Lifestyle

Paul Kanjorski: Shots Fired in the Capitol Building

On Puerto Rican Nationalists’ 1954 Shooting
By Diane Giles

On March 1, 1954, four Puerto Rican Nationalists fired 30 shots from the visitors’ gallery in the House of Representatives while 240 members were gathered on the floor for a quorum call on an immigration bill. Five congressmen were shot in the melee; all survived. The assailants were quickly captured as they fled. Paul Kanjorski, who 30 years later would be elected to the House, was a congressional page on that day, walking across the floor when the shots rang out.

Tell us about 1954.

If you remember the House chamber, where the page bench is in the corner, I was sitting in the first seat. A buzzer went off, so I got up to go. The shots that rang out sounded like firecrackers. I took two or three steps, and then I felt, sort of, sand hit the side of my face.

I remembered when my brother and I and a few friends would spend summers shooting weapons at a quarry. When you had a ricochet, it would hit the rock and send dust down and you’d feel it. That’s how you knew that the bullet came rather close to you. And that’s exactly what I felt. That cleared any inclination that they were firecrackers in the chamber.

Did you see the assailants?

No, no, but you clearly knew where the shots were coming from. It was clearly up in the corner of the gallery. I didn’t take the time to zero in. We were working the floor to pick up the injured. They had stopped shooting quickly and fled the chamber. But it was such an open Capitol at the time. There were hardly any police officers around. There were none of the security devices that are used today. The Capitol was completely open.

Rep. Jim Van Zandt, a member from Pennsylvania, got up off the floor and ran up the staircase to the third floor. He was one of the two individuals who captured the culprits—coming down the hallway.

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