Nothing inspires the general public more than someone who tries to pay for something that was once free. That's what entrepreneur Oscar F. Spate tried to do in the New York Parks in the summer of 1901.
It all began in Central Park on June 22, 1901, when a group of people spotted rows of light green rocking chairs along the park's shopping mall near the casino. Usually there were rows of uncomfortable hard wooden benches in the same spot, so it was indeed a pleasure for the park to enjoy the wondrous summer day.
Suddenly two broad-shouldered men approached the sitter of the rocking chair. They wore identical gray suits and wore black satchels with straps over their shoulders. The men in gray told the sitters they were rented private chairs, and if they wanted to continue sitting, they would have to spend more than five cents a day for the better seats and three cents a day for seats that were not so favored Park. Some people have vacated their seats, others have paid. People who were not physically thrown from their seats. When asked why, the men in gray said, "Mr. Spate's chairs."
This new phenomenon was dealt with extensively and very controversially in the New York daily newspapers of the following day. And the man in the hot seat was the president of the Park Commission – a George C. Clausen.
A few days earlier, Clausen appeared to have been visited by a man named Oscar F. Spate at his official Park Commission office. Spate seemed gracious enough, and he offered Clausen a suggestion that Clausen could readily accept. Apparently, Spate wanted to set up comfortable rocking chairs in the parks in New York City. And for that, Spate offered the city the proper sum of $ 500 a year.
"They're doing that in London and Paris," Spate said to Clausen. "And it would undoubtedly be good for New York City."
Clausen saw no problem with Spate's mindset, so he readily agreed; however, without prior consultation with the other member of the Park Commission. As a result, Spade received a five-year contract from Clausen, with which Spate was able to place his rocking chairs in all of New York's parks. Since the ink on his contract was still not dry, Spate immediately ordered 6,000 chairs for about $ 1.50 each. If Spate's projections were correct, those chairs would earn him an estimated $ 250 to $ 300 a day.
Spate, who asked an newspaper reporter for anonymity, said Spate had already invested $ 30,000 in his new venture. The reporter calculated and got on the rocking chairs, the spade cost only about 9,500 dollars. Tell me, where did the other $ 20,500 go?
Spate's spokesman said nothing to enlighten the reporter.
"Well, there are always costs in such things, you know," he told the scribe.
The New York press knew a story when it hit them in the face, and they managed to locate Spate in his offices in the St. James Building on Broadway and on 26th Street near Madison Square Park. When Spate was questioned by the reporters, he revolted.
"I'll install as many chairs as they allow," Spate told reporters. "The attendants who charge the fees are in my salary." They wear gray uniforms and take care of about fifty chairs from 10 am to 10 pm A five-cent ticket entitles the holder, either in a five-cent or one Three-cent chair in any park at any time during this day.But the owner of a three-cent chair can only sit in a three-cent chair. "
Spate also told reporters that he does the city a favor, since loading the chairs would keep unwanted people (reading the poor) out of the parks and keep the parks clean and free of loitering people leaving a mess.
The indignation of the New York press and the philanthropists came quickly. Randolph Guggenheimer, city council president, said he saw "no good reason to allow private parties to occupy parks and earn money with such a program." The New York City Central Federated Union sent a statement to the press denouncing both Spate and Clausen for their "vile actions." The New York Tribune wrote in an editorial: "This is just another example of the hopeless stupidity of the current Park Commission." The New York Journal also wrote an editorial on "The Rights of Poor People to Sit in the Public Park." The New York Times, however, saw no problem in what Spate did as long as "prices were properly regulated."
Park Commissar Clausen tried to defend his actions by telling the press that there were always plenty of free seats, except, of course, on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. The New York Tribune pointed out that these were the days with the greatest demand for seats in the parks.
When this problem became monumental, Spate became more determined. He ordered more chairs in Central Park and also in Madison Square Park, which was opposite his office. Some people who were paid to sit and those who did not, were thrown out of the chair by Spate's thugs in gray suits.
For a few days, things calmed down when few people protested to pay for the seats. That changed on Wednesday, September 26, 1901, when the city's outside temperature rose above 90 degrees. By Saturday, the temperature had risen to 94 degrees and nineteen people had died in New York City due to the unbearable heat conditions. The temperature reached 97 degrees on Sunday, making it the hottest day since June 1871. On Sunday, fifteen more people died, and on Tuesday, when the temperature rose to 99 degrees, two hundred deaths were reported. There were 317 heat-related deaths on Wednesday, causing a total of 382 heat-related deaths in Manhattan alone, from June 28 through July 4, along with 521 hospitalizations for heat-related reasons. In total, in the New York City metropolitan area, which included Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and Richmond County, there were 797 deaths and 891 heat disorders over a seven-day period. The situation was so bad that the ambulance drivers of the city on July 2 worked 24 hours a day without relief.
With the city in a heat-filled intoxication, hurried people rushed to the city's parks, now instructed by the Park Commission to stay open all night. When the people arrived at the park, they found that many of the free benches were gone and those still in the parks were thrown into the sun so that they were too hot to sit on. However, Spate's green chairs sat nicely in the shade, making them more attractive to the people fighting the oppressive heat.
On Saturday, July 6, the situation reached a boiling point. One man was sitting in one of Spate's chairs in Madison Square Park, absolutely refusing to pay the five cents that Spate's husband Thomas Tulley demanded. Finally, Tully pulled the chair out from under the man and there followed a chaos. An angry crowd surrounded Tully and began screaming, "Lynch him, he's Spate's man!"
Tulley fought his way through the crowd and raced across the street to the Fifth Avenue Hotel, where he stormed up the stairs and locked himself in a room. The crowd gathered in the hotel lobby for about 30 minutes when police arrived and escorted Tully from the hotel to the place he called home.
Later that day, as the heat was still raining on the park visitors, another of Spate's men expelled a boy sitting on one of Spate's chairs in Madison Square Park, refusing to pay the amount necessary five cents. An angry mob attacked Spate's husband, and when a policeman tried to intervene, he was thrown into the park's fountain. The man from Spate fled the park out of fear, and after he had done so, enthusiastic people took turns sitting on Spate's chairs (of course without paying for it). As night fell, several people carried Spate's chairs home as trophies to decorate their own living rooms.
The following day, Sunday, July 7, the uneasiness moved to Central Park, where a huge crowd gathered to brave Spade and his green rocking chairs. While two of Spate's men guarded Spate's precious chairs, the crowd marched dangerously close to the chairs, singing the tune of "Sweet Annie Moore":
We do not pay anymore!
We do not pay anymore!
No more do we pay for the park
Chairs no longer!
A summer day.
And now he is not
Commissioner no more!
As the crowd gathered in the chairs, people who had already paid for the seat, left the chairs and fled the park. One of Spate's men quit his job immediately and fled the park. However, another of Spate's men continued to try to collect the chair fees. But he quit his job after an old woman stabbed him with a hairpin.
On Monday, July 8, Madison Square Park was the scene of almost constant riots. About a dozen boys went from chair to chair, sitting as long as they pleased, accompanied by an unbridled crowd threatening to hang one of Spate's men trying to collect fees. A brave and foolhardy spade employee named Otto Berman slapped a boy's face. The crowd surrounded Berman and his life was rescued by six policemen who took Berman out of the park. In Madison Square Park, things had gotten so out of control that the nearby police station on West Thirtieth Street was giving police action.
In the late afternoon, two men occupied two of Spate's chairs and offered each of Spate's men, who could remove them from the chairs, a thousand dollars. Two of Spate's men jumped in and tried to collect the reward, but they were promptly beaten to pulp by the two men, who turned out to be featherweight World Champion Terry McGovern and former fighter and former boxing ring announcer Joe Humphreys. The police stormed the park and arrested six rioters who handcuffed them to the 30th Street Police Station. The police and detainees were followed by a crowd of approximately 200 people marching in step and singing:
Clausen and Spate!
Clausen and Spate!
On Tuesday, July 9, riots continued in both Madison Square Park and Central Park. New York City police, however, pursued a different tactic when they were ordered by police commissioner Michael Murphy not to charge any of Spate's men for charging fees, and to arrest any of the rioters unless the magistrates issued warrants for the individual rioters. At that time, several judges told the press they would not issue arrest warrants, giving the rioters the opportunity to do what they were pleased with Spate's chairs.
At this point, Park Commission President George C. Clausen figuratively tore his hair out of his head. After Clausen had previously stated that he could do nothing against the situation without the permission of the rest of the Park Commission, he returned and said that since he was the one who had confirmed the contract with Spate, he could also revoke Spate. s contract with New York City. Spate quickly responded with a court order "that prevented Mr. Clausen and the Park Commission from interfering with his current contract with the city of New York."
In an act of desperation, Spate ordered his men not to lay his chairs on the floor, but to stack them on heaps in Madison Square Park and in Central Park and only rent them if they were paid in advance. However, once someone had rented one of Spate's chairs, members of the crowd grabbed the chair and cut it into small pieces.
Soon, tired with spades and chairs, the crowd began to bombard Spate's men with rocks and stones while Spat's men piled behind and under the chairs. Spate himself entered both parks to enforce his contract, but had to flee both times as he was tracked with stones and stones flying past his head.
Finally, on July 11, a hero named Max Radt, the vice president of Jefferson State Bank, went to the state Supreme Court and received an injunction banning it and the Park Commission banning people in Spate's green rocking chair to sit chairs. Spate noticed that he was a beaten man and immediately put all his chairs in stock. A few days later, Spate announced to the press that he wanted to "give up his project."
Oscar F. Spate fell out of sight and was never seen or heard again in New York City.
A few weeks later, the Parks Commission issued a press release to the New York newspapers, announcing that Park Commission President George C. Clausen had used his own personal money to buy the remains of Spate Green rocking chairs , These chairs were to be set up in parks throughout New York City. Each of these chairs had the words "For the exclusive use of women and children" printed on it.
And right above the explanation was the word "FREE" in large letters.