FDR Dodges a Bullet


But No One Else Does

On February 15, 1933, President-Elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt was giving a speech in Miami to a group of supporters in Bayfront Park.  He was speaking from the back of an open car when shots rang out.  Someone was trying to kill the future president. 

That someone was an Italian immigrant named Giuseppe Zangara.  Zangara was a 32 year old mentally ill man working in as a bricklayer nearby.  He had immigrated from Italy to New Jersey shortly after his service in World War I.  He suffered from a terrible stomach ailment his entire life which caused him great pain and may have exacerbated his mental problems. 

At some point, Zangara, moved to Florida, and like everyone who moves to Florida, he bought a gun.  When he saw the incoming president giving a speech he decided to take action.  He knew he had to shoot FDR, but first he needed to find something to stand on.  Zangara was only 5′ tall and couldn’t see over the crowd, let along get a clear shot. 

Grabbing a wobbly folding chair to stand on, he let loose a barrage of 5 shots from his .32 revolver.  After the first shot, a Ms. Lillian Cross heroically grabbed Zangara’s arm, attempting to wrest the gun from the man.  The next 4 shots went into the crowd.  Zangara was subdued, but six people lay wounded from the 5 shots fired. 

Three people in the crowd were struck.  Secret Service Agent Robert Clark and NYPD Detective (working for FDR) William Sinnott were also both shot.  The most seriously injured was Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak, who was shot in the stomach.  He would die on March 6th from the wound.  The future four term president was unharmed. 

Both during the assassination attempt and afterwards, Zangara made several anti-capitalist statements.  He proclaimed that, “I don’t hate Mr. Roosevelt personally, I hate all officials and anyone who is rich”.  He also told the FBI that chronic stomach pain led to his action, “Since my stomach hurt I want to make even with the capitalists by kill the president.”  Even after his conviction and death sentence he spouted an anti-capitalist statement, “You give me electric chair. I no afraid of that chair! You one of capitalists. You is crook man too. Put me in electric chair. I no care!”

Despite his several proclamations in support of socialism, many think that Zangara was just a nut.  He may have had some socialist leanings, but many of his statements were rambling and incoherent.  (Besides, why would one socialist try to kill another socialist).  Many legal scholars feel that Zangara’s attorney should have attempted an insanity plea, but it was not to be.  He was indicted, tried, convicted, and electrocuted within 33 days of the crime. (It takes longer than that to get a call back from the Bronx DA’s office)

Christopher Flanagan
photo By FBI – http://workbench.cadenhead.org/media/dan-hardie-and-giuseppe-zangara.png, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8057852


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