The mayor’s assassin | Sightseeing | Chicago Reader

The mayor’s assassin 

Revisiting a murder in the White City.

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click to enlarge Patrick Eugene Prendergast and Carter Harrison Sr. - TRANSACTIONS OF THE MEDICAL SOCIETY OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, 1895
  • Patrick Eugene Prendergast and Carter Harrison Sr.
  • Transactions of the Medical Society of the State of New York, 1895

Patrick Eugene Prendergast shot and killed Chicago mayor Carter Harrison Sr. on October 28, 1893, in the mayor's home at what is now a parking lot at 333 S. Ashland. The delusional Prendergast, obsessed with writing postcards, believed that the mayor owed him a political office.

Prior to the 1892 elections, 25-year-old Prendergast, a newspaper distributor, filled postcards with his cramped handwriting and sent them to prominent members of society. He urged them to vote for Harrison, who was running for his fifth term. Criminal defense attorney A.S. Trude received a postcard from Prendergast dated November 28, 1892. It began as a sympathy card for a recent minor accident Trude had suffered but included the left-field question, "Have you ever saw the picture of the fat man who looked for his dog while his dog was at his feet and still did not have the wit to see what was the matter—have you observed the cat?"

Nearly a year later, Prendergast visited City Hall under the delusion that Harrison had appointed him as corporation counsel. Insistent, he eventually badgered a clerk into bringing him to the current counsel, Adolph Kraus. Kraus displayed Prendergast to the office and taunted him by asking if he would like the job there and then. Prendergast declined and left.

On the day of the assassination, Prendergast bought a six-chamber .38 revolver, a model that had a tendency to misfire, so he kept the chamber under the hammer empty. At 7:30 PM, he showed up at Mayor Harrison's home. According to Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City (2003), a maid, Mary Hanson, asked him to return later because the mayor was taking a postdinner nap. (Harrison took pride in making himself available to the people of Chicago.) Prendergast returned at 8 PM and shot Harrison three times. A half hour later, Prendergast turned himself in at the Des Plaines Street police station.

That year, Chicago hosted the World's Columbian Exposition, the World's Fair dedicated to Columbus's arrival in North America in 1492. The October 30 closing ceremony was canceled and replaced with a funeral procession for Harrison. At 4:45 PM, the warship Michigan saluted the late mayor with its cannon.

Prendergast's trial took place in December 1893. The prosecutor was the same A.S. Trude who'd received the strange postcard about the picture of the fat man. The defense attempted an insanity plea. However, the care that Prendergast had taken in leaving an empty chamber in the gun indicated to the jury that he was too rational to be declared insane. The court issued a guilty verdict. Prendergast was hanged on July 13, 1894.  v

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