Some assassinations have become seared on our collective consciousness: the killing of JFK in Dallas in 1963, or the murder of Martin Luther King soon afterwards. And anyone with even the most cursory interest in history will know all about the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln or, going even further back in history, the slaying of Julius Caesar.
But what of those assassinations that made shockwaves at the time, but have been largely forgotten? There are countless examples where prominent individuals have been killed for political purposes but who don’t really appear in our history books. So, from Presidents to Prime Ministers, Senators to medieval diplomats, here we present 18 assassinations you might never have heard of:
1. Anton Cermak: The Chicago Mayor who took an assassin’s bullet for FDR
It was in his capacity as Mayor that Anton Cermak welcomed President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt to Chicago on February 15, 1933. At the very moment the two men were shaking hands, Guiseppe Zangara pushed his way through the crowds with a gun in his hand. He took aim and pulled the trigger. At the exact moment he went to fire his pistol, a lady in the crowd by the name of Lilian Cross, saw the danger. She used her purse to hit Zangara on the arm. His shot went wide. The bullet hit Cermak instead of Roosevelt.
The Mayor was rushed to hospital, fighting for his life. Roosevelt came to visit him on his deathbed. According to the legend, Cermak told FDR: “I’m glad it was me instead of you.” To this day, historians debate whether he actually muttered those words (the general consensus is that he did not). But still, they are engraved on Cermak’s tombstone and the man is widely remembered as the man who took a bullet for one of America’s great leaders.
Some scholars, however, have argued that Cermak was indeed the real target that day. The assassin Zangara claimed after the event that his only real motivation was his hatred for the rich and powerful. However, given Cermak’s campaign against organized crime in the city, it’s reasonable to assume he had made his fair share of enemies in the Chicago underworld. Above all, Cermak’s efforts to enforce prohibition not only made him unpopular with many ordinary Chicago folk, it also made him an enemy of Al Capone.
Whether or not he was the intended target or if he did indeed save FDR’s life that winter’s day, Cermak has largely been forgotten, at least outside of Chicago. Zangara was executed by electric chair the following month, while Roosevelt would, of course, go on to serve an historic four terms of President, leading the United States through the Great Depression and then through the Second World War.