The popular television show The Man in the High Castle was based on a Philip K. Dick book by the same name. And Dick, in turn, based his story on actual events from history. The narrative follows an imagined alternative timeline where an assassination attempt on FDR that actually happened was successful.
Franklin D. Roosevelt was very nearly killed on February 15th, 1933 by a man named Giuseppe Zangara. Zangara fired on FDR, then the president-elect, after he finished a speech in the Bayfront Park area of Miami. It was early evening. Roosevelt delivered his speech from the back of a touring car, as he was unable to stand at a podium due to polio. A few moments after his speech ended, Zangara fired six shots from a pistol.
His assassination attempt on FDR was unsuccessful but Zangara did kill Anton Cermak, mayor of Chicago, with a shot to the stomach. Four other people were also injured.
FDR’s bodyguards piled onto Zangara and began savagely beating him. He likely would have been beaten to death had FDR himself not intervened on his behalf. Roosevelt insisted that he be given a trial.
Eyewitness accounts claim that Zangara shouted “Too many people are starving” before he opened fire. At the time, the Great Depression was in full swing. Americans’ quality of life was dismally low, poverty was rampant and public anger fueled radical politics. Although Giuseppe Zangara was not formally a Communist or an Anarchist, he had a personal bias against “leaders of any kind.”
When the FBI investigated the case, Zangara claimed that he was driven to such extreme action by a problem with stomach pain.
Zangara got his trial and was briskly sentenced to death by electric chair. He was executed on March 20th. And his assassination attempt only galvanized FDR’s favorable image in the public eye. Reporters closely followed his comportment during and after the ordeal. His levelheaded reaction, charity towards Zangara and concern for Cermak strengthened his reputation as a good leader. Shortly after his brush with Zangara, FDR delivered his famous “nothing to fear but fear itself” address at his inauguration.
Giuseppe Zangara was born in Italy. He served in World War I and then worked as a menial laborer in his home village before moving to America in 1923. He lived in Paterson, New Jersey and worked as a bricklayer. The “chronic stomach pain” alibi may have been at least partially true. He suffered from adhesions of the gall bladder which caused him severe abdominal pain. The pain led to him experiencing delusions later in life. As his physical and mental health deteriorated, so did his ability to support himself.
During his trial, Giuseppe Zanga ra said, “I have the gun in my hand. I kill kings and presidents first and next all capitalists.”