Many of Theodore Roosevelt’s adventures seem like something out of a tall tale: he survived an assassination attempt; nearly died while exploring the Amazonian jungle; and became the first president to drive a car and fly in a plane; among many others. Despite having been a larger-than-life figure, this is one thing that Teddy Roosevelt never did: ride a swimming Moose.
In 1912, Roosevelt split from the Republican Party, after having become unhappy with its increasingly conservative policies. He then ran for President as head of the newly formed Progressive Party. After forming this party, Roosevelt exuberantly proclaimed, "I'm feeling like a bull moose!" For which reason, the Progressive Party was often referred to as the "Bull Moose Party."
Two months before the election, on Sep 8, 1912, the New York Tribune ran a set of humorous pictures under the headline "The Race For The White House," showing the three main presidential candidates astride the animals associated with their parties.
William Howard Taft was shown riding an elephant (for the Republican party). Woodrow Wilson sat on a donkey (for the Democratic party). And Roosevelt rode a moose (for the Bull Moose party).
All three images were fake. They had been created by the photographic firm Underwood and Underwood.
Close inspection of the Roosevelt image reveals the signs of fakery. The firm had extracted Roosevelt's image from a photo of him riding a horse and pasted it into a shot of a swimming moose. Scratch lines are visible around Roosevelt's leg, where the photo editor tried to simulate water ripples. Also, Roosevelt's image is more sharply focused than that of the moose.
But, of course, the image was not supposed to be mistaken for a real scene. It was clearly presented as political humor.
Roosevelt lost the 1912 election to Woodrow Wilson, and the image of him riding a moose disappeared into photo archives. But in the 21st Century the image resurfaced and began circulating online where many people assumed it depicted an actual event.
(via Houghton Library Blog)