In January 1933 two major historical events occurred. Adolf Hitler became the Chancellor of Germany and President-Elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the target of an attempted assassination. The third party in this historical drama was Mayor Anton Cermak, the 36th Mayor of the City of Chicago.
Anton Cermak is the only foreign born citizen who was elected as the Mayor of Chicago. The history of his life is important to the history of our nation. Born in Czechoslovakia in 1873, he came to Chicago in 1874. Cermak worked in coal mines and saloons before transforming himself into a respected businessman. After a career as State Legislature, Chicago Alderman and court bailiff and President of the Cook County Board of Commissioners he became the Democratic Party’s choice for Candidate of Mayor of the City of Chicago. The 1931 mayoral election saw Cermak take on “Big Bill” Thompson and win by a wide margin. Like Roosevelt who would be elected in 1931 and take office in 1932, both men would take office during the great depression.
An unknown immigrant would soon attempt to change the course of history. His name was Giuseppe Zangara with a ferocious hatred for politicians and their governments. He would soon alter the history of Chicago and almost the Presidency of the United States.
On February 15, 1933 Mayor Cermak went fishing in Miami on a yacht along with President-elect FDR. After a short speech, Roosevelt sat in the back seat of a convertible and motioned Cermak to sit at his side. (Interesting side note 31 years later President John F. Kennedy would sit in the back seat of a convertible in Dallas, Texas.) While in the car Zangara raised a handgun and began shooting. His target was President-Elect FDR.
The crowd collapsed on Zangara, wrestled the gun from his hand and began beating him. Mayor Cermak who was hit by the gunfire was rushed to the hospital in Roosevelt’s car. It was then he uttered his famous line, “I am glad it was me instead of you Mr. President”. Cermak died March 6 however, not only due to the bullet wound. His primary cause of death was noted as ulcerative colitis. Without this disease he may have survived.
The course of Chicago’s history was about to change. It has been recognized the Anton Cermak was the first ‘boss’ of the Democratic Party. Edward J. Kelly, President of the South Side Board was elected to succeed Cermak by the Democratic Party and the City Council. Kelly won his first full term and full charge of the Powerful Democratic machine Cermak had bequeathed him for another 12 years.
Now as for FDR, had he been assassinated Vice President-elect John Garner of Texas would have become the 32nd President of the United States. Trying to envision history of the United States during the turbulent period of the rise of Nazism would be almost impossible to comprehend. And as for Mayor Cermak, one of his successors would be Mayor Richard J. Daley who would be the new ‘boss’ of the Democratic Party.
So when you drive along Cermak Road you are driving into history. We are all thankful to him for saving President-Elect FDR’s life and allowed us to experience one of the greatest Presidents of the United States of America. And one more side note Cermak Road (for the old timers) was 22nd Street.
Many thanks to the archives of the Chicago Tribune that contributed to this slice of American history.
Memories light the corners of my mind. Mayor Cermak has added his name to my memories.