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Blood Runs Green

The Murder That Transfixed Gilded Age Chicago

Blood Runs Green

The Murder That Transfixed Gilded Age Chicago

It was the biggest funeral Chicago had seen since Lincoln’s. On May 26, 1889, four thousand mourners proceeded down Michigan Avenue, followed by a crowd forty thousand strong, in a howl of protest at what commentators called one of the ghastliest and most curious crimes in civilized history. The dead man, Dr. P. H. Cronin, was a respected Irish physician, but his brutal murder uncovered a web of intrigue, secrecy, and corruption that stretched across the United States and far beyond.

Blood Runs Green tells the story of Cronin’s murder from the police investigation to the trial. It is a story of hotheaded journalists in pursuit of sensational crimes, of a bungling police force riddled with informers and spies, and of a secret revolutionary society determined to free Ireland but succeeding only in tearing itself apart. It is also the story of a booming immigrant population clamoring for power at a time of unprecedented change.

From backrooms to courtrooms, historian Gillian O’Brien deftly navigates the complexities of Irish Chicago, bringing to life a rich cast of characters and tracing the spectacular rise and fall of the secret Irish American society Clan na Gael. She draws on real-life accounts and sources from the United States, Ireland, and Britain to cast new light on Clan na Gael and reveal how Irish republicanism swept across the United States. Destined to be a true crime classic, Blood Runs Green is an enthralling tale of a murder that captivated the world and reverberated through society long after the coffin closed.

320 pages | 26 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2015

Historical Studies of Urban America

Chicago and Illinois

History: American History, Urban History


"Chicago's reputation for dramatic crime and corruption predates Al Capone and Prohibition—by decades. In May 1889 Dr. P. H. Cronin, an esteemed physician, was found in a sewer. He was naked, dead, and savagely beaten. The investigation and trial caused an international sensation, and one of the world's first media circuses, over a story that involved Irish revolutionaries and reactionaries, secret societies, and even a French spy. . . . All at a time when Chicago had been burned down, and was reborn as the fast-growing city in America."

Scott Simon | NPR's Weekend Edition

"The grisly murder of the Irish-American politician Patrick Henry Cronin, in 1889, captivated the city of Chicago: his body, naked and disfigured, was pulled out of a sewer, and thousands marched in his funeral procession. This history sets the incident against the development of the Irish Republican movement in the United States, which gave money and tactical support to the cause of Irish independence. After Cronin’s death, the city’s secretive Irish societies came under intense scrutiny, and the public, spurred by a sensationalist press, declared them to be unseemly, dangerous, and unpatriotic."

New Yorker

"O’Brien’s meticulously researched book makes the case that one man’s brutal murder in 1889 Chicago (and the subsequent criminal investigation) had a ripple effect in both America and Britain on the contentious cause of Irish republicanism. . . . This is academic writing at its most accessible.?”

New York Times

"O’Brien paints a vivid picture of what was then the longest-running trial in US history with a verve that would make John Grisham and company green with envy. . . . Blood Runs Green is all that’s best in academic writing: detailed research, accessible writing—and a rattling good yarn. It certainly kept me turning the pages like the best crime novel."

Times Higher Education

"Ambitiously delivers a complex tale of international terrorism and fraud."

Library Journal

"Blood Runs Green is the first book in more than a century to examine Cronin’s execution-style killing and the trial of five men on charges of conspiracy to murder. Gillian O’Brien’s retelling of this pivotal yet almost forgotten story is worth the wait. . . . With a thoroughness and insight worthy of an academic Sherlock Holmes, O’Brien has mined newspaper accounts, court records and archives in Ireland, Britain and the US to breathe life into the people and events connected to the case."

Irish Times

"O'Brien takes a fresh and compelling look at the case, exploring its origins in a disastrous dispute among Irish nationalists over how to fight the British oppression of their homeland. . . . The book left me thinking about even broader questions. Amid our latest national debates on race and justice, I wondered if anything has fundamentally changed about our appetite for heroes, villains, and instant judgments.”

Chicago Reader

"The 1889 murder of Patrick Henry Cronin, an Irish-American physician and political activist, was one of the great scandals of late 19th-century US public life. O’Brien . . . recounts the story with enormous verve and gripping detail."

Best Books of 2015 | Financial Times

"Deftly puts the complicated case in context, showing just how intertwined the histories of Chicago and Ireland are."

Robert Loerzel | Chicago Magazine

" A fascinating story very well told."

Books Ireland

"Page-turning. . . . In retelling a tale that for years captured the attention of Chicagoans as well as international readers, O’Brien has shared a slice of history that had long-lasting and far-reaching implications. Thoroughly researched and well told, Blood Runs Green is a timeless story that deftly captures the feel of an era.”

Chicago Book Review

“Who was Dr. Patrick Cronin and who murdered him? To find out you must dive into O’Brien’s dark, fascinating tale of 1880s Chicago. This true-life whodunit captures the Second City at a key moment in its history as it weaves through sensation-seeking journalists, wild-eyed Irish nationalists and, of course, corrupt police officers. An enlightening and entertaining read.”

Douglas Perry, author of The Girls of Murder City: Fame, Lust, and the Beautiful Killers Who Inspired Chicago

"O’Brien does a wonderful job of placing the sensational 1889 murder of Dr. Patrick Henry Cronin firmly within the history of nineteenth century Irish Chicago, as well as within the political machinations of the city, the Clan na Gael, Ireland, and the Catholic Church. Blood Runs Green is a lively tale of intrigue, murder, and the Gilded Age in the fastest growing city of nineteenth century America."

Dominic A. Pacyga, author of Chicago: A Biography

"For connoisseurs of Gilded Age America, Gillian O’Brien’s book has everything: a ghastly murder of a respected medical doctor, police incompetence and probably corruption, deadly Irish American splits and rivalries, more than a hint of international terrorism in the background, a British government informer, and above all, an unforgettable portrait of the pulsating city of Chicago, with the dogs of its print media let slip in full hue and cry for a culprit, any culprit. Not to be missed."

Thomas Bartlett, University of Aberdeen

"In the process of dissecting and analyzing one of the most notorious murder cases of the late nineteenth century Gillian O’Brien has illuminated not only the subterranean world of the Irish nationalist revolutionaries of the Clan na Gael but also many aspects of the broader story of Irish American Chicago. The book is meticulously researched and elegantly written—a star in the social history of the immigrant group, the movement, the period, and the city."

James R. Barrett, author of The Irish Way: Becoming American in the Multi-Ethnic City

"O’Brien has rescued this story from obscurity in this carefully researched and clearly written book. In doing so, she gives the complex international politics a human face and helps readers understand how a thuggish act of brutality could roil trans-Atlantic diplomacy for decades."

Criminal Law and Criminal Justice Books

"O’Brien’s detailed account is a testament to what good, well-written history can be:  interesting, spell-binding, instructive, and thought-provoking all at once. Blood Runs Green is a tale well and skillfully told."

Look at Books

“A fascinating account of time and place for both academic and general readers alike: well written and paced, it sheds valuable light on a key moment in Irish American history that has until now remained mostly overlooked.”

Irish Studies Review

Table of Contents

Cast of Characters
Prologue: Requiem
1  “City of Big Shoulders”: The Convergence of the Clan
2  The United Brotherhood
3  The Dynamite War
4  “Secret Hatreds”: A Tale of Two Trials
5  “Boys, I Give Up”
6  “The Darkest and Bloodiest Mysteries of Secret Crime”
7  “The Whisper of Silence”
8  “Truth in Essentials, Imagination in Non-Essentials”: The Press and Public Entertainment
9  “A Theater of Great Sensations”
10  “Remember Cronin”
Note on Sources
Organizations and Terms

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