Today, July 13, 2015 is the 121st anniversary of the execution by hanging of Patrick Eugene Prendergast. Actually Patrick Eugene Joseph Prendergast was his full name. Many who have read Erik Larson’s Devil in The White City are familiar with Prendergast. He was a 25 year old Chicago newspaper distributor who on October 28, 1893 after repeated letters to Mayor Carter Harrison went answered, walked up to Mayor Harrison’s house at 231 Ashland Avenue in a fit of rage.
According to Mary Hanson, a domestic of the mayor’s household, Prendergast rang the doorbell at about 7:30pm and asked to speak to the mayor. She asked the man what name she should give and he stated that he was a city official. Mayor Harrison walked toward the door from the dining area and was shot three times as he walked toward Prendergast. He staggered back through the dining room and collapsed in the butler’s pantry. His last words were to ask to see his children and that he knew that the wounds were fatal. The mayor was dead only two days before the close of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.
Prendergast had delusions that if he was supportive of Mayor Harrison’s election that the Mayor would give him a job as corporate counsel for the city of Chicago even though he had no law degree.
Letters held by the Clarence Darrow Collection of the University show how he was angry with Mayor Harrison for going back on his promise of giving him the Corporation Counsel position as well as for standing in the way of his efforts to elevate the crossings of the surface rails in the city of Chicago. In reality, Mayor Harrison probably didn’t even know Prendergast except for one possible time when Prendergast walked into the actual Corporation Council’s office requesting that the keys be turned over to him.
Interestingly Prendergast’s would be the first and only capital case where Clarence Darrow was unsuccessful at saving a client from the ultimate punishment.
After a short stay of execution, Prendergast was led to the gallows at the city jail. His last words were whispered to Father Barry of Holy Name Cathedral. He simply stated, “I had no malice against anyone.”
Prendergast was executed at 11:48am and after being pronounced death was placed in a plain pine box with the words “At Rest” on a metal plaque. The casket was transported to Calvary Cemetery by the undertaker, John Carroll. Prendergast is buried in an unmarked grave next to his father of the same name.
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