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Mug shot 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 Zangara (September 7, 1900 – March 20, 1933) was the assassin of Chicago mayor Anton Cermak, though United States President–elect Franklin D. Roosevelt may have been his intended target. Roosevelt escaped injury, but five people were shot including Cermak.
Zangara was born in Ferruzzano, Calabria, Italy. After serving in the Tyrolean Alps in World War I, Zangara 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 on September 11, 1929, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States.
Physical health problems
Zangara, a poorly educated bricklayer, suffered severe pain in his abdomen, later attributed to adhesions of the gall bladder, possibly originating from an appendectomy performed in 1926. These adhesions were later cited as a cause for his increasing mental delusions. It became increasingly difficult for him to work due to both his physical and mental conditions.
On February 15, 1933, Roosevelt was giving an impromptu speech from the back of an open car in the Bayfront Park area of Miami, Florida, where Zangara was living, 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, being 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. En route to the hospital, Cermak allegedly told FDR, "I'm glad it was me instead of you," words now inscribed on a plaque in Bayfront Park.
In the Dade County Courthouse jail, Zangara confessed 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, aware that Cermak might not survive his wounds, replied: “Maybe there will be more later.”
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. In that case, he would still be guilty of 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!” 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, Florida. Zangara became enraged when he learned no newsreel cameras would be filming his final moments. Zangara's final statement was "Viva Italia! Goodbye to all poor peoples everywhere! [...] 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
Zangara was played by Eddie Korbich in the original Off-Broadway production of Assassins by Stephen Sondheim. 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 a gaffe 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 (fictionalised) attempt in Chicago which is foiled by Ness & 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. 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, and Roosevelt's running mate, who opposed the New Deal, would have been elected; therefore, if not for a wobbly chair, America wouldn't have survived the Great Depression.
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Chicagoans don't believe in coincidences ... when coincidences involve Chicago politics and the Chicago Outfit
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