Tomorrow marks the 77th Anniversary of famed attorney Clarence Darrow’s death and the 58th time that this ceremony has been held at the Bridge that was named in his honor on April 2, 1957. The Bridge is currently under restoration and is located directly south of the Museum of Science and Industry and stretches across the lagoon where Darrow’s ashes were scattered at his request. His wife’s and son’s ashes were also scattered there as well. The bridge actually pre-dates the 1893 Columbian Exposition and was part of the original Jackson Park or South Park as it was known before it was transformed during the Columbian Exposition.
Darrow was famous for a number of high profile cases including the murder trial of Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold in 1924 for the brutal and senseless murder of 14 year old Robert E. “Bobby” Franks and what started out as the “The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes” in 1925 which became better known as the “Scopes Monkey Trial” that pitted creationism against evolution and what should or shouldn’t be taught in public schools.
Darrow also became very well known for successfully arguing against the death penalty for his clients. In fact Darrow was successful in saving his clients from the hangman in all but one case.
Many people who have read Erik Larson’s book, “Devil in The White City” are familiar with Clarence Darrow’s only death penalty failure. On October 28, 1893, just two days before the end of the Columbian Exposition, Patrick Eugene Prendergast walked up to Mayor Carter Harrison’s house and knocked on the door. Prendergast worked for a local newspaper and had sent many letters to the Mayor in support of his office and had deluded himself to thinking that based on his letters of support the Mayor would offer him a position within the city government sometime before the close the World’s Fair of 1893. It obviously did not happen.
When Mayor Harrison came to the door Prendergast shot and killed him and later turned himself in.
It was Darrow’s first attempt to save his client from the death penalty and the only one he lost in his entire career. On July 13, 1894 at 11:48am Patrick Eugene Prendergast was hung on the gallows at the City Jail and laid to rest in an unmarked grave at Calvary Cemetery in Evanston next to his father.
Clarence Darrow was opposed to persons who billed themselves out as mediums or spiritualists and who would make money by “speaking” to the dead relatives of bereaved individuals. Shortly before his death (between 1932 and 1933) he made a pact with two of his friends. His friends were Claude D. Noble, a Detroit businessman and amateur magician and Howard Thurston, famed magician. The pact was that the last surviving member of the trio would try to contact the other two by visiting their gravesite on the anniversary of their death and attempt to contact them while holding an article that was familiar to all three. If it were possible to return from the grave or to communicate in some way the deceased person would attempt to knock the object out of the survivor’s hand.
Thurston passed two years before Darrow so from 1939 until 1951 Claude Noble would visit the bridge in Jackson Park at 12:30pm on March 13th. He would kneel down on the bridge while holding various objects over the years from a brass plaque of Howard Thurston to a law book containing the transcript of Darrow’s examination of William Jennings Bryan during the Scopes trial to a photo of Ed Sullivan (a mutual friend and newspaper columnist) and photos or posters of Thurston. Noble would recite the Lord’s Prayer and then state, “Clarence Darrow, I am here in the fulfillment of our pact. If you can manifest yourself do it now.” No contact was ever made. After 1951 repeated efforts were thwarted due to Noble being in poor health and he passed away himself in 1964.
The Commemoration of Darrow’s death will take place tomorrow at 10am at the east side of the Darrow Bridge since the bridge itself is closed due to a renovation project. After the ritual outdoor flower-tossing, guests will move inside to the Museum of Science and Industry’s Rosenwald Room (formerly the New Columbian Room) for light refreshments and presentations about contemporary activism on the issues of undocumented laborers and immigration. The program also includes an appearance by high school junior Marissa Howe, winner of the Clarence Darrow History Award (which is sponsored by the Clarence Darrow Commemorative Committee) at the 2014 Chicago Metro History Fair.
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