley, which crushed his skull and ground him under the wheels, killing him instantly.
Roosevelt flew out of the carriage and landed on his face in the mud. Courtelyou was out cold on a muddy bank, bleeding from the neck. Governor Crane escaped unhurt.
The president groped around for his glasses, then got to his feet. His lip bled profusely, his face swelled up, his coat was torn and his silk hat covered in mud. Most worrisome, it would turn out, was the injury to his shin.
Roosevelt furiously demanded to see the Pittsfield streetcar driver who crashed into him. Euclid Madden stepped forward, and the president ‘used forcible language in expressing his displeasure.’ Bystanders had to restrain Roosevelt from physically attacking Madden.
“This is the most damnable outrage I ever knew,” he shouted through blood-stained teeth.
Roosevelt got cleaned up and went on to Lenox that day. He canceled his speaking engagement there and retired to his hotel room. The president continued his tour, but the injury to his shin developed a painful abscess. He had to undergo emergency surgery in Indianapolis, and used a wheelchair for a time.
He publicly mourned the death of William Craig, with whom he and his children were friendly. “The man who was killed was one of whom I was fond of and whom I greatly prized for his loyalty and faithfulness,” Roosevelt later said.
Euclid Madden, the Pittsfield streetcar driver, pleaded guilty to manslaughter, received a fine and served six months in jail.
The Pittsfield Electric Co. paid the fine and reinstated Euclid Madden at his old job.
Roosevelt later told an audience,
“If you’re set on risking your life, go to Pittsfield, Mass., and take a trolley ride.”
If you really want to know what a president and first lady were like, find out what they ate. The New England Historical Society’s new book, Eat Like a President, tells you about the six New England presidents, their servants, their families, their friends and how they struggled to make the White House presentable for public entertainment. Click here to buy the ebook; the paperback version is coming soon.
If you enjoyed this story about the Pittsfield streetcar driver who almost killed Teddy Roosevelt, you may want to read how Roosevelt humiliated Dr. Seuss in Springfield, Mass., here. This story was updated in 2023.