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Mug shots of Giuseppe Zangara following his arrest.
September 7, 1900|
Ferruzzano, Calabria, Kingdom of Italy
|Died||March 20, 1933
Florida State Prison, Raiford, Florida, U.S.
|Criminal charge||First-degree murder|
|Criminal penalty||Death by electric chair|
Giuseppe "Joe" Zangara (September 7, 1900 – March 20, 1933) was the assassin of Anton Cermak (the Mayor of Chicago). Zangara was an Italian American anarchist who shot Cermak and four others in Miami, Florida on February 15, 1933, during a speech by United States President–elect Franklin D. Roosevelt. Roosevelt himself may have been the intended target, but was unharmed.
Zangara was born on September 7, 1900 in Ferruzzano, Calabria, Italy. After serving in the Tyrolean Alps in World War I, he did a variety of menial jobs in his home village before emigrating with his uncle to the United States in 1923. He settled in Paterson, New Jersey and became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1929.
Physical and mental health problems
Zangara was a man with little education who became a bricklayer. He suffered severe pain in his abdomen, which was later attributed to adhesions of the gall bladder. This condition possibly originated from an appendectomy performed in 1926. These adhesions were later cited as a cause for his increasing mental delusions, and it became increasingly difficult for him to work due to his physical and mental disabilities.
On February 15, 1933, Roosevelt was giving an impromptu speech at night from the back of an open car in the Bayfront Park area of Miami, Florida, where Zangara was working the occasional odd job and living off his savings. Zangara joined the crowd, armed with a .32-caliber US Revolver Company pistol he had bought for $8 at a local pawn shop.
However, standing only five feet tall, he was unable to see over other people, and had to stand on a wobbly, metal folding chair, peering over the hat of Lillian Cross to get a clear aim at his target. After the first shot, Cross and others grabbed his arm, and he fired four more shots wildly. Five people were hit, including Chicago mayor Anton Cermak, who was standing on the running board of the car next to Roosevelt, who was untouched. Roosevelt cradled Cermak in his arms as the car rushed to the hospital. After arriving there, Cermak spoke to Roosevelt and allegedly uttered the line that is engraved on his tomb: "I'm glad it was me instead of you." The Tribune reported the quote without attributing it to a witness, and most scholars doubt it was ever said. Roosevelt escaped injury, but had he been assassinated, then Vice President–elect John Nance Garner would have become president on March 4, 1933, pursuant to Section 3 of the recently ratified Twentieth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Zangara confessed in the Dade County Courthouse jail and stated: "I have the gun in my hand. I kill kings and presidents first and next all capitalists." He pleaded guilty to four counts of attempted murder and was sentenced to 80 years in prison. As he was led out of the courtroom, Zangara told the judge, "Four times 20 is 80. Oh, judge, don't be stingy. Give me a hundred years." The judge, E.C. Collins, replied: "Maybe there will be more later," in reference to two additional charges of murder that had been entered against Zangara in case one (or both) of his most severely injured victims, Cermak or local resident Mabel Gill, were to die.
Cermak died of peritonitis 19 days later, on March 6, 1933, two days after Roosevelt’s inauguration. Zangara was promptly indicted for first-degree murder in Cermak’s death. Because Zangara had intended to commit murder, it was irrelevant that his intended target may not have been the man he ultimately killed, nor that Cermak's death was in part the result of medical malpractice. In either case, he would still be guilty of first-degree murder under the doctrine of transferred intent.
Zangara pleaded guilty to the additional murder charge, and was sentenced to death by Circuit Court Judge Uly Thompson. Zangara said after hearing his sentence: “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!” Following the sentencing, Thompson urged Congress to outlaw and confiscate all handguns, stating, "It is a ridiculous state of society that an assassin may be permitted to arm himself and go at liberty throughout the land killing whom he will kill." Under 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”.
On March 20, 1933, after spending only 10 days on death row, Zangara was executed in Old Sparky, the electric chair at Florida State Prison in Raiford. Zangara became enraged when he learned no newsreel cameras would be filming his final moments. Zangara's final statement was "Viva l'Italia! Goodbye to all poor peoples everywhere! ... Push the button! Go ahead, push the button!"
While most accounts for years repeated that Cermak was the unintended victim of an attempt to assassinate Roosevelt, more recent theories, especially in Chicago, assert that Zangara was a hired killer, working for Frank Nitti, who was the head of the Chicago Outfit (Chicago's largest organized-crime syndicate). John William Tuohy, author of numerous books on organized crime in Chicago, after reviewing Secret Service records, has described in detail how and why Cermak was the real target, and the relationship of the shooting to the rampant gang violence in Chicago. Numerous researchers assert, citing court testimony, that Cermak had directed an assassination attempt on Nitti less than three months earlier.
Raymond Moley interviewed Zangara and believed he was not part of any larger plot, and that he had intended to kill Roosevelt.
In popular culture
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In the original Off-Broadway production of Assassins by Stephen Sondheim, Zangara was played by Eddie Korbich. In later productions, he was played by Paul Harrhy in London and by Jeffrey Kuhn in the show's original Broadway production. Appearing in several songs from the play, he has a major solo in the number, "How I Saved Roosevelt".
Zangara plays a significant role in the background provided for Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle. The alternate history novel, set after an Axis victory in World War II, uses the premise that Zangara succeeded in assassinating FDR as its point of divergence. (The death of FDR is later said to have happened after he was President for one year, this may be an error on Dick's part, or a sign of additional divergences in the timeline.) The same premise is used in Eric Norden's The Ultimate Solution (1972) and the GURPS Alternate Earths role playing game's "Reich 5" alternate universe.
In 1960, in a two-part story line titled 'The Unhired Assassin' on the TV show The Untouchables, actor Joe Mantell played the part of Giuseppe "Joe" Zangara. This episode, while depicting Zangara's story throughout, focuses mostly on Nitti's plan to kill Mayor Cermak, with an initial (fictionalized) attempt in Chicago which is foiled by Ness and his agents at the end of 'part one', then in 'part two' using a contract hitman, an ex-Army rifleman in Florida which again fails, thanks to Eliot Ness (played by Robert Stack). But Ness's successful prevention of Nitti's assassination plot is quickly undercut when Zangara does the deed. Zangara is depicted as having nothing to do with Nitti's plot, and is only obsessed with killing Roosevelt. The shows were originally aired February 25 and March 3, 1960. This two part story was later edited together as a feature length story retitled 'The Gun of Zangara'.
Max Allan Collins' 1983 novel, True Detective, first in the Nathan Heller mystery series, features Zangara's attempted assassination of Roosevelt, positing it as an actual attempt on Chicago's mayor at the time, Anton Cermak. The novel won the 1984 Shamus Award for Best P.I. Hardcover from the Private Eye Writers of America.
The 2011 fantasy noir novel Spellbound by Larry Correia features Zangara's attempted assassination of FDR. Zangara is magically enhanced in a plot to inflame bigotry and curtail the civil rights of the magically gifted protagonists of the Grimnoir Society. Instead of using a small caliber handgun, Zangara is made into a living cannon or bomb, and kills nearly 200 onlookers including Mayor Cermak and crippling Roosevelt.
In the second season of the HBO drama The Newsroom, lead character Will McAvoy (played by Jeff Daniels) uses Zangara's attempt to assassinate Roosevelt as an example for how "one thing" can change everything. He describes how if the chair Zangara had been using hadn't been wobbly, he would've succeeded in killing Roosevelt. Roosevelt's running mate, John Nance Garner, who opposed the New Deal, would have been elected. Thus, if not for a wobbly chair, America wouldn't have survived the Great Depression.
- Boertlein 2010, pp. 48–49.
- Geoffrey Abbott (17 April 2007). What a Way to Go: The Guillotine, the Pendulum, the Thousand Cuts, the Spanish Donkey, and 66 Other Ways of Putting Someone to Death. St. Martin's Press. pp. 99–. ISBN 978-0-312-36656-8.
- McCann 2006, p. 70.
- Benzkofer, Stephen (February 10, 2013). "'Tell Chicago I'll pull through': In 1933, a bullet meant for FDR hit Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak instead". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved December 22, 2016.
- Miami History: Attempted Assassination of FDR in Bayfront Park
- Florida Department of Corrections: 1933-1935
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- An Assassin's Bullets for FDR, p. 14.
- Kass, John (2013-03-07). "Cermak's death offers lesson in Chicago Way". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2015-04-09.
Chicagoans don't believe in coincidences ... when coincidences involve Chicago politics and the Chicago Outfit
- Russo, Gus (2008). The Outfit: The Role of Chicago's Underworld in the Shaping of Modern America. Bloomsbury Publishing USA. pp. 92–96. ISBN 978-1596918979. Retrieved 2015-04-09.
- Touhy, John William (March 2002). "The Guns Of Zangara: Part Three of Three". AmericanMafia.com. Retrieved 2015-04-09.
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- Sifakis 1987.
- Bardhan-Quallen, Sudipta (2007). Franklin Delano Roosevelt: A National Hero. New York: Sterling Pub. Co. ISBN 978-1-4027-4747-2.
- Boertlein, John (2010). "A Little Luck for the President-Elect". Presidential Confidential: Sex, Scandal, Murder and Mayhem in the Oval Office. Clerisy Press. pp. 48–49. ISBN 978-1-57860-361-9.
- Davis, Kenneth S. (1994). FDR: The New York Years: 1928–1933.
- Dwyer, Jim, ed. (1989). "An Assassin's Bullets for FDR". Strange Stories, Amazing Facts of America's Past. Pleasantville, New York/Montreal: The Reader's Digest Association. p. 14. ISBN 978-0-89577-307-4.
- Freidel, Frank (1956). Franklin D. Roosevelt: The Triumph.
- Hernandez, Ernio (2004-03-24). "Assassins Shooting Gallery: Kuhn as Zangara and Cerveris as Booth". Playbill. Archived from the original on 2011-01-17. Retrieved 2011-06-22.
- McCann, Joseph T. (2006). "The Case of Giuseppe Zangara". Terrorism on American Soil: A Concise History of Plots and Perpetrators from the Famous to the Forgotten. Boulder: Sentient Publications. ISBN 978-1-59181-049-0.
- Picchi, Blaise (1998). The Five Weeks of Giuseppe Zangara: The Man Who Would Assassinate FDR.
- Shappee, Nathan D. (1958). "Zangara's Attempted Assassination of Franklin D. Roosevelt". Florida Historical Quarterly. 37 (2): 101–110. ISSN 0015-4113. argues he was insane
- Yanez, Luisa (2007-09-20). "Miami to be retold". The Miami Herald. ISSN 0898-865X.
- Sifakis, Carl (1987). The Mafia Encyclopedia. New York City: Facts on File. ISBN 978-0-8160-1856-7.
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