‘When Teddy Came to Town’

New Tichelaar book focuses on Roosevelt, local period life

Marquette author Tyler R. Tichelaar shows his latest book, “When Teddy Came to Town.” The book is about a libel trial initiated by former President Theodore Roosevelt against an Ishpeming newspaper editor in the early 20th century, but it’s also about local life at the time. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

MARQUETTE — Bull moose have made their way into Marquette County throughout the years, but one of a different sort visited the county early in the early 1900s for what has been called one of the most famous libel trials of the 20th century.

That was when former President Theodore Roosevelt, who was campaigning for another term on the Progressive “Bull Moose” ticket, came to town after a local newspaper editor of falsely accused him of being a drunk.

In an editorial written by George Newett in Ishpeming’s Iron Ore newspaper on Oct. 12, 1912, an offending passage read: “Roosevelt lies and curses in the most disgusting way; he gets drunk, too, and that not infrequently, and all of his intimates know about it.”

That editorial was written following a visit and speech by Roosevelt.

Understandably, Roosevelt didn’t take well to those words, and decided to make an example of the editor by filing a lawsuit.

Marquette author Tyler R. Tichelaar writes about the May 1913 trial at the Marquette County Courthouse — and the effect a visit by a former president had on a small town — in his latest book, “When Teddy Came to Town.”

What might have precipitated the editor’s perception in part was Roosevelt’s demeanor at the speech, which took place in the train yards in Marquette.

“Of course, while he’s speaking in the train yards, the other trains are going by, and so it’s very noisy and there’s a huge crowd of people coming to see him,” Tichelaar said. “He’s very loud and boisterous and waving his hands around because he felt like the people in the back, who had traveled maybe a hundred miles to come see him, had a right to hear what he had to say.”

Tichelaar said it took him about three years to research and write the book about the trial, which he noted had national and worldwide interest.

“People in Japan were asking questions about Roosevelt’s mint patch that was on the White House property, that he said that he used for his mint juleps, and so it got a huge amount of attention,” Tichelaar said. “I think it really proved to people that you can’t make what we would call ‘fake news’ today.

“You can’t get away with fake news, and I think this was really one of the first cases of that happening. It really made the media, or the press, stand up and realize we can’t say whatever that we want to in print. We have to report the truth.”

While on the stand, Roosevelt acknowledged he didn’t drink much, plus many colleagues served as witnesses, he said. On the other hand, Newett’s witnesses signed affidavits indicating they had seen Roosevelt drink, but none showed up at the trial.

After winning the jury trial, Roosevelt received only a nominal award because that’s what he asked for, Tichelaar said.

“He said that he was not out to get money,” he said. “He just wanted to prove his point.”

However, “When Teddy Came to Town” is not just about the trial.

Tichelaar noted the novel is largely about what happened in Marquette when the president visited.

“It’s told from the point of view of a reporter who’s come to Marquette to report on the trial, who actually grew up in Marquette and went away to New York,” Tichelaar said.

That fictional character, Matthew Newman, is a reporter for the New York Empire Sentinel.

While in Marquette, Newman stayed with his sister and husband, so there was a personal tale woven through the book.

One reviewer on Amazon wrote this post about the book: “Something I loved about this book is that it blends the history with the fictional characters and plot so seamlessly that you don’t even notice you’re learning about history. The trial and historical characters (like Teddy Roosevelt and George Shiras) are just additional aspects to Matthew’s world and his coming-home-again story.”

Tichelaar said he tried to focus on the social happenings that also took place in Marquette at the time.

For instance, while in town, Roosevelt stayed with noted photographer George Shiras III in the house of the late Peter White, a city pioneer.

There also was an effort to have Roosevelt — a big hero in the Spanish-American War — speak on Memorial Day, which back then was called Decoration Day, Tichelaar said. Roosevelt, though, wanted to keep a low profile.

The local Spanish-American veterans, however, went to the Shiras residence to see Roosevelt, who welcomed them into the house and gave them a private speech.

On page 263 is a photo of Roosevelt with those veterans.

“When Teddy Came to Town” is available in Marquette at the Marquette Regional History Center, Snowbound Books and Michigan Fair, and in Marquette Township at the Michigan Fair section at Meijer. An e-book version is available at Amazon.

The book also can be purchased online at marquettefiction.com.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.