2.The Rocking Chair Riots In Madison Square Park

New York City has been the site of many serious protests that have incited large-scale change, but in 1901, a protest started for a frivolous reason occurred in Madison Square Park. At this time, an English businessman named Oscar Spate convinced the Parks Commissioner to let him pay the city $500 annually to place 200 cushioned rocking chairs in Madison Square Park, Union Square and Central Park, and then charge New Yorkers five cents to use them. He got the idea from London and Paris, whose parks sometimes followed this practice of charging pedestrians for seating, and he also wanted to discourage homeless residency in the park. Spate’s rocking chairs even replaced free benches in shady locations.

When a July heat wave occurred, the pedestrians of Madison Square Park thus refused to pay to sit in the shade and even deliberately went there to sit in the rocking chairs without paying. The police became involved when one-thousand men and boys chased the chairs’ attendant from the park and broke the rocking chairs.

The riot lasted several days, and that same month the Parks Commissioner cancelled the five-year contract with Spate. A 10,000-person celebration with fireworks ensued. But a determined Spate took the Parks Commissioner to court for ending the contract, but the judge didn’t allow the public to pay for seating. In fact, the Evening Journal then asked for an injunction against such paid chairs, causing Spate to finally relinquish his cause.

Another fun fact: Spate then sold the chairs to Wanamaker’s Department Store, where they then advertised as “Historic Chairs.”