1954 Shooting in the House Chamber

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.

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.
To commemorate the 65th anniversary of this event in 2019, 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 and view full transcripts of interviewees.

Featured Audio

Famous 1954 Photograph

Famous 1954 Photograph
Bill Goodwin, Page, U.S. House of Representatives
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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Responding to the Shooting
John Allen Murphy, Metropolitan Police Officer, Washington, DC
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

Immediate Response

Immediate Response
Benjamin Jason, Metropolitan Police Officer, Washington, DC
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

On the Scene

On the Scene
John Allen Murphy, Metropolitan Police Officer, Washington, DC
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

Hectic Scene at the House

Hectic Scene at the House
Benjamin Jason, Metropolitan Police Officer, Washington, DC
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

"It Wasn't My Time to Go"

"It Wasn't My Time to Go"
Mike Michaelson, Superintendent, Radio-TV Gallery, U.S. House of Representatives
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

Shooting in the House Chamber

Shooting in the House Chamber
Mike Michaelson, Superintendent, Radio-TV Gallery, U.S. House of Representatives
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

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

"Pop, Pop, Pop" "Ring, Ring, Ring"
Joseph Hillings, Assistant Journal Clerk for the Minority, U.S. House of Representatives
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

Famous 1954 Photograph

Famous 1954 Photograph
Bill Goodwin, Page, U.S. House of Representatives
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

Close Call

Close Call
Mike Michaelson, Superintendent, Radio-TV Gallery, U.S. House of Representatives
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

The Aftermath

The Aftermath
John Allen Murphy, Metropolitan Police Officer, Washington, DC
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

The Administrative Work

The Administrative Work
John Allen Murphy, Metropolitan Police Officer, Washington, DC
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

Witness to the Shooting

Witness to the Shooting
Mike Michaelson, Superintendent, Radio-TV Gallery, U.S. House of Representatives
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

Personal Reflections on the Attack

Personal Reflections on the Attack
Benjamin Jason, Metropolitan Police Officer, Washington, DC
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

Training to Respond

Training to Respond
John Allen Murphy, Metropolitan Police Officer, Washington, DC
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

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