February 15, 1933 – Assassination Attempt on President-Elect Franklin D. Roosevelt

On this day in history, America’s President-Elect Franklin D. Roosevelt survived an assassination attempt in Miami, Florida when an unemployed brick layer fired five shots at Roosevelt’s open touring car. FDR escaped injury, but four others were wounded, and Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak (who was shaking hands with Roosevelt at the time) was mortally wounded.

Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak (left) attends a 1932 World Series game with N.Y Governor and presidential candidate Franklin Roosevelt. On the right is FDR's son, James.

Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak (left) attends a 1932 World Series game with N.Y Governor and presidential candidate Franklin Roosevelt. On the right is FDR’s son, James.

After the 1932 election and prior to his March 4th, 1933 inauguration, FDR decided to take a yacht-trip off the coast of Florida. Upon his return, he attended a rally in Miami to meet influential party leaders before returning to New York.

FDR’s yacht sailed into Biscayne Bay late on February 15th and he was escorted to the amphitheater bandstand at Bayfront Park. All 7000 seats in front of the stage were filled to capacity, with thousands more in the aisles and around the park. FDR was in one of three open cars that parked by the bandstand; he stayed in the car because of his polio.

In the third row of the seating area was Giuseppe Zangara, who had purchased a five shot .32 caliber revolver for eight dollars just days earlier. He was roughly twenty five or thirty feet from Roosevelt.

FDR spoke for less than one minute, and then was greeted by dignitaries. Zangara stood on his wobbly folding chair and fired five shots. Several people pinned him to the ground and he was taken off to jail. Meanwhile, the presidential procession rushed to Jackson Memorial Hospital to try to save Cermak’s life. He died nineteen days after he was shot however.

President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt, left, and Mayor Anton J. Cermak of Chicago as they conferred in 1933. — Chicago Tribune historical photo

President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt, left, and Mayor Anton J. Cermak of Chicago as they conferred in 1933. — Chicago Tribune historical photo

Zangara was an Italian immigrant who spoke very poor English,but was very open about his desire to “kill all kings and presidents” in order to punish them for all the pain inflicted on the poor, as well as his own personal pain.

On March 20, 1933, Zangara was executed for Cermak’s murder in Florida’s “Old Sparky” electric chair, railing against capitalists to the end. When asked whether he would shoot Roosevelt again if given a chance, he answered affirmatively.

It had been exactly 33 days since the shooting in Bayfront Park to Zangara’s execution. The five weeks that culminated in the electrocution of Zangara was considered by many the swiftest legal execution in 20th-century American History.

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