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 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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Later that day, with the heat still beating down on the park-goers, another one of Spate’s men evicted a boy who was sitting in one of Spate’s chairs in Madison Square Park and had refused to pay the necessary five cents. An angry crowd attacked Spate’s man, and when a policeman tried to intervene, he was dumped into the park’s fountain. Spate’s man fled the park in fear, and after he did, delighted people began taking turns sitting in Spate’s chairs (without paying of course). When nightfall arrived, several people carried Spate’s chairs home with them as trophies to grace their own living rooms. The following day, Sunday, July 7th, the uneasiness moved to Central Park, where a huge crowd gathered in defiance of Spate and his green rocking chairs. While two of Spate’s men guarded Spate’s precious chairs, the crowd marched perilously close to the chairs chanting to the tune of ”Sweet Annie Moore”: