Historically Yours: FDR nearly assassinated in Miami

The fate of the world hung in the balance of events in Miami on February 15, 1933. Three months earlier, Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt won the presidential election by a landslide vote over Republican Herbert Hoover. It was not so much of an FDR victory as it was a Hoover defeat for his failure to lead America out of the Depression. The public was clamoring for inspired leadership from the presidentelect. FDR, while vacationing in Florida, planned on riding in an open convertible for a short reception at Bayfront Park. Thousands of people lined Biscayne Boulevard for a glimpse at Roosevelt. Giuseppe Zangara, a 32 year-old unemployed Italian bricklayer, standing

5’ 1” and weighing 105 pounds, intended to shoot and kill the new president “because I no like the capitalists.” Zangara, because he had arrived late, had to settle for standing on tiptoes on a rickety bench in the third row, less than 30 feet away from the convertible where the president-elect gave a short speech to the crowd.

Standing near Roosevelt was Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak. When Zangara fired the first shot at FDR, the bench he was standing on moved, causing it to spoil his aim. He managed to get off four more shots before bystanders grabbed the wood-be assassin. Six people were injured, including Cermak, who was shot in the rib cage. Roosevelt was unscathed, as pandemonium spread.

Cermak was lifted into the convertible. Roosevelt held the wounded Mayor in his arms, as the auto sped to Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital. According to Newsweek senior editor and biographer Jonathan Alter (The Defining Moment – FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope) the “tiny hospital staff had a shock of its own that night…. the resident on duty, with no radio at hand, still hadn’t heard about the shooting. He was sitting with his feet propped up, reading a ‘girlie’ magazine, when the loud voice of the Secret Service agent demanded:

‘Open the door for the President of the United States.’ Assuming it was a joke, the young doctor shouted: ‘Tell him to piss on the floor and swim in under it.’”

Cermak died weeks thereafter. According to Alter, “many Americans believed that Roosevelt had been spared by divine intervention.” Zangara was “tried and executed only a little more than a month after the February 15 incident, one of the shortest periods from crime to execution on record in the United States…. he welcomed his trip to ‘Old Sparky,’ the state of Florida’s infamous electric chair. ‘Pusha da’ button!’ he shouted just before dying.” The vast majority of Americans now believed that FDR was the inspired person to lead them through the Depression.

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