- Historic Sites
Incident In Miami
On a warm Florida evening in 1933 a madman with a pistol and a personality profile now all too familiar—“unskilled, unfriendly, unmoneyed, and unwell”—came within inches of altering the course of American history in one of its most critical moments
December 1980 | Volume 32, Issue 1
And all the way to the hospital, which was quite a long way, Roosevelt sat with his left arm around Cermak, holding the stricken man in what he knew to be the correct position for one who has suffered a chest injury (he had learned a good deal about anatomy, and about medical practice, during his long struggle to walk again), talking to him continuously, though at first he believed he was talking to a dead man, for while he talked he felt with his right hand for Cermak’s pulse and could find none. “For three blocks I believed his heart had stopped.” But then, suddenly, Cermak, who had been slumping limply in the seat, straightened up and began to breathe, and his pulse surged surprisingly strong under Roosevelt’s fingertips. Thereafter his pulse steadily improved. “Tony, keep quiet,” said Roosevelt. “Don’t move. It won’t hurt you if you keep quiet.” He went on to say confidently, over and over again, that everything was going to be all right, that Cermak was doing just fine, that they’d be at the hospital in only a few minutes (”… encouragement of that sort is often the thing which will save a man when he is near death from shock,” commented a nationally prominent surgeon to newsmen next day), until in fact they were there, at the emergency entrance of the Jackson Memorial Hospital. Cermak was rushed to the operating room.
Meanwhile, in Bay Front Park, the car in which Astor and Moley rode was immobilized for a time by the crowd surrounding it. Roosevelt had not seen and would never see the man who had done the shooting (”… the second time the car moved forward I saw a melee down on the ground and I assumed he [the gunman] was in that”); but Astor, Moley, and the others in their car soon saw him. Into their car, too, by that time, a wounded man had been taken—a young man, Russell Caldwell of Miami, aged twenty-two (so they later learned), who had a spent bullet imbedded in his forehead (the wound proved superficial) and whom Astor held in his lap. So when the gunman, who had had much of his clothing torn off him in the wild melee, was plucked from the ground and brought to that car by three burly policeman, there was no room for him inside. He was therefore thrown roughly across the trunk rack at the car’s rear, where two of the policemen sat on him while, slowly, the car forced its way through and finally clear of the crowd, then raced to the hospital. The third policeman made the trip on the car’s running board, Moley holding him there by his belt. From him Moley learned that each of the five shots fired had found a different victim: in addition to Cermak and Caldwell, two women and a man were wounded, the man being William (Bill) Sinnott, a New York policeman assigned to Roosevelt’s guard detail, a man with whom Moley was acquainted and with whom Roosevelt was personally friendly, as he was with all who closely served him. The ride seemed to Moley, as it had to Roosevelt, unconscionably long, but when it was ended he was immensely relieved to see Roosevelt coming out of the hospital on the arm of Gus Gennerich—a Roosevelt who appeared perfectly calm and was (Moley had not theretofore been absolutely certain of this) without the slightest injury.
There was a brief moment of alarm when one of the policemen who had been sitting on the gunman, swinging his legs down from the trunk rack, crumpled to the pavement, but the policeman at once made it clear that this was because his cramped position during the lengthy ride had denied circulating blood to his legs. Soon he was on his feet again and on his way with his colleagues and the arrested man to Miami’s skyscraper City Hall where the arrested man was booked—his name recorded as Giuseppe Zangara—and then taken to a cell in the city jail on the nineteenth floor.
Roosevelt, Moley, Astor, and the others who had come with them from the dock were escorted to a room at the rear of the hospital. There they remained for an hour or more waiting for word (it came to them at frequent intervals) of the condition of the shooting victims, all of whom were brought to this same hospital. They learned that, in addition to Cermak, two of the victims were in critical condition. One was Bill Sinnott, shot through the head; the other was Mrs. Joe H. Gill, wife of the president of the Florida Power and Light Company, shot through the abdomen. Slightly wounded, in addition to Caldwell, was a Miss Margaret Kruis, a visitor from New Jersey, shot through the hand. The Roosevelt party also, while they waited, pieced their separate impressions into a reasonably coherent if incomplete story of what had happened. And as they did so, Moley, whose constant habit it was to measure men against standards (his own, of course, and they were rigidly conventional), and whose curiosity about Roosevelt was naturally immense, watched the Presidentelect for signs of delayed nervous reaction, now that the danger was past and the need to maintain appearances diminished. He saw no such sign. There was no departure from a normal tone of voice and rhythm of speech as Roosevelt spoke his continuing belief that this gunman, this Zangara, who might well be (with a name like that) a Chicago gangster, had aimed to kill the mayor of Chicago, not the President-elect. Otherwise Zangara would have shot while Roosevelt was speaking, a perfect target atop the car seat.