Assassination Attempt on FDR

On February 15, 1933, less than three weeks before Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first inauguration, the president-elect gave an impromptu speech from the back of his open touring car in Bayfront Park in Miami, Florida.

Just as he finished his speech and sat down, gunshots rang out.

A diminutive unemployed bricklayer and immigrant from Italy, Guiseppe Zangara, stood a mere twenty-five feet away from FDR atop a wobbly folding chair in order to see his intended target. He aimed directly at Roosevelt and fired his .32 caliber pistol. As the first shot rang out, Lillian Cross, a woman who happened to be standing in front of the chair upon which Zangara was perched, grabbed his arm as did several others in the crowd, and four more shots fired wildly.

While  he missed Roosevelt, five other people were hit by bullets. The most renowned victim, Chicago’s Mayor Anton Cermak, was hit in the abdomen as he stepped on the car’s running board, shaking hands with the President-elect. Cermak would die of his wounds  19 days later on March 6, just two days after Roosevelt’s inauguration.

The mayor was  driven to the hospital in Roosevelt’s car with Franklin comforting him en route. Mayor Cermak reportedly said to the President-elect, “I’m glad it was me instead of you,” and those words are today inscribed on a plaque in Bayfront Park.

Zangara, who was only five feet tall, was immediately restrained by the crowd. At the Dade County jail, he confessed, stating, “I have the gun in my hand. I kill kings and Presidents first and next all capitalists.”

Zangara had left his home in Calabria, Italy to the United States after serving in World War I. He settled in Paterson, New Jersey and became a naturalized citizen a few years later.

He suffered from chronic pain which was eventually determined to have been caused by adhesions of his gall bladder. Those adhesions were thought to have been a complication of an appendectomy which was performed in 1926 and were also blamed as the reason for his increasing mental delusions.

Although he had no discernible political philosophy, he was outspoken about the fact that he despised wealthy capitalists, and he became more and more inflamed as the Great Depression marched on.

He harbored hatred for President Herbert Hoover, and later transferred that to his successor, Franklin D Roosevelt, assigning blame to each man in his turn for the plight of the common man as well as for his own debilitating stomach pain.

Zangara originally pled guilty to four counts of assault with the intent to kill just days after the attempted assassination and was sentenced to 80 years in prison.

After Mayor Cermak died of peritonitis, the assassin was quickly indicted for first-degree murder.

The sentencing judge, Uly Thompson sentenced the murderer to death, issuing this closing statement, "It is my firm conviction that the Congress of the United States should immediately pass legislation, or an act, for the confiscation of all firearms that may be carried and concealed about the person of anyone. It is a ridiculous state of society, in my opinion, that an assassin may be permitted to arm himself and go at liberty throughout the land killing whom he will kill."

Zangara died in the electric chair at Florida State Prison at Raiford on March 20, a mere five weeks after he attempted the assassination of America’s 32nd President. He was 32 years old.