Bernard E. Epton's long-shot campaign ended early this morning as strangely as it began.

With the crowd of supporters at his headquarters growing increasingly restive and angry, Epton and his wife, Audrey, slipped out of the Palmer House Hotel, and he told reporters simply, "I'm going home."

Illinois Gov. James R. Thompson (R), walking a few steps behind him said, "It's gone."

Only an hour before, the Republican mayoral candidate had told jubilant supporters that the election was all but won. But as the vote totals mounted in favor of Rep. Harold Washington (D-Ill.), the mood at Epton headquarters turned sour.

Epton had promised to appear again before his supporters, but he did not. Instead, he invited one Chicago television reporter to his hotel room for an interview in which he refused to concede defeat and said, "I wish Harold Washington well as a private citizen. It's getting late, and the votes don't seem to be there."

The more than 1,000 Epton supporters had changed dramatically within the hour from a group of well-dressed Republicans to a more mixed crowd of ethnic and working-class Democrats who have supported him.

They booed loudly when one television station declared Washington the winner at midnight local time. They hissed and booed even louder when a picture of the Rev. Jesse Jackson flashed on another television screen.

"What happened? It's all the blacks, isn't it?" said Judy Hoffer, a middle-aged woman bearing a "Democrat for Epton" sign. Distress was written all over her face.

"There'll be turmoil in this city," she said. "What are they the blacks trying to do--win the whole U.S. from us? I'm scared."

"I assume there'll be a revolt because that man Washington will take all the city jobs away from the whites."

Her remarks were an extreme expression of the feeling of many of the late arrivals at Epton headquarters. Many of them had been working all day in precincts around the city. Some were reluctant to talk to reporters; a few had tears in their eyes.

"You're from the national press, we don't want to talk to you," one man told a reporter gruffly.

The scene at Epton headquarters had been subdued throughout the evening in stark contrast to the jubilation at Washington headquarters a few miles away. Even when Epton appeared to be ahead in the evening, there was restraint in the air.

The candidate himself spent most of the evening in a suite with his family on the hotel's ninth floor, five floors above where his supporters gathered. He gave only one interview early in the evening, delivering a stinging attack on media coverage of the campaign. "I'm not bitter," he said. "I think these people are just slime," he said of the media.

"I think the media has been completely unfair to me," he added. "The editorial departments should be so ashamed of themselves they should resign en masse."

The evening's only high point at Epton headquarters came about 11 local time when he left his suite to appear briefly before his supporters as they chanted, "Ber-neee, Ber-neee."

He indicated then that he and Washington were within 5,000 votes of each other and that victory was just about in his grasp. "We're not going to claim victory, but I think when we finally leave this hotel you will have the next mayor of Chicago," he told the crowd.

But when Epton, 61, left the hotel an hour later, his defeat was apparent.

Many long-time Republicans in the crowd pleased to see one of their number come so close to election.

"It's a new ball game. It's a new day," Chicago GOP Chairman Louis Kasper said. "We'll never ever have to worry about getting a candidate again. We've shown the Democratic machine is dissolving. Democrats who've never crossed over the doorway of our headquarters before now feel comfortable with us."

"They'll be there with us when we do the presidential race," he said.