This new phenomenon was covered extensively and very contentiously, in the following day’s daily New York City newspapers. And the man on the hot seat was the president of the Park Commission – one George C. Clausen. It seemed that a few days earlier, Clausen had been visited in his official Park Commission office by a man named Oscar F. Spate. Spate seemed amiable enough, and he offered Clausen a proposition Clausen saw no difficulty in accepting. It seemed that Spate said he wanted to place comfortable rocking chairs in the parks throughout New York City. And for the privilege of doing so, Spate offered the city the tidy sum of $500 a year.
In the late afternoon, two men occupied two of Spate’s chairs and offered a thousand dollars to any of Spate’s men who could evict them from the chairs. Two of Spate’s men jumped in and tried to collect the reward, but they were promptly beaten to a pulp by the two men, who turned out to featherweight champion of the world Terry McGovern, and former fighter and then-boxing ring announcer Joe Humphreys. The police stormed the park and arrested six rioters, whom they led in cuffs to the Thirtieth Street police station. The policemen and the arrestees were followed by a crowd estimated at 200 people, who were marching in lock step and chanting:
Things quieted down for a few days, as few people protested paying for the seats. That all changed on Wednesday 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 perished in New York City due to the insufferable heat conditions. The temperature reached 97 degrees on Sunday, making it the hottest day on record with the Weather Bureau since June of 1871. On Sunday, fifteen more people died, and on Tuesday, with the temperature rising to 99 degrees, two hundred deaths were reported. There were 317 heat-related deaths on Wednesday, which made, in the time period from June 28th to July 4th, a total of 382 heat-related deaths in Manhattan alone, along with 521 hospitalizations for heat prostration. Altogether, in a seven-day period in the metropolitan district of New York City, which included Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and Richmond County, there were 797 deaths and 891 heat prostrations. Things were so bad, that on July 2nd, the city’s hospital ambulance drivers worked 24 hours straight with no relief.
A church chair is a chair that provides those in attendance at a worship service the ability to focus on the service itself versus continually dealing with discomfort because of the chairs they are sitting on. The reality is that when people attend a church service they want to be able to see what is going on, hear what is going on, and be able to choose to participate in what is taking place. But when the chair they are sitting on is uncomfortable, all of the above are affected negatively and will become a distraction for them throughout the worship service, versus something that enhances their overall experience. Please know the above truth is not related to the appearance of the chair. Instead it has everything to do with the comfort the chair provides.
As the crowd converged on the chairs, people who had already paid for the right to sit, abandoned the chairs and fled from the park. One of Spate’s man quit his job on the spot, and he also fled the park. However, another one of Spate’s men continued to try to collect the chair fees. But he quit his job too after an angry old lady jabbed him in the back of the neck with a hairpin. On Monday July 8th, Madison Square Park was the site of almost constant rioting. A dozen or so boys went from chair to chair, sitting for as long as they pleased, accompanied by an unruly crowd threatening to hang any of Spate’s men who tried to collect any fees. A brave and foolhardy Spate employee named Otto Berman slapped one boy in the face. The crowd surrounded Berman and his life was saved by six policemen, who bum-rushed Berman out of the park and into safety. Things had gotten so-out-of-control in Madison Square Park, police reenforcement were called in from the nearby West Thirtieth Street police station.
On Tuesday, July 9th, the riots continued in both Madison Square Park and Central Park. However, the New York City police took a different tactic, when they were ordered by Police Commissioner Michael Murphy not to aid any of Spate’s men trying to collect fees, and not to arrest any of the rioters, unless court magistrates issued arrest warrants for the individual rioters. At this point, several of the magistrates told the press they would not issue any warrants, which gave the rioters the (wink-wink) go-ahead to do as they pleased with Spate’s chairs.