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This Week in Illinois History: Chicago Mayor killed by assassin (March 6, 1933)

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Sammy Schulman
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Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak is assisted to Roosevelt’s car after being shot by Giuseppe Zangara.

On March 6, 1933, Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak died from wounds sustained in an assassination attempt. He had been in Miami, visiting President-elect Franklin Roosevelt, when the assassin opened fire. Cermak and four others were hit. Roosevelt escaped unharmed.

Anton Cermak was born in 1873 in Austria-Hungary, in what is now the Czech Republic. His family emigrated to the United States in 1974 and settled in Braidwood, Illinois. Young Cermak left school to work in a coal mine. As a teenager, he moved to Chicago and worked odd jobs while attending night school. At 29, he was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives.

Cermak held several elected positions in Chicago and ran a failed campaign for US Senate in 1928. In 1931, he became Chicago’s first foreign-born mayor after campaigning to end corruption and stand up to criminals like Al Capone who had profited off a decade of prohibition. Cermak had strong support from immigrants, who had long felt ignored by Chicago’s political elite.

On February 15, 1933, Cermak joined recently elected Franklin Roosevelt for a speech in Miami, Florida. Cermak had just shaken Roosevelt’s hand when Italian immigrant Giuseppe Zangara opened fire on the President-elect. Zangara, who was five feet tall, had to stand on a chair to aim over the crown. A bystander hit Zangara’s arm, knocking off his aim as he fired four more shots.

Cermak was hit in the chest, the bullet piercing his lung. Roosevelt, unharmed, held Cermak as they were rushed to the hospital. Cermak allegedly said, “I’m glad it was me, not you.” The statement is engraved on his tomb. He succumbed to his injury March 6.

Chicago honored Cermak by renaming one of its major east-west arteries Cermak Road. The road was chosen because it connected neighborhoods with large immigrant populations.

Clint Cargile is the host of This Week in Illinois History and the creator and host of the podcast Drinkin’ with Lincoln.
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