Anton J. Cermak – Unintentional Mayor Assassinated



By Adrian Naves




Anton Joseph Cermak


The month of February marks 91 years since the assassination of former Chicago mayor Anton Joseph Cermak. Born to a mining family in Kladno, Austria-Hungary (currently known as the Czech Republic), he immigrated to the U.S. with his parents in 1874. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Cermak celebrated his first birthday on Ellis Island.

He grew up in the town of Braidwood, Illinois. He followed in his father’s footsteps of working in coal mining in the Will and Grundy counties. At 16, he moved to Chicago and tended horses in the stables of Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. Throughout his early working years, Cermak added to his education by attending evening high school and business college classes.


Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak being sworn in to office on April 9, 1931.

Cermak became active in the political world, becoming a precinct captain and winning election to the Illinois House of Representatives, Chicago City Council, and Cook County Board, where he served as president. In 1931, Cermak won the mayoral election race and became mayor of Chicago. Every Chicago mayor since Cermak, has been a Democrat. Although his mayoral victory came at the height of the Great Depression, which had sowed a deep resentment to many Chicagoans with the increased violence from organized crime during the Prohibition era.


Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Anton Cermak in Chicago in 1932. Photo: DN-0104850, Chicago Sun-Times/Chicago Daily News collection, Chicago History Museum.

After Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s victory in the 1932 U.S. presidential election, Cermak went to visit the president-elect in Bayfront Park in Miami, Florida. On February 15, 1933, a man named Giuseppe Zangara had the intention of assassinating of then president-elect FDR, but he missed and instead ended up shooting Mayor Cermak. Cermak was shot in the lung and mortally wounded, FDR was unharmed throughout the ordeal – but Cermak suffered in a hospital for weeks before dying on March 6, 1933, two days after FDR’s inauguration. Zangara was executed two weeks later (Fun fact: Philip K. Dick’s novel The Man in the High Castle, creates a world in which Zangara successfully kills FDR, causing the Axis powers’ victory in World War II.).


The scene inside the mayor’s residence at 2348 South Millard Avenue as mourners file past the bronze casket holding Mayor Anton Cermak in March 1933. Thousands entered the home during the afternoon and evening.


Cermak reportedly said, a line that is engraved on his tomb, saying to Roosevelt, “I’m glad it was me, not you.” The Chicago Tribune reported the quote without accrediting it to a witness, and most scholars claim it was never said.

Anton J. Cermak is buried in the Bohemian National Cemetery at 5255 North Pulaski Avenue on the north side of Chicago. 22nd street, which goes through a number of former Czech populated areas of Pilsen, Little Village, Cicero, and Berwyn, were renamed Cermak Road.


54th/Cermak to Loop Pink Line sign. 



Boettiger, J. (1933, February 16). Maniac Fires on Roosevelt; Cermak Shot; Wound Grave.

Hautzinger, D. (2023, May 9). The 150th birthday of the Chicago mayor who was killed by a bullet meant for FDR. WTTW Chicago.