Nothing encourages the general public more than trying to charge something that used to be free. Yet that's exactly what entrepreneur Oscar F. Spate tried to do in New York Parks in the glittering summer of 1901.
It all began in Central Park on June 22, 1901, when a group of people spotted rows of bright green rocking chairs around the park's mall, near the casino. Usually there were rows of unsightly wooden solid benches in the same place, so the park was really a pleasure to sit and swing and enjoy on a wonderful summer day.
Suddenly, two wide-shouldered men approached sitting chairs. They wore identical gray suits and wore black shoulder bags over their shoulders. The gray men told the sisters that these were private chairs for rent, and that if they wanted to continue seating, they had to rent more than five cents a day for better seats and three cents a day for places not so convenient in the park. Some left their place, but others paid. People who were not physically kicked out of the seat. When asked why, the men in gray said, "Their Mr. Spate's chairs."
This new phenomenon was reported extensively and very substantively, in the days following the New York daily. And the man in the hot seat was the chairman of the park commission – one George C. Clausen.
A few days earlier, it appeared that a man named Oscar F. Spate had visited Clausen in his official Park Commission office. Spate acted kindly enough and offered Clausen that Clausen saw no difficulty in accepting her. Spate seemed to say he wanted to place comfortable rocking chairs in parks all over New York. And for the privilege of doing so, Spate offered the city a tidy sum of $ 500 a year.
"They do it in London and Paris," Spate told Clausen. "And it would undoubtedly be good for New York City."
Clausen saw no problem with Spate's thinking, so he agreed; but without first consulting with another member of the Park Commission. As a result, Clausen awarded Spate a five-year contract, allowing Spate to set up his rocking chairs at all New York City parks. Since his ink is still dry, Spate immediately ordered 6,000 chairs, each costing about $ 1.50. If Spate's projections were correct, these chairs would earn him $ 250 to $ 300 a day.
An associate of Spate, who asked the newspaper reporter for anonymity, said Spate had already invested $ 30,000 in his new venture. The journalist did the math and came up with rocking chairs that cost Spate only $ 9,500. Pray tell me, where did the other $ 20,500 go?
A Spate spokesman said nothing to enlighten the reporter.
"Well, there is always a cost in this kind of thing," the letterman said.
The New York press knew the story when it hit them in the face, so they were able to find Spate at his offices in the St. James Building, on Broadway and 26th Street, near Madison Square Park. Asked by a reporter, Spate became angry.
"I will set as many chairs as they will allow," Spate told reporters. "The cost-paying attendees pay me. They'll wear gray uniforms and each will take care of about fifty chairs, 10am to 10pm. A five-cent ticket allows the owner to sit at any five percent, or a three-inch chair in any park at any time during the day, but a three-inch chair holder can only sit in a three-inch chair.
Spate also told reporters that he was doing the city a favor because charging chairs would keep the unwanted (read – poor) out of the parks, while keeping the parks fresh and clean from lovers who leave a mess in their wake.
The outrage from the New York press and philanthropists came quickly. Randolph Guggenheimer, chairman of the municipal council, said he "saw no good reason to allow private parties to occupy parks and make money through a scheme like this." The New York Central Alliance sent a statement to reporters denying both Spate and Clausen about their "gruesome actions." The New York Tribune wrote in an editorial: "This is just another instance of the hopeless stupidity of the current Park Commission." The New York Daily also wrote an editorial defending "the rights of poor people to sit in a public park." However, the New York Times saw no problem in what Spate was doing, as long as "the prices were neatly arranged."
The park commissioner Clausen tried to defend his actions by telling reporters that there were always plenty of free benches that people could sit on, except, of course, Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. The New York Tribune noted that these were the days with the highest demand for space in parks.
As this issue became monumental, Spate became more resolute. He ordered more chairs to be placed in Central Park, but also in Madison Square Park, which was across from his office. Some paid to sit down, and those who didn't, frantically threw Spate throwers in gray suits off the chairs.
Things settled down for a few days as few people protested paying for seats. All that changed on Wednesday 26th, 1901, when the outside temperature of the city rose above 90 degrees. By Saturday, the temperature had risen to 94 degrees and nineteen people had died in New York due to unbearable heat conditions. The temperature reached 97 degrees on Sunday, making it the hottest day ever recorded with the Weather Bureau since June 1871. Fifteen more died on Sunday, with two hundred deaths on Tuesday with two hundred deaths. There were 317 heat-related deaths Wednesday, totaling 382 deaths in Manhattan between June 28 and July 4, along with 521 hospitalizations for heat protection. In a total of 797 deaths and 891 heat rooms in seven days in the New York metropolitan area, which includes Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Richmond County. Things were so bad that on July 2, city ambulance hospitals worked 24 hours without any relief.
With the city in a heat-related heat, worried people rushed to the city parks, now ordered by the Parking Commission to stay open all night. When people arrived at the parks, they found that many free benches were gone, and those that were still present in the parks were moved into the sun, making them too hot to sit. However, Spate's green chairs sat beautifully in the shade, making them more appealing to people battling the murky heat.
On Saturday, July 6, the situation reached a key. The man was sitting in one of Spate's chairs in Madison Square Park and he absolutely refused to pay the five cents that Spate man Thomas Tulley had asked for. Finally, Tully pulled out a chair under the man and a flame ensued. An angry crowd surrounded Tully and began yelling, "Lynch him! He's a man of sleep!"
Tulley made his way through the hustle and bustle across the street to the Fifth Avenue Hotel, where he ran upstairs and locked himself in a room. The audience gathered in the lobby of the hotel for about 30 minutes, when officers arrived and escorted Tully out of the hotel, wherever he called home.
Later that day, while the heat was still falling on the passers-by, another Spate man evicted the boy sitting in one of Spate's chairs at Madison Square Park and refused to pay the required five cents. An angry crowd attacked a Spate man, and when a police officer tried to intervene, he was thrown into the park's fountain. A Spate man left the park in fear, and after doing so, delighted people began alternately sitting in Spate's chairs (no giving, of course). When dusk arrived, several people carried Spate chairs with them as trophies to decorate their living rooms.
The next day, on Sunday, July 7, the unrest moved to Central Park, where a huge crowd gathered in defiance of Spate and his green rocking chairs. While two of Spate's men guarded Spate's precious chairs, the audience marched diligently near the chairs, shouting the tune of "Sweet Annie Moore":
We pay no more!
We pay no more!
We no longer pay for the park
One summer a day.
And now it's not
Commander, no more!
As the crowd gathered in chairs, people who had already paid for seating were leaving the chairs and fleeing the park. One of Spate's men left work at the scene and also fled the park. However, another of Spate's people kept trying to charge for chair fees. But he also quit his job after an angry old woman stabbed him in the back of the neck with a hairpiece.
On Monday, July 8, Madison Square Park was the site of almost constant riots. A dozen or so boys walked from chair to chair, sitting as they pleased, accompanied by a rude crowd who threatened to hang any of Spate's men who tried to collect any compensation. A brave and stupid Spate employee named Otto Berman punched one boy in the face. Crowds besieged Berman and his life was saved by six police officers who threw Berman out of the park and saved themselves. Things got out of control at Madison Square Park, a police troop was called from a nearby West Thirtieth Street police station.
In the late afternoon, two men took two Spate chairs and offered a thousand dollars to any Spate men who could evict them from the chairs. Two Spate people jumped inside and tried to collect the prize, but two people who turned out to be world champion Terry McGovern, and a former fighter and then boxing ring, immediately beat him to a pulp. announcer Joe Humphreys. Police toured the park and arrested six rebels, who were handcuffed to Thirty Street Police Station. Police and arrested were escorted by a crowd estimated at 200 people, who marched in lockdown and sang:
You're sleeping! You're sleeping!
Clausen and Spate!
You're sleeping! You're sleeping!
Clausen and Spate!
On Tuesday, July 9, riots continued in both Madison Square Park and Central Park. But New York police took a different tactic when they were commissioned by Police Commissioner Michael Murphy to not assist any of the Spate men trying to collect a fee and arrest any of the rebels unless court orders issued arrest warrants for individual rebels. At this point, several judges told reporters that they would not issue any warrants, which gave the rebels an advantage (as if they were satisfied with Spate's chairs).
By this time, the chairman of the Parking Commission, George C. Clausen, was figuratively ripping hair from his own head. After first saying that he could do nothing about the situation without the permission of the rest of the Park Commission, Clausen then reversed and said that he, who confirmed the Spate contract, could also revoke Spate & # 39; contract with New York City. Spate quickly responded by getting an injunction "restricting Mr. Clausen and the Park Commission from interfering with his current contract with the City of New York."
In a state of despair, Spate ordered his men not to lay their chairs on the ground, but to pile them in piles at Madison Square Park and Central Park, and only hire them if they were paid in advance. However, as soon as someone rented one of Spate's chairs, members of the crowd grabbed a chair and broke it into pieces.
Soon the crowd, tired of Spate and his chairs, began bombarding Spathe's men with stones and stones, while Spate's men hid behind and under chairs, piled up in piles. Spate himself entered both parks to try to execute his contract, but both times he was forced to flee as they were chased by rocks and stones flying past his head.
Finally, on July 11, a hero named Max Radt, vice president of Jefferson State Bank, went before the state Supreme Court and got a restraining order against Spate and the Park Commission to accuse people of sitting in a green swing of Spate. chairs. Spate, realizing that the man had been beaten, immediately put all his chairs down. A few days later, Spate told reporters that he was "giving up his project."
Oscar F. Spate left his sight and never saw or heard him again in New York.
A few weeks later, a park commission issued a press release announcing that the chairman of the Park Commission – George C. Clausen – used his personal money to buy what was left of Green Spate. rocking chairs. These chairs were to be set up in parks throughout New York. Each of these chairs featured the letter "For the exclusive use of women and children."
And right above the declaration was the capital letter "FREE".