75 years ago, on Feb 15, 1933, an Italian US citizen by the name of Giuseppe Zangara stood on a bench to aim at then-President-Elect Franklin D Roosevelt. Unfortunately for Zangara, and fortunately for much of the rest of humanity, at the other side of the bench there was a woman by the name of Lillian Cross standing already.
As Zangara’s movements made her risk to fall, Mrs Cross “turned around and said “Don’t to that”…Just then [she] saw the pistol“.
Determined to stop Zangara, Lillian Cross managed to “[force] the would-be assassin shooting arm upwards“.
The end result was a healthy FDR ready to take on the Presidency in 3 weeks’ time, to enable welfare reform if not its foundation, to get the USA on the path towards recovery from the 1929 crisis, to get re-elected for a record 3 times, and to push a reluctant nation towards supporting Britain against the Nazis and then to a full-scale victorious war on two faraway fronts.
Mrs Cross died in 1962 at the age of 78. Had she been heavier than her 100-pound body frame, perhaps she would not have noticed Zangara’s hand soon enough.
This is of course the stuff of sci-fi and alternative universes, and no less than Philip K Dick has visited this episode, twice in fact.
A curious side story: among the wounded that day, Detective William Sinnott (on holiday in Florida), with a bullet in his head. Described as an “old friend” by FDR in a Feb 17, 1933 message, Sinnott was back at work in New York on April 8, that is only 52 days later, 4 days after leaving hospital.
Sinnott, who died in 1965, received a Congressional Gold Medal in 1940, although his exact role in saving the President is not clear.
Mrs Lillian Cross has received no Medal, as far as I know. She does not even have her own Wikipedia page…
Zangara died on the electric chair on March 20, 1933 (33 days after the incident…as they say, the past really is a different country…), as Chicago mayor Anton Cermak died on March 6 due to complications having received one of Zangara’s bullets in his chest.
SOURCES FROM THE ARCHIVES OF THE NEW YORK TIMES
(1) Assassin shoots 5 times; police and bystanders leap for him and take him prisoner. Accomplice taken later cermak and new york officer, rushed to hospital — now in serious condition. Roosevelt delays trip had been warmly welcomed and intended to start for north at once. Shooting at miami causes profound sensation in the national capital
By james a. Hagerty.special to the New York Times.
February 16, 1933, thursday
(2) Woman diverted aim of assassin; 100-pound wife of miami doctor tells how she forced up. Man’s arm. Held on during shooting gun had been pointed “right at mr. Roosevelt” 15 feet away, she relates. Woman diverted aim of assassin
February 16, 1933, Thursday
(3) Messages sent to victims.
February 17, 1933, Friday
(4) Policeman, shot by Zangara, back.
April 8, 1933, Saturday
(5) Woman who saved Roosevelt from assassination is buried; incident is recalled
November 11, 1962, Sunday