Pendergast, Thomas J.

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Thomas Joseph Pendergast

Coinciding with the rapid expansion of Pendergast's businesses in the 1920s and 1930s, Tom Pendergast consolidated his political power at the end of 1925 and maintained a firm grip until the late 1930s. He gained almost unchallenged control due to a change in the city government that was, ironically, first proposed by well-meaning reformers including the philanthropist William Volker.

Kidnapping of Mary McElroy

One of Kansas City's most sensational and ultimately tragic crimes began on May 27, 1933 with the kidnapping of Mary McElroy, the daughter of controversial city manager Henry F. McElroy, who had close ties to the political machine operated by “Boss” Tom Pendergast. She was released after 34 hours of captivity, following payment of a $30,000 ransom, but she never recovered from the emotional turmoil that ensued.

The Union Station Massacre

On June 17, 1933, four law enforcement officers and their prisoner, Frank Nash, were fatally wounded in a botched rescue attempt outside Union Station. The story of the Union Station Massacre, as it became known, centered on Frank Nash, who had been convicted of three separate crimes of a serious nature: murder, armed burglary, and then assault.

Lindbergh Flies to Kansas City

On August 17, 1927, a jubilant crowd of 25,000 gathered at the site of the present-day Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport to listen to speeches given by Charles Lindbergh and city officials in order to dedicate Municipal Airport. Several Kansas City leaders, including a previously-skeptical City Manager Henry F. McElroy, had flown in from old Richards Field in Raytown and landed on the soggy turf known as "Peninsula field," just north of downtown Kansas City.

John F. Lazia

Johnny Lazia (born Lazzio) gained prominence in Kansas City's politics during the 1920s and ‘30s due to his leadership of the North Side Democratic Club, engagement in local organized crime, and involvement with Tom Pendergast's political machine. Pendergast dominated Kansas City politics not by holding elected offices, but through his machine of alliances and affiliates.

Joseph B. Shannon

Joseph “Joe” Shannon presided over Kansas City's Northside Democratic Party from the early 20th century to 1930, after which he relocated to Washington, D.C., for a 14-year tenure as a U.S. Congressman. Shannon's political career was marked by his Jeffersonian Democratic views and his tenuous relationships with brothers James and Tom Pendergast.

James Francis Pendergast

Jim presented himself as an advocate for the common working man, which enhanced his political base. He helped people find jobs and provided coal and food to the needy. In 1894 Jim's brother Tom, the youngest of the Pendergast siblings, joined the family business in Kansas City. Jim moved Tom quickly into grassroots politics, teaching him how to get out the vote and how to steal elections.

The Long Struggle over Black Voting Rights and the Origins of the Pendergast Machine

One of the defining aspects of “Boss” Thomas J. Pendergast’s “machine” politics was its approach to African American voters. During the early 20th century, at a time when black people were routinely excluded from the vote by Democratic regimes in most of the former slave South, Pendergast’s Democratic organization in Kansas City succeeded in part by attracting considerable black support. While such support was not unique to Kansas City—black Missourians never lost the vote in the same way or degree as their counterparts farther South—historians often point to the city as an example of early black political realignment toward a Northern Democratic Party based in urban, industrial centers and at increasing odds with its Southern wing over the issue of civil rights.

The Decline and Fall of the Pendergast Machine

When it comes to assessing the trajectory of a political machine such as the one cobbled together over time by first Jim Pendergast, and then by his younger brother “Boss” Tom Pendergast, it is always best to follow the advice of the later Watergate journalists – that is, to “follow the money.” Under Jim, the Pendergast machine seems to have dealt more in dispensing jobs and small favors, with Jim taking a rather small cut of the proceeds. Jim, however, could meet his relatively small personal needs, which included taking care of his bride Mary Doerr (married in 1886) and her young son by a previous marriage. He chose never to live “high on the hog.” Tom, on the other hand, always seemed to need more money, especially after his own marriage to Carolyn Elizabeth Dunn in 1910.

"As Good as Money Could Buy": Kansas City’s Black Public Hospital

"They did not try to build something ‘good enough for Negroes’ but something as good as money could buy." This is how Chester Arthur Franklin, the Republican founder of The Call newspaper and one of Kansas City’s most prominent black leaders, greeted the newly constructed eight-story building that housed General Hospital No. 2, serving the indigent African American population of Kansas City.

William D. Boyle, Tom Pendergast, and James M. Pendergast

Clipping from the Kansas City Times on July 3, 1937 showing William D. Boyle of Boyle-Pryor Construction Company, Thomas J. Pendergast, and James M. Pendergast, all of whom allegedly assisted defendants in the 1936 Election Vote Fraud Trails. The caption for each photograph includes a quote from that person.

Unsigned Memo

Unsigned typed document, presumably written by Lloyd Stark. It regards a visit to William Igoe in St. Louis about the feasibility of the author's chances in running for Missouri governor.