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.
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In an act of desperation, Spate ordered his men not to place his chairs on the ground, but to pile them in heaps in Madison Square Park and Central Park, and rent them only if they were paid for in advance. However, as soon as someone rented one of Spate’s chairs, members of the crowd grabbed the chair and broken it into little pieces. Soon the crowd, tired of Spate and his chairs, began bombarding Spate’s men with rocks and stones, as Spate’s men hid behind and under the chairs piled up in heaps. Spate himself entered both parks to try to enforce his contract, but was forced to flee both times, as he was chased with rocks and stones flying past his head.
Finally, on July 11, a hero named Max Radt, the vice-president of the Jefferson State Bank, went into state Supreme Court and got an injunction forbidding Spate and the Park Commission from charging people to sit in Spate’s green rocking chairs. Spate, realizing he was a beaten man, promptly put all his chairs in storage. A few days later, Spate announced to the press he was ”abandoning his project.”
By this time, the president of the Park Commission George C. Clausen was figuratively tearing the hair from his own head. Having first said he could do nothing about the situation without the permission of the rest of the Park Commission, Clausen then reversed himself and said since he was the one who had confirmed Spate’s contract, he could also revoke Spate’s contract with New York City. Spate quickly answered by by getting a court injunction ”restraining Mr. Clausen and the Park Commission from interfering with his valid contract with the City of New York.”