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.”
That question was asked of me recently by a pastor we were working with. He had contacted us regarding the worship seating needs of his church, he was operating with a very tight budget, and he wanted a church chair that featured a high degree of quality. As we conversed, I suggested one chair solution that we have placed in several churches that performs very well, possesses great quality and is easy on the budget. The pastor though, even though he loved the price and was pleased with the specifications of the chair, uttered the words above.
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.
”They do this in London and Paris,” Spate told Clausen. ”And it would undoubtedly be good for New York City.” Clausen saw no problem with Spate’s line of thinking, so he readily agreed; albeit without first consulting with the other member of the Park Commission. As a result, Clausen graced Spate with a five-year contract, allowing Spate to place his rocking chairs in all the New York City parks. With the ink still not dry on his contract, Spate immediately ordered 6,000 chairs, costing about $1.50 each. If Spate’s projections were correct, these chairs would earn him an estimated $250-$300 a day.
An associate of Spate, who asked a newspaper reporter for anonymity, said that Spate had already invested $30,000 in his new venture. The reporter did the math and he came up with the rocking chairs only costing Spate around $9,500. Pray tell, where did the other $20,500 go? Spate’s spokesman said nothing to enlighten the reporter. ”Well, there’s always expenses in things like this, you know,” he told the scribe.