FDR saved in Miami.
When Franklin D Roosevelt was elected to office he planned to relax a little before his inauguration. That was to take place in March 1933 so the month before, he accepted an invitation to go on a fishing trip to South Florida.
Eleven days into the trip the yacht he was on, the Nourmahal, docked in pier one at Miami harbour. Roosevelt planned to speak briefly in Bayfront Park to which he travelled in an open car.
Security was tight. In addition to the president-elect’s private bodyguards sixty Miami police were detailed to be present in the park with a hundred more on the route of the motorcade. There were also six secret service men.
Lillian was the wife of a Miami physician and she went to Bayfront Park that day to see Roosevelt’s speech. Roosevelt spoke for just a few minutes, then settled back into his chauffeur driven car. Lillian was sitting on a bench during the address and climbed to stand on it so that she could see Roosevelt better when he sat in the vehicle.
A man who had also been sitting on the bench followed suit. Lillian was concerned because the bench was one of the folding type that could easily have collapsed.She turned to the man and said ‘please stand still; you’re about to knock me off the bench.’
Then she noticed that the man had a gun
Lillian shouted out ‘Oh my god, he’s going to kill Mr Roosevelt’ but at the same time she grabbed his arm and twisted it upwards. In the car, Roosevelt heard the first shot and imagined it to be a firecracker. But when a further four shots were fired it was obvious that the sound was pistol fire.
Accompanying Roosevelt, and on the running board of the car at the time of the shots was Chicago mayor, Anton Cermak. At the sound of the first shot, spectators saw him fall to the ground. FDR was unscathed but Cermak had caught a bullet. Four other spectators were also hit.
Lillian Cross did indeed fall from the bench when it was stampeded by police and spectators attempting to catch the would-be assassin, Guiseppe Zangara. Zangara was a small man of just over five feet tall and an immigrant from Italy.
The people who had seen him fire the gun were baying for the armed police to him him immediately but allegedly Roosevelt shouted to them that he had not been hurt and that they were to leave the gunman to be dealt with by the police.
Zangara talked right away. He said that he objected to the rich and powerful and that was his motivation. He hated all wealthy people, he explained. He was an unemployed bricklayer and had recently left the poverty of his homeland to experience further hardships in the USA.
Professionals who studied the events of that day in Bayfront Park agree that without doubt, Roosevelt’s life had been saved by Lillian Cross. It’s interesting to note that even though Zangara was a small man, Lillian Cross was positively tiny – she weighed just under one hundred pounds.
Anton Cermak died as a result of the gunshot wound he had received. Now guilty of murder, Zangara was sent to the electric chair five weeks after the presidential assassination attempt. But Roosevelt had not forgotten that he owed his life to the little Miami housewife.
The New Deal
For months after Zangara had been sent to the chair, FDR introduced the New Deal, a proposal to help millions of Americans who had been rendered penniless by the Great Depression. It was proposed that Lillian Cross should be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The resolution read:
‘Thanks and grateful appreciation to Mrs W. F. Cross of Miami for her role in making it possible for a stricken America to benefit from the New Deal.’
Coincidentally, when Lillian died aged 78 in 1965, she was buried on the same day as Eleanor Roosevelt, the late president’s widow.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR