4. Astor Place Riot of 1849

Clinton Hall Astor PlaceClinton Hall, the former site of the Astor Place Opera House

The Astor Place Riot was one of the city’s deadliest riots, killing at least 25 people, at the Astor Place Opera House. The riots were sparked when supporters of American actor Edwin Forrest and English actor William Macready bickered about which actor could better play major Shakespeare roles. The riot supposedly began due to poor Anglo-American relations as well as class struggle between Macready’s supporters, who were mainly upper class, and Forrest’s middle class followers.

On May 7, Forrest’s supporters threw rotten eggs, ripped up seats, and shoes at Macready during a performance of Macbeth. Three days later, Hermann Melville and Washington Irving signed a petition for Macready to take the stage again as Macbeth. During this performance, upwards of 10,000 people stood in the streets around the theater, many Forrest supporters trying to set fire to the building. After the show, Macready left in disguise and police began opening fire after being attacked and injured, killing many innocent bystanders. The riot had the largest number of civilian casualties due to military action since the American Revolution, and police were soon after trained in riot control.