Death Classification: Line of Duty Death
Agency: Chicago Police Department
Served: 1 year, 4 months, 19 days
Unit of Assignment / Detail: 3rd Precinct - West Lake Street Station
District of Incident (Present Day): 012 - Near West
Cause of Death: Explosion - Bomb
Age at Time of Death: 34
Date of Birth: 1852
Date of Appointment: 15 Dec 1884
Date of Incident: 012 - Near West
End of Watch: 04 May 1886
Date of Interment: 07 May 1886
Cemetery: St. Boniface Cemetery - Chicago, Illinois
Grave Location: Unknown
Interment Disposition: Burial
Superintendent’s Honored Star Case: Panel # A-2
Gold Star Families Memorial Wall: Panel # 2
Illinois Police Officers Memorial Wall: Panel # 1, Line 17
National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Wall: Panel # 54-E: 6
Officer Down Memorial Page: Listed
Military Service: No Military Record Found
Incident & Biographic Details
Patrolman Mathias J. Degan, Star #648, aged 34 years, was a 1 year, 4 month, 19 day veteran of the Chicago Police Department, assigned to the 3rd Precinct – West Lake Street Station.
On May 4, 1886, Officer Degan was with other officers assigned to disperse protesters near Haymarket Square. A bomb was thrown and exploded amidst the officers. The explosion was then followed by an intense gun battle. Officer Degan was mortally wounded by shrapnel from the bomb blast and died almost immediately thereafter. Officer Degan was the first of nine officers to die in or as a result of the historic Haymarket Tragedy.
Eight men were arrested and charged with the officers’ murders. Seven were convicted of murder and sentenced to death. The other one was sentenced to 15 years in prison. On November 11, 1887, four of them were executed by hanging. The day before one of the suspects killed himself in his cell with a smuggled dynamite cap, which he detonated in his mouth. The other three were pardoned by Governor John Peter Altgeld in 1893.
Nine police officers died after or were killed during the Haymarket Riot labor dispute. The officers were at the scene of a civil disorder when the rioters opened fire and threw a bomb into the crowd. Seven policemen suffered fatal wounds, two policemen suffered serious injury which would later lead to their death and 70 other people were injured by the explosion and ensuing gunfire.
The officers who were killed in or as a result of the Haymarket Riot, in order of their death, include:
- Patrolman Mathias J. Degan, End of Watch May 4, 1886
- Patrolman John J. Barrett, End of Watch May 6, 1886
- Patrolman George F. Miller, End of Watch May 6, 1886
- Patrolman Timothy J. Flavihan, End of Watch May 8, 1886
- Patrolman Michael Sheehan, End of Watch May 9, 1886
- Patrolman Nels Hansen, End of Watch May 14, 1886
- Patrolman Thomas Redden, End of Watch May 16, 1886
- Patrolman Timothy O’Sullivan, End of Watch June 14, 1888
- Patrolman Patrick Hartford, End of Watch November 26, 1897
Officer Degan was waked at his residence located at No. 637 South Canal Street (present day 1500 South Canal Street). He was laid to rest on May 7, 1886 in St. Boniface Cemetery, 4901 North Clark Street, Chicago, Illinois.
Patrolman Mathias J. Degan, born in 1852, received his Probationary Appointment to the Chicago Police Department on December 15, 1884.
Officer Degan was survived by his son. He was preceded in death by his wife and parents.
Incident recorded under Chicago Police Historical Homicide Database, Case #516 and Case #2743.
In response to the tragic events of May 4, 1886 a commemorative nine-foot (2.7 meter) bronze statue of a Chicago policeman was commissioned to honor the sacrifice of the policemen who lost their lives that fateful night. The statue was designed by Frank Batchelder of St. Paul Minnesota in 1889 and sculpted by sculptor Johannes Gelert of New York, New York. The statue’s marble pedestal was ordered to have an inscription on it. The inscription is the command that Captain William Ward delivered in the Haymarket just before the bomb was thrown that fateful night: “In the name of the People of Illinois, I command peace.“ The statue was funded by private funds raised by the Union League Club of Chicago. The statue would become the first known monument erected in the United States honoring policemen. Erected in the middle of Haymarket Square located on Randolph Street just west of Desplaines Street, the statue was unveiled on May 30, 1889. The unveiling was conducted by Frank Degan, the son of Officer Mathias Degan who was killed in the Haymarket Affair. Over the years the statue would be moved seven times, it would also be repaired and rebuilt several times due to vandalism.
Location #1 – Haymarket Square (May 30, 1889 thru July, 1900): Haymarket Square was the first location in which the statue would be erected. It was placed in the middle of Randolph Street just west of Desplaines Street, as seen in the image above. The statue interfered with the flow of traffic in this busy area, and it became an object of vandalism. As a result, it was moved in 1900 about one mile west, to Randolph Street and Ogden Avenue, near Union Park.
Location #2 – Randolph Street and Ogden Avenue (July, 1900 thru 1928): The statue remained at its second location for just over 27 years. A medallion, which is evident in the photo above, is located just above the inscription. Also visible are two white dots just below the inscription. Those two dots are of the original mounting holes for the medallion. It is believed that due to vandalism, the medallion was moved higher up the monuments pedestal. On May 4, 1927, the 41st anniversary of the Haymarket affair, a Chicago Surface Lines streetcar jumped its tracks and crashed into the statue’s pedestal. The force of the crash dislodged the statue from the pedestal and the statue fell over falling off the base. The motorman, William Schultz, of the streetcar stated that the brakes failed as he was rounding the corner. He also later said that he was “sick of seeing that policeman with his arm raised.“ The city restored the statue in 1928 and moved the pedestal and statue into nearby Union Park.
Location #3 – Union Park (1928 thru June 2, 1957): The monument was located near Washington Boulevard on the North side of the street facing south and it remained in Union Park for nearly three decades. The finials, which flank the pedestal, had been modified after one of the monument’s earlier moves. This change is believed to be the result of vandal damage or from being stripped at various times. During the 1950’s, construction of the Kennedy Expressway erased about half of the old, run-down Haymarket Square Area, and on June 2, 1957, the statue was moved to Randolph Street and the Kennedy Expressway.
Location #4 – Randolph Street and the Kennedy Expressway (June 2, 1957 thru February 5, 1972): The Statue was situated on the north side of Randolph Street a block west of Desplaines Street at 700 West Randolph Street, just to the east of the new Kennedy Expressway. A new platform was built to support the pedestal and statue overlooking the expressway, only 200 feet from its original location. After years of vandalism the pedestal was badly stained and chipped as can be seen in the photo above.
On May 4, 1968, The Haymarket statue was vandalized with black paint, the 82nd anniversary of the Haymarket affair, following a confrontation between police and demonstrators at a protest against the Vietnam War. The city named the monument a historic landmark in the mid-1960’s, but this did not prevent further vandalism, presumably in protest against police brutality in the context of opposition to the Vietnam War and social inequality in the United States. On October 6, 1969, in what was almost certainly a deliberate symbolic reenactment of the original Haymarket meeting, someone placed a powerful explosive between the legs of the statue, blowing out about a hundred windows nearby and sending chunks of the statue’s legs onto the expressway below. Weather Underground members, known as Weatherman, took credit for the blast and battled police elsewhere in the streets of Chicago over several days. The statue was rebuilt and unveiled on May 4, 1970.
The statue was repaired, but early on the morning of October 5, 1970, it was blown up again. The body of the statue badly bent a nearby railing as it fell before settling on the expressway embankment, and one of the legs landed two hundred feet away. Immediately after the blast, a person or persons called various news outlets to declare that the bombing was the work of the Weathermen. According to one newspaper, the caller said, “We just blew up Haymarket Square Statue for the second year in a row to show our allegiance to our brothers in the New York prisons and our black brothers everywhere. This is another phase of our revolution to overthrow our racist and fascist society. Power to the People.“ The two attacks on the police statue were among several politically-motivated bombings throughout the country at the time.
An angry and determined Mayor Richard J. Daley had the statue repaired again and put under 24 police protection. On February 5, 1972, the statue was moved to the State Street Chicago Police Headquarters Building. The pedestal remained at this location for 24 more years and was finally removed in 1996. It is unknown whether the pedestal was scrapped or placed into storage by the city.
Location #5 – State Street Chicago Police Headquarters (February 5, 1972 thru October 5, 1976): On February 5, 1972, the statue was placed on a new marble pedestal located in the lobby of the State Street Chicago Police Department Headquarters Building at 1121 South State Street. The statue remained on display in the headquarters lobby for four years and eight months. On October 5, 1976, the statue was then relocated to the new Chicago Police Training Academy. The State Street Chicago Police Department Headquarters Building has since been razed and a new commercial and residential complex was built in its place.
Location #6 – Chicago Police Training Academy (October 5, 1976 thru June 1, 2007): On October 5, 1976, the statue was moved from the Old Chicago Police Headquarters Building and placed on a new granite pedestal, located in a secure outdoor courtyard at the Chicago Police Training Academy located at 1300 West Jackson Street for twenty years.
Location #7 – Michigan Avenue Chicago Police Headquarters (June 1, 2007 thru Present): On June 1, 2007 the statue was rededicated at Chicago Police Headquarters located at 3501 South State Street and placed on a new pedestal. The rededication unveiling was conducted by Geraldine Doceka, Officer Mathias Degan’s great-granddaughter. The statue currently resides at this location.