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.
The New York City press knew a story when it hit them in the face, so they managed to track down Spate in his offices in the St. James Building, on Broadway and 26th Street, near Madison Square Park. When questioned by the reporters, Spate became indignant. ”I’ll put in as many chairs as they will allow,” Spate told the reporters. ”The attendants who collect the charges are in my pay. They will wear gray uniforms, and each will look after about fifty chairs, from 10 a.m. to 10 p. m. A five-cent ticket entitles the holder to sit in either a five-cent, or a three-cent chair in any park at any time during that day. But the holder of a three-cent chair can only sit in a three-cent chair.”
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Park Commissioner Clausen tried to defend his actions by telling the press that there were always plenty of free benches for people to sit on, except, of course, on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. The New York Tribune pointed out that those were the days with the biggest demand for seats in the parks. As this issue became monumental, Spate became more resolute. He ordered more chairs be placed in Central Park, and also in Madison Square Park, which was across the street from his office. Some people paid to sit, and those that didn’t, were unceremoniously thrown out of the chairs by Spate’s thugs in gray suits.
Nothing incites the general public more than someone trying to charge for something that was once free. Yet that’s exactly what entrepreneur Oscar F. Spate tried to do in the New York City parks in the blistering summer of 1901. It all started in Central Park on June 22, 1901, when a group of people spotted rows of bright green rocking chairs along the park’s mall, near the casino. Usually in this same spot, stood rows of uncomfortable wooden hard benches, so it was a pleasure indeed for the park-goes to sit and rock and enjoy the wondrous summer day.