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:
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With the city in a heat-related frenzy, harried people hurried to the city’s parks, which were now ordered by the Park Commission to stay open all night. When people arrived at the parks, they discovered that many of the free benches were no longer there, and the ones that were still present in the parks had been moved into the sun, making them too hot to sit on. However, Spate’s green chairs were sitting nicely in the shade, making them more attractive to the people fighting the stifling heat.
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.”
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.
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