(September 7, 1900 – March 20, 1933) attempted to kill United States
President-elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933.
Zangara was born
in Ferruzano, Italy. After serving in the Tyrolian Alps in World War
One, Zangara did a variety of menial jobs in his home town before
emigrating with his uncle in Paterson, New Jersey, to the United
States in 1923. On September 11, 1929, he became a naturalized
citizen of the United States.
Zangara, a poorly
educated brick layer, who liked to eat banana splits was driven mad
by the constant sharp pain in his abdomen, later attributed to
adhesions of the gall bladder. It was difficult for him to work due
to both his physical and mental conditions, and in his fevered mind
came to believe the President of the United States was somehow
supernaturally actively causing his pain.
Further, he was a
very lonely man; he blamed authority figures for his pain, but the
side effects of his condition included chronic flatulence, while his
outspoken and impatient nature likely pushed other people away.
report that Zangara envied those who had more than he did, and
sought the assassination of "all capitalist presidents and
kings." Zangara began plotting to assassinate the current
president Herbert Hoover, but Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) was
elected to replace him before Zangara could act on his plan. Zangara
would later say, "Hoover and Roosevelt —
everybody the same."
On February 15,
1933, FDR was giving a speech in Bayfront Park in the city of Miami,
Florida where Zangara was living, working the occasional odd job,
and living off his savings. Zangara took a .32 caliber pistol,
purchased at a local pawn shop, and joined the crowd.
only five feet tall, he was unable to see over other people and had
to stand on a wobbly, folding, metal chair to get a clear aim at his
target. After the first shot a woman jostled his arm and he fired
five more shots wildly. He missed the President-Elect.
Five other people
were hit including Chicago mayor Anton Cermak who was sitting next
to FDR. En route to the hospital, Cermak had allegedly told FDR,
"I'm glad it was me and not you, Mr. President." Roosevelt
himself was remarkably poised.
Cermak died of a
complications brought about by an abdominal wound 19 days later, on
March 6, 1933, two days after Roosevelt's inauguration, the only
fatality of the shootings.
Only two weeks
later, on March 20, 1933, Zangara was executed in Old Sparky, the
electric chair at Florida State Penitentiary after being convicted
of Cermak's murder.
Florida law, because Zangara intended murder it was irrelevant that
his intended target was not who he killed; 1st Degree Murder was
Also according to
Florida law, a convicted murderer could not share cell space with
another prisoner before his execution, but another convicted
murderer was already awaiting execution at Raiford. Zangara's
sentence required prison officials to expand their waiting area, and
the "death cell" became "Death Row."
last words were spoken to the judge present at his execution,
"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! Get to hell out of here, you son of a
bitch [spoken to the attending minister]... I go sit down all by
myself... Viva Italia! Goodbye to all poor peoples everywhere!...
Lousy capitalists! No picture! Capitalists! No one here to take my
picture. All capitalists lousy bunch of crooks. Go ahead. Pusha da
Raymond Moley a
leading criminologist interviewed Zangara in depth and concluded he
was not part of a radical plot, and that he was gunning for
Roosevelt. All major historians agree with Moley.
conspiracy ideas circulated in Chicago at the time to the effect
that Zangara was a hitman hired by the Capone faction of the Chicago
Mafia as a diversion for a second killer --who never fired a shot
and was never seen--to shoot Cermak, an enemy of the Capone mob, not
genuinely mourned the passing of Cermak, and attributing his death
to some tangible, conspiratorial reason, instead of an accidental
collision with a deranged assassin's bullet, was likely part of the
city's necessary grieving process.
Zangara is one of
the assassins portrayed in Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman's
Davis, Kenneth S.
FDR: The New York Years: 1928-1933 (1994)
Franklin D. Roosevelt: The Triumph (1956)
The Five Weeks of Giuseppe Zangara: The Man Who Would Assassinate
Guiseppe Zangara, also known as Joseph Zangara,
is infamous for the murder of the mayor of Chicago, Anton J. Cermak
during an assasination attempt on President-elect Franklin D.
Roosevelt. He believed that capitalists were to blame for not
punishing his father, who caused him to have a 'burning stomach'.
His stomach caused him constant agony for over half his life, and he
never knew why.
Guiseppe Zangara was born September 7, 1900 in
Ferruzzano, Italy. When he was two years old, his mother died.
Shortly thereafter, his father was married to a widow who had six
daughters. The expanded family, already poor, endured severe
hardship and soon food became scarce.
When Zangara was six he started school, but after
two months, his father took him out of school and put him to work.
He was put to work digging deep ditches and hauling heavy bricks and
stones. The strenuous work, combined with the lack of nourishment at
such a young age, probably was a contributing factor to his slight
build. He developed a burning stomach ache, and the pain began to
drive him mad. His entire life began to revolve around his stomach
pain and his health.
Zangara hated his father and blamed him for the
horrible stomach pain he endured. He believed that his father should
be punished, but the lousy capitalists in Italy were too busy to
help him. Thus he developed a deep hatred for everyone who was rich
or worked in government. Driven mad with pain, he came to believe
that if he could kill the leader of the capitalists, his stomach
pain might go away. He plotted to assassinate King Victor Emmanuel
III, but left for the United States before carrying out his plan.
On August 18, 1923 he and his uncle left Italy
for the United States of America on the steamship Martha Washington
and arrived in Philadelphia on September 2, 1923. He secured a job
as a bricklayer in New Jersey. He and his uncle lived together for a
year until his uncle married. Zangara and his new aunt did not get
along well, so he moved out. He lived very frugally and saved most
of his money, allowing him the freedom to travel. He traveled to
Panama and California in hopes that the warmer climate would help
Finally he moved to Miami, Florida and again was
working as a brick layer. In 1926 he went to see doctors about his
stomach, who removed his appendix hoping that would solve the
problem. However, it did not. On September 11, 1929, Zangara became
a naturalized citizen of the United States.
In 1932, as the Great Depression had started to
effect him, his stomach pain grew progressively worse. He decided
that if he were to assassinate President Herbert Hoover the problem
would be solved, because everyone said Hoover was to blame for the
Depression. However, Hoover lost the presidential election to
Democratic candidate, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
On February 13, 1933, Zangara bought a .32
caliber pistol for $4 at a local drugstore, and planned to take a
bus to Washington D.C. the next day. While walking to the bus
station, he saw newspaper headlines reporting that President-elect
Franklin Roosevelt was visiting the Miami area the next day. He was
scheduled to make a speech at the Bayfront Park.
On February 15th, just after 9am Franklin
Roosevelt arrived at Bayfront Park in a light blue Buick. Because he
was crippled by polio as a child, he gave a short speech from inside
the car. Well wishers crowded around the car to see Roosevelt. One
of the well wishers was the Mayor of Chicago, Anton Cermak.
At this time Zangara was trying to work his way
to the front of the crowd so he could shoot. Because he was so
short, only 5 feet tall, it was very hard for him to see his target.
He climbed on top of an old unstable wooden chair and started to
fire. A woman in front of him saw what he was doing and tried to
push Zangara's demure 105-pound frame off of the chair.
Zangara fired five bullets and hit five people.
Roosevelt was not one of them, but Cermak was. Cermak suffered from
an abdominal wound and was taken immediately to the hospital in
Roosevelt's car. On the way, FDR embraced Cermak and told him that
it would be okay. Cermak's response was "I'm glad it was me and not
you, Mr. President."
After the arresting Zangara, doctors examined him
and discovered severe ulcers as the cause of his chronic pain.
Zangara was put on trial and sentenced to 84 years for injuring
bystanders during his attempt to kill Roosevelt. He pleaded guilty
and showed no remorse except for missing Roosevelt.
When Cermak died on March 3, Zangara was put on
trial for his murder and was sentenced to death in the electric
chair at the Florida State Penitentiary in Raiford. When he heard
his sentence he yelled at the judge, "You give me electric chair. I
no afraid of that chair! You're one of capitalists. You is crook man
too. Put me in electric chair. I no care!"
On March 20, Zangara walked to the electric chair
unaided and not afraid. He yelled and cursed at the guards. After a
shroud was placed over his head, he screamed, "Lousy capitalists! No
picture! Capitalists! No one here to take my picture. All
capitalists lousy bunch of crooks. Go ahead. Push the button!" The
guard pulled the switch and Zangara was no more. He had no family or
friends present, and his unclaimed remains were buried in an
unmarked grave at the prison.
Eastland Memorial Society - Getnet.com
Giuseppe Zangara attempts to assassinate
President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt in Miami's Bayfront Park.
Instead, he mortally wounds Chicago mayor Anton J. Cermak. In
perhaps one of the shortest periods of time between crime and
execution (32 days), Zangara is executed on March 20, 1933 in
Florida's electric chair. The bizarre story of Zangara is detailed
in a book by Blaise Picchi entitled "The Five Weeks of Giuseppe
Zangara: The Man Who Would Assassinate FDR."
"At 9:15 on the
evening of February 15, 1933, the greatest "what if" in American
history was played out in Miami's Bayfront Park. The attempted
assassination of President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt is almost
forgotten today, but for connoisseurs of Fate there is nothing quite
FDR arrived at the
political rally tanned and relaxed from a deep-sea fishing trip on
Vincent Astor's yacht. Sitting atop the back seat of a convertible,
he rode slowly through the packed crowds and stopped in front of a
stage full of VIPs, among them the mayor of Chicago, Anton J. Cermak.
After making a brief speech from the car, he was talking privately
with the dignitaries who came down from the stage to greet him when
five shots rang out.
Some 30 feet from
the car, a man in the third row of spectators was standing on tiptoe
on a rickety chair, his arm stretched over the heads in front of him,
firing a .32 revolver at the presidential party. Directly behind him
was Thomas Armour, a Miami carpenter. Directly in front of him was
Mrs. Lillian Cross, wife of a Miami doctor, who was also standing on
a chair. Either Armour or Mrs. Cross grabbed the gunman's arm to
deflect his aim -- both so claimed afterwards -- or perhaps it was
the unsteady chair. Whatever happened, all five shots missed FDR and
hit others. Two people were seriously wounded: a Mrs. Mabel Gill and
The crowd and the
police pounced on the gunman. The Secret Service ordered FDR's
driver to get out of the park but the president-elect countermanded
them and went back to pick up the wounded. On the way to the
hospital he cradled Anton Cermak's head on his shoulder and kept
talking to him -- "Tony, keep quiet, don't move, Tony" -- a steady
murmur of encouragement that doctors later said kept Cermak from
going into shock.
FDR stayed four
hours at the hospital, showing by his actions what he would soon
express in words about the need to banish fear. That his behavior
this night was fresh in the minds of the nation that heard his First
Inaugural address established his presidential bona fides as no mere
speech could: The people around FDR were watching him to see how
this man who was about to lead a troubled nation would react to the
attempt on his life. That February evening he was still an unknown
quantity. In the immediate aftermath of the assassination attempt,
virtually every word and action of the president-elect was reported
to the nation.... Was he frightened? Nervous? Relieved that he had
escaped unhurt? Was he rattled or petulant? He was none of those
things. He appeared unfazed, calm, deliberate, cheerful --
throughout the shooting itself as well as during its aftermath. He
said and did all the right things at the right times: He stopped the
car twice to pick up the wounded; he assured the crowd that he was
all right; he calmly talked Cermak out of shock, and he visited the
victims that night and returned to the hospital the next day with
flowers, cards, and baskets of fruit. He had met his first test
under fire, and he had impressed not only his associates, but the
press and the nation. It was on this note of personal courage,
graciousness, and self-confidence that he was to assume the reins of
government seventeen days later.
The gunman was a
naturalized Italian bricklayer named Giuseppe Zangara who stood all
of five-foot-one, hence his awkward firing position. He may be our
most interesting assassin, if only because he was a registered
Republican whose chief motivation seems to have been hypochondria.
Born in 1900 in Calabria, the province at the toe of the boot, he
was a sickly child made sicker by a brutal father who beat him,
starved him, and put him to work at the age of six, when his chronic
stomach pain began. This pain became the central fact of his life.
He brought it up constantly during his questioning, interjecting it
into his simplistic political views: "I shoot kings and presidents,
capitalists got all-a money and I got bellyache all-a time."
He sounded like an
anarchist, yet he condemned them along with Communists, Socialists,
and Fascists, proudly insisting that his views were "nobody but
mine," a claim borne out by a search of his room. Unlike the Oswalds
of this world he had no taste for turgid political manifestos; the
few books he owned were English-language aids.
who was in Miami that night, immediately concluded that Zangara was
not a presidential assassin but a hit man for the Chicago mob who
had been sent to shoot the man he did in fact shoot: Mayor Anton
Cermak. Many people agreed; Cermak was a reform mayor and dedicated
anti-Prohibitionist who had made enemies in the underworld, but
Zangara insisted that he wanted to shoot only "kings and presidents"
and disclaimed all ties to all groups except the bricklayers' union,
which, he said, he had joined only because he had to. "I don't like
no peoples," he explained.
investigation proved him right: He belonged to nothing and no one.
An atheist, he believed only in "what I see. Land, sky, moon," and
said he felt no remorse over wounding Cermak and Mrs. Gill, but his
rationale was not so much cold and psychopathic as matter-of-fact
and practical: "You can't find a king or a president alone. Lots of
people stick around him and you got to take chance to kill him. All
the chiefs of people, never alone. The chief of government you no
see alone. He go all the time with a bunch."
Since Cermak and
Mrs. Gill were still alive, Zangara was arraigned on four counts of
assault with intent to kill, with a murder charge pending should one
or both of them die. He insisted on pleading guilty, saying, "I kill
capitalists because they kill me, stomach like drunk man. No point
living. Give me electric chair." Sentenced to four terms of 20 years
each, he told the judge, "Don't be stingy, give me hundred." He
rejected an appeal.
The whole picture
changed for Zangara when Anton Cermak died on March 6, two days
after FDR's inauguration. His death came about through a
misdiagnosis of his injuries that his doctors tried to cover up by
citing a pre-existing condition. This opened a legal door for
Zangara to claim that his bullet had not caused Cermak's death, but
he insisted on pleading guilty.
He was electrocuted
on March 20 in what still stands as the swiftest legal execution in
this century. It's a measure of his unknowable personality that he
was able to be both stoic and cocky in the death chamber. To the
minister intoning sonorous prayers he snapped, "Get to hell out of
here, you sonofabitch," and strode toward the chair unassisted,
shouting, "I go sit down all by myself." A reporter-witness compared
it to a man hopping into a barber's chair. As they put the hood on
him he called out, "Viva Italia! Goodbye to all poor peoples
everywhere!" His last words, spoken to Sheriff Hardie at the
controls, were "Pusha da button!"
The story of the
attempt on FDR's life has never been told except in a few magazine
articles, but now Florida criminal lawyer Blaise Picchi has filled
the 65-year gap with The Five Weeks of Giuseppe Zangara, a book that
is impossible to put down. A native Floridian, Picchi paints an
evocative picture of a vanished Miami that conveys the texture of a
bygone age, interviews the still-living persons who were there on
the fatal night, digs up never-published documents, and presents a
Zangara who is intriguingly reminiscent of Celine, the French writer
who was cleared of charges that he collaborated with the Nazis when
the judges agreed that "he was too much of a loner to collaborate