Patrick Eugene Prendergast

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Patrick Eugene Joseph Prendergast
Patrick Prendergast.jpg
Born (1868-04-18)April 18, 1868
Died July 13, 1894(1894-07-13) (aged 26)
Chicago, Illinois
Occupation Newspaper distributor
Criminal penalty Death by hanging
Criminal status Deceased
Conviction(s) Murder

Patrick Eugene Joseph Prendergast (April 6, 1868 – July 13, 1894) was the assassin of Chicago Mayor Carter Harrison, Sr.

Early life[edit]

Prendergast was born in Cloonamore townland, Inishbofin, an island off the west coast of Ireland. He was baptised in St Colman's Church on 12 April 1868 (Inishbofin Baptismal Register). His parents were Ellen King 1837-1914 and Patrick Prendergast (1840-1886) both described as teachers at their marriage in Inishbofin on 2 July 1865 (Clifden 1865 Vol 14 page 81). His grandfather, William Prendergast, who lost an arm in Pamplona, was an army pensioner who was reported to have died insane. His mother had "repeated attacks of hysterics" and his father died of consumption.[1] At the age of four, Prendergast was reported to have suffered a severe head injury from a fall, from which he was unconscious for a long period of time and suffered vomiting for four weeks after.[1] He was described as a peculiar child, solitary, irritable and excitable, with a poor memory who did poorly in school.[1] Patrick arrived in New York on 20 May 1873, aged 6, travelling with his brother William, aged 8, on the SS France. He left home at 16 because of imaginary persecution and by 18 had developed grandiose ideas of his capabilities and became a fanatic for the single-tax promoted by Henry George.[1]


Prendergast became a newspaper distributor in Chicago, where he lobbied for improvements in Chicago's railroad grade crossings, which he saw as a danger to the public. In 1893, he supported Harrison's reelection campaign under the delusion that if Harrison won the election, Prendergast would receive an appointment as Corporation Counsel.[2]


When the appointment did not come, Prendergast visited Harrison at his home on October 28, 1893, admitted by a maid who went to wake the mayor.[3] As Harrison was leaving the room where he had been sleeping, Prendergast approached and shot the mayor three times with a .38 revolver[3] and escaped, firing once at a coachman whom he encountered.[3] Harrison did not know who Prendergast was.

Prendergast surrendered at Des Plaines Street police station thirty minutes later.[3] He still had the gun in his possession.[3] When interviewed by police, he gave varying stories as to his motive, including the failed appointment and the mayor's failure to elevate train track crossings. The smell of burned powder and empty chambers reaffirmed the police department of his actions.[3]

In his first trial, Prendergast's attorney tried to have him found insane. Chicagoans disagreed as he had taken special care to keep an empty chamber in his revolver as he carried it around. This demonstrated rationality because carrying a revolver of that era with a live round under the hammer could cause it to go off if dropped; having the forethought to leave the chamber safely empty demonstrated sanity. Modern revolvers have safety features to prevent such accidental discharges.[4] Several doctors testified that while Prendergast was paranoid, he knew right from wrong and was capable of standing trial for the murder.[2] Clarence Darrow later won a hearing on Prendergast's sanity, but it also failed. Prendergast was hanged on July 13, 1894[2] in Chicago.[5]

Media depictions[edit]

On occasion, Prendergast has been represented in film or fiction. In the 1991 made-for-TV movie Darrow, he was portrayed by New York-born actor Paul Klementowicz. Prendergast's story is one of the sub-plots in Erik Larson's book The Devil in the White City.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Medical Society of the State of New York (1807–) (1895, Digitized Jun 21, 2007). Transactions of the Medical Society of the State of New York. Harvard University.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  2. ^ a b c "1893: Mayor Carter Harrison". Homicide in Chicago 1870–1930. Northwestern University. Retrieved 2008-11-25. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Assassinated; Carter H. Harrison, Mayor of Chicago, Killed. Murderer in Custody". The New York Times. October 29, 1893. 
  4. ^ Larson, Erik (2006). The Devil in the White City (1st Vintage Books ed.). [Bismarck, N.D.: Bismarck Public Library. p. 382. ISBN 978-0-375-72560-9. 
  5. ^ Chautauqua Institution (April–September 1894). "Summary of Important News for July 1894". The Chautauquan. p. 770.