This week in history: Mayor’s murderer hanged

On July 13, 1894, the man who shot Chicago mayor Carter Harrison faced death for his crime.

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Portrait of Patrick Eugene Prendergast

A portrait of Patrick Eugene Prendergast as it appeared in the July 13, 1894 edition of the Chicago Daily News.

From the Sun-Times archive

As reported in the Chicago Daily News, sister publication of the Chicago Sun-Times:

The assassination of Mayor Carter Harrison III shocked Chicago so much that the afternoon paper, Chicago Daily News, published a rare evening edition to report on the Oct. 23, 1893, crime.

“The murderer is under arrest,” the paper announced. “He gives his name as Eugene Patrick Prendergast” — though his name was actually Patrick Eugene Prendergast.

On that night, Prendergast knocked on the door of Harrison’s mansion and insisted to the maid that he see the mayor, the Daily News reported. The maid roused a napping Harrison in the parlor and sent him out to greet his guest in the hallway, but she didn’t follow him.

“Almost immediately she heard a shot which was quickly followed by two others,” the paper said. “Then there was the sound of a heavy fall.”

The mayor’s son, William Preston Harrison, heard the shots and rushed to see what had happened, the paper reported. Spooked, Prendergast ran from the home, but Chicago police later caught up with him and arrested him. Though he had famed defense attorney Clarence Darrow on his side, Prendergast lost his case and was sentenced to die for his crime.

On July 13, 1894, the Daily News covered Prendergast’s execution. An hour before the event, spectators gathered and “talked in low tones” as they waited for the condemned to appear. At 11:44 a.m., the sheriff and jailer appeared, followed by Prendergast and his spiritual advisor Father Berry. Berry held a small prayer book, but neither of them spoke.

“Great drops of perspiration glistened on his forehead and he was white as the robe he wore. But he did not break down, by shutting his teeth tightly together so that his under jaw rigidly protruded, he awaited the end,” the paper reported.

At the scaffold, the jailer restrained Prendergast’s ankles and arms then paused to give him a moment to speak, but the condemned man said nothing. The jailer then slipped the white hood over Prendergast’s eyes, “shutting out his last sight of the world.” Moments later, the jailer signaled to the hangman, who dropped the trapdoor that left Prendergast’s body to dangle.

“Prendergast retained his nerve to the end and approached his doom without faltering,” the paper reported. “He made no dying speech on the scaffold and not a word was spoken from the time he stopped on the trap until the end. The drop fell at 11:47 [a.m.] and the body was cut down at 11:58.”

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