Madison Square Park, the site of the Rocking Chair Riots of 1801
New York has a long history of social and political movements that have engendered change in the city’s political and social landscape. Much of this change has come from rioting, sometimes over issues that seem archaic to us today – like rocking chairs and flour, for example. Still, many neighborhoods throughout New York City have succumbed to violence to achieve change. These riots were motivated by life and death situations, racial and class tension, activism, and even the better portrayal of Shakespeare characters.
Here is a list of ten notorious riots that have taken place in New York City:
1. The “Rocking Chair Riots” of 1801
It was a lot harder to take a load off in the New York City parks of 1801. Streetcars made traveling easier for various classes to co-mingle into public spaces that catered to the rich and English Businessman Oscar F. Spate decided to start charging for seats in high-end rocking chairs.
Through a deal with the Parks Department Commissioner, Spate assumed the rich would want to distinguish themselves from the poor in the changing landscape of the parks. Things got heated in the summer, however, when people started to refuse to pay for the shady placed rocking chairs. Park-goers became forceful with attendants who were tasked with collecting the cash, and eventually, the Rocking Chair Riots ensued.
After several days of rioting, the Parks Commissioner canceled Spates’s contract. Though Spate tried to take the commissioner to court for this, the Judge ruled in favor of the people’s right to rock without a fee.