1954 Shooting in the House Chamber

1954 Chamber Shooting/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_evnt_1954_pages_goodwin.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
House Pages carry a stretcher bearing a wounded Member to a waiting ambulance.
On March 1, 1954, while Members gathered on the House Floor for an upcoming vote, three men and one woman entered the visitor’s gallery above the chamber and quietly took their seats. All four belonged to the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party and only hours earlier had traveled from New York City to Washington, DC.

The United States had annexed Puerto Rico in 1898, and the island’s relationship with the federal government had long been a point of contention. Some Puerto Ricans sought to maintain their relationship with the mainland, and others, like the four visitors in the House that day, argued for an independent Puerto Rico.

The Capitol had few security protocols at the time, and the four Puerto Rican nationalists entered the gallery armed with handguns. Around 2:30 p.m. they indiscriminately opened fire onto the House Floor and unfurled a Puerto Rican flag in a violent act of protest meant to draw attention to their demand for Puerto Rico’s immediate independence.

Five Congressmen were wounded in the shooting.

Members, House Pages, and police officers quickly helped detain three of the assailants outside the gallery, while the fourth escaped the Capitol and was apprehended later that afternoon.

To commemorate the 65th anniversary of this event, the Office of the House Historian collected oral histories with eyewitnesses, including House staff, Pages, and police officers. Listen to firsthand accounts that describe the surprise attack in detail and the shocked reaction by people there that day. These stories serve as important reminders of the need to ensure the safety of the House while preserving the accessible relationship between elected Representatives and their constituents.

Learn more about this event.

Interviewees

  • Joe Bartlett
  • Bill Goodwin
  • Joe Hillings
  • Benjamin Jason (Transcript PDF)
  • The Honorable Paul Kanjorski
  • Pat Kelly
  • Mike Michaelson
  • John Allen Murphy (Transcript PDF)
  • Benjamin C. West
  • Video

    Recollections of the 1954 Shooting in the House Chamber: Part One

    Bill Goodwin provides an eyewitness account of the shooting in the House Chamber on March 1, 1954.

    Bill Goodwin, Page, U.S. House of Representatives
    Interview recorded November 2, 2009 Deed of Gift
    Transcript (PDF)

    Recollections of the 1954 Shooting in the House Chamber: Part Two

    Bill Goodwin continues his account of the shooting in the House Chamber on March 1, 1954.

    Bill Goodwin, Page, U.S. House of Representatives
    Interview recorded November 2, 2009 Deed of Gift
    Transcript (PDF)

    Remembering the Day

    Representative Kanjorski provides a detailed account of the shooting in the House Chamber.

    The Honorable Paul Kanjorski, U.S. Representative of Pennsylvania
    Interview recorded October 26, 2011 Deed of Gift
    Transcript (PDF)

    Reflections on the Aftermath of the Shooting

    Representative Kanjorski reflects on the aftermath of the attack.

    The Honorable Paul Kanjorski, U.S. Representative of Pennsylvania
    Interview recorded October 26, 2011 Deed of Gift
    Transcript (PDF)

    Eyewitness to History

    Benjamin C. West provides a detailed account of the shooting in the House Chamber on March 1, 1954.

    Benjamin C. West, Superintendent, Daily Press Gallery, U.S. House of Representatives
    Interview recorded May 23, 2007 Deed of Gift
    Transcript (PDF)

    Account of the Shooting

    Joe Bartlett shares his memories of the shooting on the House Floor.

    Joe Bartlett, Clerk to the Minority, U.S. House of Representatives
    Interview recorded October 12, 2006 Deed of Gift
    Transcript (PDF)

    Representative Edna Kelly of New York

    Pat Kelly recalls how her mother, Representative Edna Kelly of New York, reacted during the attack.

    Pat Kelly, Editor, Daily Digest, Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives
    Interview recorded February 2, 2011 Deed of Gift
    Transcript (PDF)

    Reaction of the Pages

    Representative Kanjorski shares his memories of the reaction of the House Pages to the violence.

    The Honorable Paul Kanjorski, U.S. Representative of Pennsylvania
    Interview recorded October 26, 2011 Deed of Gift
    Transcript (PDF)

    Newsreel Footage of the 1954 Shooting in the House Chamber

    Universal-International News report from March 1, 1954, narrated by Fred Maness, on the shooting in the House of Representatives Chamber.

    Universal International News
    March 1, 1954

    Audio

    Responding to the Shooting

    John Allen Murphy recalls responding to the shooting at the Capitol on March 1, 1954.

    John Allen Murphy, Metropolitan Police Officer, Washington, DC
    Interview recorded April 16, 2014 Deed of Gift
    Transcript (PDF)

    Immediate Response

    Benjamin Jason recalls learning of the shooting at the Capitol.

    Benjamin Jason, Metropolitan Police Officer, Washington, DC
    Interview recorded April 30, 2014 Deed of Gift
    Transcript (PDF)

    On the Scene

    John Allen Murphy describes what he encountered when he arrived at the Capitol on the day of the shooting.

    John Allen Murphy, Metropolitan Police Officer, Washington, DC
    Interview recorded April 16, 2014 Deed of Gift
    Transcript (PDF)

    Hectic Scene at the House

    Benjamin Jason describes the scene he witnessed when he arrived at the Capitol on March 1, 1954.

    Benjamin Jason, Metropolitan Police Officer, Washington, DC
    Interview recorded April 30, 2014 Deed of Gift
    Transcript (PDF)

    "It Wasn't My Time to Go"

    Mike Michaelson describes how an average day at work suddenly turned chaotic.

    Mike Michaelson, Superintendent, Radio-TV Gallery, U.S. House of Representatives
    Interview recorded May 14, 2009 Deed of Gift
    Transcript (PDF)

    Shooting in the House Chamber

    Mike Michaelson recalls how he relayed the news of the shooting in the House Chamber.

    Mike Michaelson, Superintendent, Radio-TV Gallery, U.S. House of Representatives
    Interview recorded May 14, 2009 Deed of Gift
    Transcript (PDF)

    "Pop, Pop, Pop" "Ring, Ring, Ring"

    Joseph Hillings remembers being in the Republican cloakroom as a House Page during the shooting.

    Joseph Hillings, Assistant Journal Clerk for the Minority, U.S. House of Representatives
    Interview recorded September 20, 2015 Deed of Gift
    Transcript (PDF)

    Famous 1954 Photograph

    Bill Goodwin provides a detailed description of a photograph taken on March 1, 1954, in which House Pages carry a stretcher bearing wounded Michigan Congressman Alvin Bentley down the steps of the Capitol to a waiting ambulance.

    Bill Goodwin, Page, U.S. House of Representatives
    Interview recorded October 20, 2005 Deed of Gift
    Transcript (PDF)

    Close Call

    Mike Michaelson recalls his good fortune on March 1, 1954.

    Mike Michaelson, Superintendent, Radio-TV Gallery, U.S. House of Representatives
    Interview recorded May 14, 2009 Deed of Gift
    Transcript (PDF)

    The Aftermath

    John Allen Murphy describes the House Chamber after the shooting.

    John Allen Murphy, Metropolitan Police Officer, Washington, DC
    Interview recorded April 16, 2014 Deed of Gift
    Transcript (PDF)

    The Administrative Work

    John Allen Murphy discusses how he and his partner tried to find witnesses to the shooting.

    John Allen Murphy, Metropolitan Police Officer, Washington, DC
    Interview recorded April 16, 2014 Deed of Gift
    Transcript (PDF)

    Witness to the Shooting

    Mike Michaelson explains the difficulties of being an eyewitness to the shooting in the House Chamber.

    Mike Michaelson, Superintendent, Radio-TV Gallery, U.S. House of Representatives
    Interview recorded May 14, 2009 Deed of Gift
    Transcript (PDF)

    Personal Reflections on the Attack

    Benjamin Jason reflects on the impact of the attack on Congress.

    Benjamin Jason, Metropolitan Police Officer, Washington, DC
    Interview recorded April 30, 2014 Deed of Gift
    Transcript (PDF)

    Training to Respond

    John Allen Murphy explains how the police officers received training to respond to a variety of possible crimes.

    John Allen Murphy, Metropolitan Police Officer, Washington, DC
    Interview recorded April 16, 2014 Deed of Gift
    Transcript (PDF)

    Images & Artifacts

    Congressional Pages Carrying Members
    <em>Congressional Pages Carrying Members</em>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_evnt_1954_pages_goodwin.xml
    In this image taken moments after the shooting on March 1, 1954, (from left foreground) House Pages Bill Goodwin, Paul Kanjorski, and Bill Emerson carry a stretcher bearing wounded Representative Alvin Bentley of Michigan, to a waiting ambulance on the East Front of the Capitol.
    Image courtesy of Bill Goodwin, provided by the Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives
    Shooting in the House Chamber
    <em>Shooting in the House Chamber</em>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_evnt_1954_chamber_hc.xml
    Detectives scour the Chamber looking for spent bullets and other evidence after four Puerto Rican nationalists opened fire onto the House Floor from the gallery on March 1, 1954. Five Members were wounded: Alvin Bentley, Ben Jensen, Clifford Davis, George Fallon, and Kenneth Roberts. All five survived the attack, although Bentley was critically wounded.
    Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
    About this object
    Alvin Morell Bentley
    <em>Alvin Morell Bentley</em>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_evnt_1954_bently_hc.xml
    Congressman Alvin Bentley shows where a bullet pierced his chest when four Puerto Rican nationalists opened fire onto the House Floor from the gallery on March 1, 1954. The dissidents—advocating for independence for their homeland—wounded four additional Members, Ben Jensen, Clifford Davis, George Fallon, and Kenneth Roberts. Bentley was the most critically wounded.
    Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
    About this object
    Shooting in the House Chamber
    <em>Shooting in the House Chamber</em>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_evnt_1954_halleck_hc.xml
    Congressman Charles Halleck shows Speaker Joe Martin the bullet hole in the desk he was occupying when a group of Puerto Rican separatists opened fire onto the House Floor. The dissidents, proponents of their country’s independence from the United States, shot five Members before being subdued. No one died in the 1954 shooting, but Congressman Alvin Bentley was critically wounded.
    Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
    About this object
    Bullet Hole in the Back of a Chamber Chair
    <em>Bullet Hole in the Back of a Chamber Chair</em>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_evnt_1954_bulletchair_hc.xml
    The bullet hole in this remnant of the House Chamber’s seating differentiates it from every other piece of Chamber upholstery. The back of seat 120D, with the bullet hole squarely in the center, was preserved after the Chamber was repaired.
    Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives, Preserved and Returned to the House of Representatives by Harry T. and Mildred Cuyle Fritzinger
    About this object
    Ambulance, Police Cars, Wait After Shooting
    <em>Ambulance, Police Cars, Wait After Shooting</em>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_evnt_1954_ambulences_hc.xml
    A police car, ambulance, and jittery crowd gathered at the Capitol after nationalists seeking Puerto Rican independence opened fire in the House Chamber on March 1, 1954. This newspaper photograph circled Capitol policeman Jack Brunner and the Puerto Rican flag he had seized from the perpetrators.
    Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
    About this object