Meet Dr. John B. Murphy. Though many of his surgical techniques are no longer in practice, this famous Chicago surgeon laid the groundwork for many procedures still used today.
Born in Wisconsin in 1857, Murphy graduated from Rush Medical College and spent the majority of his career in Chicago. Although he’s made several major contributions to medical and surgical science
, perhaps his biggest accomplishment came in 1914 when he saved the life of then-presidential candidate Theodore Roosevelt.
“Col. Theodore Roosevelt is suffering a serious wound in the chest as a result of the deed of a would-be assassin in Milwaukee last night,” an Oct. 15, 1912 report in the Chicago Daily News read. “An afternoon bulletin issued at his bedside at Mercy hospital, East 26th street and Prairie avenue, where he was brought early today, and signed by Drs. J.B. Murphy, Arthur Dean Bevan and S.L. Terrell, recited that the colonel’s breathing is somewhat painful and that absolute rest and quest are essential to his quick recovery.”
On Oct. 14 at a campaign rally outside the Milwaukee Auditorium, New York saloonkeeper John Schrank shot Roosevelt, who was running as a third-party candidate, as he waved from his open-air car, according to a Library of Congress article
. A stenographer for the candidate saw Schrank with the gun and immediately tackled him to prevent him from shooting again. The crowd surrounding Roosevelt nearly killed the would-be assassin, but the candidate managed to control the crowd and turn the suspect over to the police.
Roosevelt knew he had been shot, the Library of Congress article said, but several items in his coat pocket stopped the bullet from doing serious bodily damage. Against what would have been the better judgment of any physician, Roosevelt continued inside the auditorium and delivered his speech. He famously told the audience, “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,” and finished his 80 minutes of remarks.
After the speech, Roosevelt finally sought medical care at a Milwaukee hospital before heading to Mercy hospital in Chicago.
There, Murphy and the other doctors discovered just how narrowly Roosevelt avoided death. X-rays showed that “the bullet entered above the upper border of the liver less than an inch below the lower border of the lungs.” Had the bullet penetrated either organ, Roosevelt’s shot would have been fatal.
Speaking to the press on Oct. 15, Murphy said he believed Roosevelt’s wound was “not dangerous” and indeed the Bull Moose candidate was back on the campaign trail by Oct. 30, according to the Library of Congress.
Back in Milwaukee, Schrank told an Associated Press reporter that he felt no remorse for shooting Roosevelt. He knew of Roosevelt when the former president was New York’s police commissioner in 1895, and “looked upon [Roosevelt’s] plan to start a third party as a danger to the country,” the Oct. 15 article in the Daily News said. He believed Roosevelt to be “engaged in a dangerous undertaking,” and he claimed former President William McKinley, who was assassinated in office, told him that Roosevelt was to be blamed for his death and that he “had blood on his hands.”
That’s why Schrank followed the Bull Moose candidate across eight cities, including Chicago, and tried to line up that shot, the Daily News article said. It wasn’t until Roosevelt’s speech in Milwaukee that he finally got the chance to fire.
Roosevelt eventually lost the election, but thanks to Murphy, he lived to fight another day. The skilled surgeon remained in Chicago but died four years later.
Over the course of his career, Murphy served as a professor at three Chicago institutions all at once: Rush, Northwestern Medicine and the University of Chicago. He also maintained a private practice at one point and held “wet” clinics at Cook County Hospital. Read more about this creative and controversial surgeon here. Learn more about the auditorium named after him and why WBEZ called him the “Forrest Gump of Chicago physicians here.