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CONNECTIONS: A horse-drawn carriage and a trolley collide, leaving President Theodore Roosevelt thrust onto the pavement and a Secret Service agent dead

Roosevelt was the first president the United States Secret Service would guard, and Craig, the strapping Scotsman, was assigned the task.

On September 3, 1902, David J. Pratt of Dalton was driving a horse-drawn carriage, an open landau with four matched Greys, down South Street from Pittsfield to Stockbridge. He had illustrious passengers.

In the carriage was United States President Theodore Roosevelt. With Roosevelt were Governor Winthrop Murray Crane, Personal Secretary (later Secretary of Commerce and Labor) George B. Cortelyou, and Secret Service Agent William Craig. Every occupant of that carriage was arguably of interest, but, surprisingly, this is a story about William Craig.

The circumstances that placed Craig in the carriage of the United States president started a year earlier almost to the day. On September 6, 1901, President William McKinley was shot in Buffalo, N.Y.

When McKinley died, he became the third president assassinated in 36 years. As a result, three things happened: Theodore Roosevelt became president of the United States, the function of a 36-year-old office in the Treasury Department expanded, and William Craig was assigned a new duty.

At six foot four inches tall, Craig was a giant of a man. His physique was impressive; his demeanor was that of a sober Scotsman. Born in 1855, at 46 years old, he inspired confidence and was liked and respected wherever he went. He joined the United States Secret Service (USSS) one year earlier.

You see, Abraham Lincoln signed the order to establish the USSS on April 14, 1865, the day he was assassinated. To modern ears, that sounds ironic because we think of the Secret Service as the agency meant to guard the president, but that is not what Lincoln thought he was doing. He established the USSS as a branch of the Treasury Department. The original purpose was to find and arrest counterfeiters and destroy counterfeit currency. Then McKinley was shot, the third assassination in three decades, and the USSS was reassigned to guard presidents. Roosevelt was the first president the USSS would guard, and Craig, the strapping Scotsman, was assigned the task.

Now follow along as Roosevelt’s horse-drawn carriage travels down South Street. Beside it is Pittsfield Electric Railway Car No. 29, an eight-bench open car on the “Country Club Line.” Car No. 29 hits the rear wheel of the open landau. The president is pitched unceremoniously out onto South Street. Most noticeable is the swelling of the president’s face. Roosevelt’s secretary has minor cuts and bruises. Governor Crane is unhurt.

Pratt is seriously injured. One horse is so badly injured that it is put down, and William Craig is dead. He is the first Secret Service agent to die in the line of duty.

In the other vehicle, the motorman of Car No. 29, Pittsfield resident Euclid Madden, the conductor James Kelly, and the passengers were uninjured. There were reports that the trolley was speeding. Some say the two vehicles appeared to be racing; others say Car No. 29 was behind schedule and trying to make up the time. Whatever the facts, by the time of Craig’s funeral on September 7, newspapers from Maine to California whip up sentiment about the tragic loss of the agent and the inexcusable indignity of our president thrust onto the pavement.

People were angry, and, in their opinion, the President was put at risk by an irresponsible motorman. The motorman and conductor are taken in charge. Kelly is released, but Madden is fined $300 and sentenced to serve six months in jail.

The Pittsfield Electric Railway Company paid the fine for Madden and re-hired him when he was released from the Berkshire County House of Corrections. It was an indication of what many locals felt: that Madden was made the scapegoat and punished to appease public outrage.

President Roosevelt with a swollen face after the accident. Photo courtesy of “Berkshire: The First Three Hundred Years, 1676–1976” by Tyler Resch and Judy Katz.

Roosevelt continued his travels to Stockbridge. At the Red Lion, the doorman, a man named O’Brien, said he saw the president and he was uninjured. However, newspaper photos of Roosevelt speaking on the porch of the Red Lion clearly show a swollen face.

Pratt was 62 on the day of the accident. He was granted the honor of driving the president and the governor because of his age and experience. He was a senior liveryman and owner of two stables. He had driven the governor before.

On this special run, he was thrown to the tracks. He remembered he just crossed the trolley tracks when he felt the crash and “knew no more.” He was several weeks in recovery.

In memoriam, Roosevelt said of Craig, “The man who was killed was one of whom I was fond and whom I greatly prized for his loyalty and faithfulness.”

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