Almost 12,000 people streamed into the First Cavalry Armory on Michigan Avenue in Chicago on May 25, 1889 to view the coffin of Dr. P.H. Cronin, an Irish physician and political activist who had been savagely murdered.
“It was one of the first ‘sensational’ murders covered by the Chicago press and far beyond,” says Gillian O’Brien, author of Blood Runs Green: The Murder That Transfixed Gilded Age Chicago (University of Chicago Press, 2015; $17). “It wasn’t just the newspapers that were fascinated – there were Dime Novels written about the crime, waxwork reproductions were made of the body, the suspects and the horse that took the doctor to the scene of his murder was put on show at a Dime Museum. The house where he was killed was opened to the public for a fee.”
For O’Brien, a historian and Reader in Modern Irish History at Liverpool John Moores University, it wasn’t just the luridness of the crime that caught her interest but that Cronin, involved in a secret Irish American republican society, was murdered because he fell out with the leadership of the organization called Clan na Gael. She first learned about the murder while researching at the Newberry Library in Chicago and after running across numerous references to the investigation and trial she searched for a book about Cronin but learned that little had been written since shortly after the trial.
“The repercussions of the murder on the Irish in Chicago and the Irish in America more broadly were very significant,” she says explaining her reason for undertaking extensive research to and writing the book. “There was a backlash against the Irish with many arguing that a hyphenated identity was problematic. There was a feeling that the Irish could never be truly American because of their residual loyalty to Ireland. The fact that an Irish political murder took place on American soil was also a cause for great concern. It was the combination of the sensational crime and the impact of it on Irish America and on Irish republicanism that made it a very compelling story for me.”