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.
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”:
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.
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Things quieted down for a few days, as few people protested paying for the seats. That all changed on Wednesday 26, 1901, when the city’s outside temperature rose above 90 degrees. By Saturday the temperature had risen to 94 degrees and nineteen people had perished in New York City due to the insufferable heat conditions. The temperature reached 97 degrees on Sunday, making it the hottest day on record with the Weather Bureau since June of 1871. On Sunday, fifteen more people died, and on Tuesday, with the temperature rising to 99 degrees, two hundred deaths were reported. There were 317 heat-related deaths on Wednesday, which made, in the time period from June 28th to July 4th, a total of 382 heat-related deaths in Manhattan alone, along with 521 hospitalizations for heat prostration. Altogether, in a seven-day period in the metropolitan district of New York City, which included Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and Richmond County, there were 797 deaths and 891 heat prostrations. Things were so bad, that on July 2nd, the city’s hospital ambulance drivers worked 24 hours straight with no relief.