Little Bits of History

Pusha da Button!

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 20, 2014
Giuseppe Zangara

Giuseppe Zangara

March 20, 1933: Giuseppe Zangara dies in the electric chair. Zangara was born in 1900 in Ferruzzano, Calabria, Kingdom of Italy. He served in the Tyrolean Alps during World War I. After the war he moved back to his village where he held several menial jobs. He immigrated to the US in 1923 meeting with his uncle who had already relocated. He became a naturalized citizen in 1929. He was, by occupation, a bricklayer. However, he complained of continuous abdominal pains after having an appendectomy in 1926. Adhesions are presumed to be the cause of the pain and in some fashion are also implicated into Zangara’s spiral into madness.

Zangara’s employment was sketchy and he moved from New Jersey to Florida and settled in Miami. On February 15, 1933 Franklin D. Roosevelt gave on impromptu speech from the back of an open car near Bayfront Park. The mostly unemployed Zangara took the opportunity to make an assassination attempt against the President. He came to the park with a .32 caliber pistol he had gotten from a pawn shop. He had to stand on a metal folding chair to see over the crowds as he was only five feet tall. He took aim and shot. Nearby spectators grabbed at him but he was able to get four more shots off before he was subdued. He injured five people included Chicago mayor Anton Cermak who was standing next to Roosevelt.

Zangara immediately confessed to the shootings and stated, “I have the gun in my hand. I kill kings and presidents first and next all capitalists.” He pled guilty and was sentenced to 80 years in prison. Nineteen days later, on March 6, Cermak died from his wounds and the charge was increased to first-degree murder and the sentence was changed to the death sentence. Usually inmates sentenced to death were kept apart from other inmates but on this occasion, another prisoner was already awaiting his date with Old Sparky. The Death Cell became Death Row. On the way to electric chair, on this day, Zangara was once again verbose, “Viva Italia! Goodbye to all poor peoples everywhere! […] Pusha da button!”

It is unclear as to whether or not Cermak was the real target. It is assumed that Roosevelt was the person Zangara was aiming for, but he was noted as an expert marksman in the Italian Army and he should have been able to hit his target. However, that classification was with a rifle and not the pistol he was using. There are reasons that Cermak could have been the intended target since Chicago was having difficulties with crime, especially from Frank Nitti – head of the Chicago Outfit (the city’s largest organized crime syndicate). It is also speculated that Cermak was the target because he was associated the Outfit’s rivals.

One kills a man, one is an assassin; one kills millions, one is a conqueror; one kills everybody, one is a god. – Jean Rostand

The weapon of the advocate is the sword of the soldier, not the dagger of the assassin. – Alexander Cockburn

It is true that I have not come on the Mayflower, but I came as fast as I could. – Anton Cermak

I’m glad it was me instead of you. – Anton Cermak’s alleged words to Franklin Roosevelt after he was shot.

Also on this day: Shoes – In 1885, Jan Matzeliger patented a shoe lasting machine.
Martha Place – In 1899, Martha was the first woman to be executed via the electric chair.
Iditarod Winner – In  1985, the first woman won the Iditarod.
Blue, Lots of Blue – In 1922, the US launched the first aircraft carrier.

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