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Spate also told the reporters he was doing the city a favor, since charging for the chairs would keep the undesirables (read – the poor) out of the parks, thereby keeping the parks sparkling clean and free of loiterers who leave a mess in their wake. The outrage from the New York City press and from philanthropists came swift. Randolph Guggenheimer, the president of the Municipal Council, said he ”saw no good reason for allowing private parties to occupy park grounds and make money through a scheme like this.” The New York City Central Federated Union sent a statement to the press denouncing both Spate and Clausen for their ”hideous actions.” The New York Tribune wrote in an editorial, ”This is only another instance of the hopeless stupidity of the present Park Commission.” The New York Journal also wrote an editorial defending the ”rights of poor people to sit in public park.” However, the New York Times saw no problem in what Spate was doing, as long as ”the prices were regulated properly.”
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Suddenly, two broad-shouldered men approached the rocking-chair sitters. They wore identical gray suits and they carried black satchels with straps over their shoulders. The men in gray told the sitters that these were private chairs for rent, and that if they wanted to continue sitting they had to fork over five cents a day for the better seats, and three cents a day for seats that were not in as preferential a position in the park. Some people vacated their seats, but others paid. People who did neither were physically ejected from the seats. When they asked why, the men in gray said, ”Them’s Mr. Spate’s chairs.”
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.
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.