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Recollections on President Elect Franklin D. Roosevelt Attempted Assassination
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TitleRecollections on President Elect Franklin D. Roosevelt Attempted Assassination
CreatorVincent Astor
ContributorsSidney Shalett
DescriptionThe transcript of Astor's interview with Sidney Shalett concerning Giuseppe Zangara's attempted assassination of FDR in Miami on February 15, 1933.
NotesPresident Roosevelt arrived in Miami aboard Astor's yacht Nourmahal after his first of five cruises aboard the ship. The interview was conducted in the library of Astor Courts. Following Astor's recollections of Zangara's attempted assassination he offers some general comments about his relationship with FDR.
Subject.lcshRoosevelt, Franklin D. (Franklin Delano), 1882-1945
Astor, Vincent, 1891-1959
Shalett, Sidney, 1911-1965
Zangara, Giuseppe, 1900-1933
Personal NameVincent Astor
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Giuseppe Zangara
LocationRhinebeck - New York
Miami - Florida
HRVH TopicsPresidents & Politicians
Resource TypeText
SourceOral History Interviews. Box: 1. Folder: Shalett, Sidney - Interview with Vincent Astor Regarding the Attempted Assassination of Franklin D. Roosevelt
Resource IdentifierC-OralHistoryInterviews_Sidney_Shalett_Interview_VA_FDR_Assassination_Attempt_10-18-1958.pdf
Publisher.DigitalFranklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum
Holding InstitutionFranklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum
Contact Information4079 Albany Post Road
Hyde Park, NY 12538
Transcript! (i :Y -Ge~~,·fr(74f~ \;4-e { \~ Reel B, Side l l / October 18, 1958 J.f?. 77 ;5 ~ /of ' _?'Ji_ - ~ _./jμ//~(fs-j; This is ·Sidney Slr:Jrtle-tt and I'm in the library of Fernoliff with Captain Vincent Astor who witnessed the attempted assassination • of President Roosevelt in Miami by G-μ1.seppf Zctngara. Tho full details of Mr. Astor's story never have been recorded completely and we're going to just chat informally and get them down here. I 1d like you to pick it up now please, sir. Vincent Astor a You might perhaps remember, we '"re talking of 26 years ago, or almost that long ago, and I cannot guarantee ' the complete e.oouraoy ot .my story, but I believe it tQ be :sub-stantially correct. President-elect Roosevelt arrived in Miami on my ship, Feb. 15, 1933. SS: 'l!hie was the Nourmahal? VA: T_):ie Nourma.hal. It was 1n mid-afternoon and shor.tly after tying up. to the pier, we were .. boarded by various ori'icials. I.f I remember corre.otly, the Governor or Florida, the Mayor of Miami and others. An American Legion convention was in session in Miami at the time and arrangements were made by the looal officials tor President Roosevelt to drive over to the soene or the convention in a public Miami park ·and there g1ve a short address. It was also arranged that he would be picked up, again if I I'emember oorreotly, by the Governor of Florida and the Mayor of Miami, who also had arranged fpr several additional oars to " come to the pier and pick up the remaining members of the party. As arranged, after an early supper. we started out for the public park where the convention had been meeting. The President drove in the first oar and in the second oar were Raymond· Moley. sub­sequently to be appointed Under Secretary of State, Kermit · Ro?aevelt, a son of Theodore Roosevelt, Will. Stewart ••• Reel B, Side l SS and VA 2 SSa We had to hold this the1•e--yoursel.f, Stewart, Kermit Roosevelt and Ray Moley. V~: And Ray Moley. Ray Moloy was sitting in the back seat, right side, I was sitting in the back aaat, left sida,· and Kermit Roosevalt was between us. As we approached the entrance to the park, Mr·. Mol.-,y said, "This kind of thing ~cares me to death. The possibility of presidential assassination is very great. How can the Secret Service possibly proteat any man with the crowds pressing in on each sida er tile roadway so closely?" His. remarks were slightly heightened by the !'aat that in those days :flash­lights were still being used of the magn$s1um type which made a distinct popping noise . aomewha:t similar to a low powered pistol. However, a~l went well. The President's oar pulled up to the small plattorm wher·e a microphone had been ins·talled. The President sat on the back of his open oar in order that he could be seen and a microphone was handed to him. Ris entire address dici not last over one and a half to two mirru.tes, which pr.obably saved his lif'e. lie then sat down, the car prepared to move off and as 1 t did so a figure of a man a.ppr-oached, at tamp ting to pass betwl!en tl::-ie rear of the l'reside.nt' s car and the front of the car which I was occupying. As he ild so, I saw s. large spot of brown rather tr1an rsd color spread on his ahir·t. He staggered conspicuously ar•d noticeably. 'l'he door of tha Prasident 'a car wa& thrown opsn and the individual whoae identity I did not at that time know was .dragged into the car. At the same time a gree. t commotion occurred to our right. '.1.1he first thing that I saw was a Secret Service man, who l recognized by sight, go up and punch in the nose a certainly entirely har:ailess spectator. I Reel B, Side l SS and VA 3 VAr A fight then seemed to break out on the ground which was difficult to determine. Ray Moley said, "I think the Secret Service are going crazy." A few seconds later there was a tremendous noise on the back of our oar. We looked behind and Ray .Moley ·aaid, 11These are cops and I think they are trying to smash in the back or our car." Kermit Roosevelt and .I said, "That doesn't seem very likely. Why should they smash i~ the back of our car? We're with the Presidential party." · Ray said, nwell, I think they are."· At that point the President's .oar drove off and I had aeen the wounded man pulled into the President's car. Meanwhile three or four other wounded people were staggering in the vicinity or our car, one of whom we pulled in. SS: Oh, .you took in a wounded spectfitor. ,...t._ VA1 We took,._in and I sat him on my lap. He was ·the chauffeur or somebody's car and had nothing to do with o:ur party. ,. He was merely a spectator. I said to the driver of our ~ar, "Follow the President's car as fast as you oan and don't lose it." He .did his best and in so doing managed to t'oul the render of our oar against the post o.r the exit gate with the result that we were brought up hard. This required a certain amount of backing and filling to get clear. Meanwhile, looking behind, I could still see two or three mysterious policemen crouching on the back or our oar and supported by the rear bumper and the spare tire which was there. SS: Wasn't there a large trunk rack on the car? VA: There waa, I think, a large trunk raok too. We pro­ceeded to follow the President's car but due to the delay of Reel B, Side l SS and VA 4 VA: running into the post we had lost it and we were all greatly distUI·bed by hes.ring shouts from the people in the street, asking ha6 the President been shot and killed. This determined us to go to the hosp! tal, b-a.t of course we did not know the hospital for which the :I resident w~s bound. How$ver, we lil.ssum~d it would. be t~e nea1•f)st ·one and wei therefore directed the driver to go to the !J.earest one, which he did. ..It turned out to . be oori·ect--the hospi ta.l. As "'e got ou t of the car, I beii~ particularly anxious to get into the ho~pital to discover whether th!i :Pr~sid~nt had been shot, l waa astonished to see the two 01• three police peel off from the ·back of the oar and under them appeared a ·small arm and wrist shackled to some part of the ·back_ of the oar • . This turned out to be the assassin Zingara and tha poli~e in soma way of which 1 nave no knowledge then transported him to the County ' Jail. SS; Not in yoi.lI' oar. VA: .Not in our oar. How they go·t hiln ort, I don't know. I then went into tha hospital and the tirst individual I saw was the :Presiden·t; obviously 1n good h~al th, entirely .uninjured, rather staggering along as he did with his crutches, etc., but completely uninjured. llis l'irst and sole ooncern was :for Mayor CeR,,,,qt( 1. had not , 3w•mao, the Mayor of Ohioago, whose identity/up to that moment ·. learned. The President said ·he would :rel!laln there until he C..e.A111t~ discovered how sa1•ioualy injured S't:l:'f"tna'C was. I said, 11Don' t you think you had better give out a statement in view of the rumors in the street)' Give out a statement to both the AP or any other newp service and to .Mrs. Roosevelt saying that you okay." \ £1.e said, ttYour. mind, Vinc~nt, work.a very ,slowly, I did that three , I l·l\ j ' Reel B, Side 1 SS and VA VA: minutes ago." That's the end of that atory. SS: He had called Mrs. Roosevelt. 5 VA: He had called her and had sent a message to .the AP. SS: Let me ask you about a little fine point that you may have skipped in here. Didn't the President finish ahead ·or schedule and that someone--well, you know what I'm referring to? VA: The President, I think, did finish ahead ~r schedule and his address was much shorter than had been expected. As a result the sound people . had not picked up any .or it • . They therefore said, "Flease, Mr. President, repeat what you just have. said." SS: This is for the radio network. VA: This is for radio or what have you. The rresiden~, I think, looke~ .1rritated--I was not in the car ·with him--and waved them off. That unquestionably saved his life. SS: Or he would have been held there. VA: Or I think he would have been held there and undoubtedly ro~-..ltt__ ~ hit instead of ~--ao, or in addition to Sl.lPmao. What 'about the faot that Z4ngara was so inaccurate? I think that's interesting. SS: Yes. Well, .he wasn't familiar, as I've read 1t,w1th guns too well. Of course he ·shot five times and hit five people. which VA: Shot five times and also hit five people, )Ill% you couldn't have avqided doing because there was a great press of people. He had a very small 32 caliber pistol with very ahort cartridges which had very little penetration. He was also a very short, small man. ~he crowd was much bigger than had been expected. The seats consisted of small camp stoola, canvas and · of a fol41ng type.In order to accommodate more people th• camp Reel B, Side l SS and VA 6 VA: stools were separated by two or three feet and planks put ovor them wliich made them somewhat shaky since three or four or five people were sitting on stools intended for the weight of t ·wCJ people. Z4.nsat'ti was extl'emely s.u&ll and couldn • t see over the crowd of people. ifo was very short and therefore ·.climbed . up on tho plank ·11hich was shaky and undoubtE dly put . his aim off. SS: I think you did mention that someone in - t~e car said they 'rt t1·yin6 to ce.psiz~ our car. VA: ~'hat was Ray Moley. His first impression was--he said, "Why the police az·e trying to capsize ouz• car. tt It all seemed extraordinary. F11·st thf) .t'it;ht in the crowd, tl:le Secret Service man punching a man in the nose--the raa.son be did it was the Secz·e~ Ser".:ice man saw ZA.ngara with a gun. ·Th& po~r fellow who get' his nose :punched mer·ely happened to be in the. way ·and · the Secret Service man in his hurry to get to Zctngara and grab the gun had to knook out the fellow who was in his way • . SS: Wasn't there an inoident on your way there where the cops began banging on the window and you thought 'they were going to break it? VA: Xas, l .forgot that. On our way the oops banged . on the \f.indow a11d sald stop, so we stopped. SS: With a pistol butt, wasn't it? VA: l think so, anyway that's the impression it made. One of them. had ta.ken his gun out of the holster and was banging on the window with the butt. So we got out and said what•s it all about? And they aaid, "i1hat 's the way to the jail." . We said, "Wa don't want to go to . the jail. '1 They said, '~ Oh yeah, you 're · going to jail.11 110h no,n we .said • .Moley was the senior man in . • .·, . Reel B, Side l SS and VA 7 VA: the party ar.d he aa1d, "Oh no, we're not. We're going to the hospital." So they said, "Okay, you can go to the hospital" and they allowed us to go to the hospital. With a little pro­fanity. ssa 11~,Y.et_ Then Dr. BJ4ernad a harrowing experience too, didn't he? VA: . -JI~ . Yes, Dr. ~ missed . the cars, so he found himself alone on the ship exoept tor the crew and he wanted to see the President and hear him speak.· Furthermore he was the President's doctor tor the time being, 80 he started orr, picked up a cab, got as near to the plaoe where the President was to speak as he could in the cab, which was not very near because the roads were closed ott, and he then got out and proce~ded to run ·through . the park. He was ~oon hailed by some veterans who · •~re doing guard duty in there and told to atop. He shouted. back that he couldn't atop, that he had to tind th~ President immediately and was apprehended by the two veterans, who I believe turned him over to .the nearest polioeman they could find. The cop took him right up to the County jail on top of the Miami municipal sky­scraper where they threw him. into a cell. Nobody gave him any ohanoe to explain anything 1n spite of the fact that he kept saying that he was the President's physician. Nobody believed ., that. After quite a while a sack was brought 1n and dumpe~ out on the floor and in the saok was Z:i.ngara. One of the officers who had this sack with Zlngara bad in his side coat pocket a late evening paper with a picture of ua all arriving in Miami and Les Hyder r~oognized his own photograph. So he said, "Here, .Lieutenant, will you please look at that photograph and see if Reel B, Side l SS and VA 8 VA: I'm J;•~ t&lling the truth or not?" So the Lieutenant ll~'fet_ opened v.p the pa.per and of course recognized Les Hyder standing next to the President. Then he was immediately released and, I think, as.sis teci at the opera:tion on Serms14, which did not succeed. 11.'. A ~ber·e is Dr. H1d19r now? VAz He's in Mobile and a leading obstetrician~ SSz Captairi, there' .s one little point I wanted to aak you ti."J.ere. How we.a the Pre:sident '.s demeano~f Waa he calm, .flusterec;t or what? Ro-.v did he conduct himself? VA: The President's calmneaa was to m~ incredible and I tnink that's i~lustr·ated by the fact wr.~n 1 said to him hadn't he better· communicate with some pr·ess association and wl th wife •.•• SS: I think you called her Cousin .Eleanor, didn't you? VA a Cousin :R;lea:cior·-- he said, "I:our brain works quite alowly, Vincent. I did that~nutos ar;o.• And h& was completely calm. ~A Ot#-\ 4c.J{f-1._ ..z SS: Waa he soiled at a1i\ 11 9 ry wound? VA: I think h~ had been, but I think they had given him a new coat. lie had a white linen coat on and h~ told me that he held Surmao in his lap and he knew~c~was in a bad way because he had lost his pulse before they go·t to the hospital. I pe:r-e onally saw no blood, but I think the reaeon the orowd thought the President ha.d been shot was they saw blood on his coat, but that l don't know of my own knowledge. SSi Well, it was ~ very terrifying thing all in all, wasn't . it? VAs It certainly waa. It was extraordinary because you don't Reel B, Side l SS and VA 9 VA: expect to see police begin clamoring all over the back of an official oar in an off ioial parade so to speak and I think the most astonishing thing was to see the Secret Service man wade in and hit an obviously innocuous p•x••• citizen smash on the face and see the blood squirt out, which it did--and without knowing the reason. I think it also demonstrates the frailty of human witnesses. There we were within 15 feet and we didn't see what was happening. SS: ~ . Would you oare to comment just a little bit on the President as a sailing companion? As I have gotten the picture, he was completely relaxed and quite delightful aboard. VAa The President was completely relaxed, Mr. Shalett, ~.nd I think he let his sense or humor go muoh further than .1t would under normal ~1roumatanoea, official ciroumstanoes ot the Whi~e House. Nay I tell you a story, a very brief one, about the joke he played. Well, the Nourmahal like many ships at sea printed a small morning "newspaper". It wasn't really a paper, it was just a half dozen sheets ot typ!ng--typewriting with carbon cop1ea-­and the news or course was very abbreviated. It came by radio and consisted mostly of single paragraphs. The President thought up the idea of oooasionally adding a paragraph of his own. On one occasion he came forth with a paragraph which shocked at least one member of our group. The substance of it was that the Supreme Court had brought out a ruling condemning all quickie divorces in the United States isaued by certain of our states, that they were all canceled and ordering the respective husban~s and wives who had been separated to return immediately to their · mates. One of our party had in fact been divorced by his wife .·. Reel B, Side 1 SS and VA 10 VA: and I think he waa contemplating remarriage to a charming lady and he was most unhappy and he was so unhappy that by this time the President laughed, slapped him on the back and said, "Forget it, it's all made up. 11 . · l(e11uo~""'- ssi Then he gave Judge .1'ern1ga-n a bad time, didn't he? VA: He gave Judge Kernfs~a bad time when he wrote up-- · I can't remember all the deta1ls--but anyway apparently all the , le~fi~~ . . .· Court decisions of the Oourt of Judge an were "entirely erroneous and the whole thing was thrown .out and his 'court would . . have to be investigated by the Bar Association and the Supreme Court of N. ·Y. state and the thing was a mess and Judge Kerndss4~ bit completely and was furious and wanted to re\urn iillmediately .to Albany and find out what it was all about. And aga~n he had .. . to pe told 'to forget it. · SS: Which cruise was this? VAz I forget which cruise. ssi The President wrote these in his own handwriting ••• VA: The President wrote them in his own handwriting and to my shame I've lost them. I had them all and he wrote many of ..J · ' ' ........ .... -- ._ .• .: . , ~' them, many not typed. I'm sure they weren't lost, I think they were borrowed by somebody and some day 100 years from now . they may turn up--and they will make rather singular reading. SS: You don't even have the ship news? VAs I have none or the ship news, no, none of that. Can I tell one other story? SS: Oh yes, please do. VAz The President asked me to open and read all radio messages addressed to him and if ther. ·rere impor~ant to immediately Reel B, Side l SS and VA: ll VA: call them to his attention, otherwise to let them go until he was prepared to do some work. On one occasion I received a radio addressed to ·the President-elect, I should say, the .contents of which seemed to be neither important--well, not important--and I therefore didn't disturb the President who was shaving and taking a bath. After ·he waa finished, I brought it in to him and I said, "Here is a radio message marked ur8ent ppiority, top priority, and I don't see it." The President read it and the 11 substance of ·the ~asage waa--We definitely a~ter long study have decided to recommend wooden roof to a slass roof on proposed ic swimming pool. I aaid to the President, "That doesn't sound very urgent to me, ·so I didn't wake you... He said, "Well, ·it is urgent. ll!thin the next few hour a I've got to ~eoide ,whe'ther to . ' appoint Senato,r Oarter G~ass or William H. Wood•n as Secretary or the Treasury.". I think it's quite a good etory, don't you? SS: I think it's delightful, yes. VA: or course it had me oont'used. It didn't seem at all urgent about proposed new swimming pool. SS: I don't think the stol.'y , tb~t ~11 ... · ooμneoted w1 th the little doownent just in front of you has ever been told. VA: No, it hasn't. SS; I think what we're looking at 1s a program, Divine \ Services, Easter, April J, 1934, autographed to you. VA: Autographed to me to put in the log of the Nourms.hal and signed Franklin Roosevelt. We were on a cruise in the Bahama Islands and escorted by two new u. s. Navy destroyers and a British light cruiser delegated for that purpose. The President · told me he wished a quiet, calm and seoure anchorage for Easter Reel D, Side 1 SS and VA 12 VAs morning, so I picked out with his approval an island known on American charts as Rum Key, I believe otherwise known as San Salvador. On that Easter Sunday morning the President had a signal hoisted inviting all officers and crew of the two Navy destroyers and of ·the British light cruiser to come .aboard for divine services. He then produo~d a large number -of little folde~a, of which I still possess one, entitled Div~ne Service; Easter, l April 1934. The entire service was conducted by the President and the music supplied by volunteer from our crew, who perhaps was not the beet musician. Furthermore the President preached a very nice apeech--nice is an inadequate word--po1nt1ng · out that we were anchored in the island where Columbus had tirst discovered Amerioe, a.nd that Columbus had only arri~ed the·re through his be.lief in Divine guidance and had persevered though his crew had threatened mutiny at various times and that we should continue to be guided by our own confidence in the Suprem~ Being, etc. The President later told me this was the first service that . he had conducted completely by himself and preached the sermon. A record for him. He had read lessons before on the Church but never preached the entire &er.vice. SS& There's a very good story that ties into that that I learned from Rector Wilson, whom I'm sure you remember. He was · taken down with appendicitis once suddenly when the President was Governor and the President telephoned down (it's never been printed) to volunteer to take over the eleven o'clock Saturday servioeQ and Mr • . Wilson not wanting to bother him said, "No, I wouldn't dream .9f imposing on you, 1 111 make arrangements with ·so-and-so, a retired Rector somewhere around." And the President \ -. Reel B, Side l SS and VA 13 SS: seemed disappointed and then as he told it to me, I mentioned to Mr. Wilson that he should have l~t him done it. The President obviously wanted to and he just up and· said-- ' actually said--"Damn it, I should have let him done it ... VA: You see, this is at'ter he was Governor Ji~~ bany • . This is in 1934, so it's quite a lot later than that. · . ' ~. i"
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