Excerpted from Art Cashin’s stock market commentary today:
On this day in 1849, a riot occurred in the City of New York. “Big Deal!” you say – “A riot in New York, how unusual!” (Well, if you can contain the sarcasm, I’ll explain what was unusual.)
Sure New York City has had: draft riots; race riots; religious riots; bank riots; sports riots; anti-slavery riots and even race/religious riots. But if my research is correct, on this day (actually night) in 1849, it may have experienced its first and only acting riot.
Like most riots the seeds had been planted long before the fighting and killing began. In this case, the planting had occurred about five years before, on a stage in London.
By the 1840’s, America began to take itself seriously. It had its own poets, its own authors and even its own Shakespearean actors. Premier among the latter was a certain Edwin Forrest. Forrest was America’s pride. He was considered the most accomplished actor in America.
So when he had been booked into London to play “King Lear” in 1844, America felt his expected rave reviews would validate the presumption that America had finally attained cultural parity with Europe. But the reviews were anything but raves. Critics called him amateurish and saddled with American coarseness. And even before the reviews, the opening night audience had hooted and hissed Forrest nearly off the stage.
Forrest was convinced that his London tour had been sabotaged by Wm. MacReady, England’s “Premier Actor.” Thus, when Mr. MacReady came to tour America in 1849, Mr. Forrest, seeking revenge, was laying in wait. He scheduled performances head-to-head against MacReady. More importantly, he rushed to give interview upon interview retelling how nasty the British had been to him, thanks to MacReady.
The campaign worked. On May the 8th, 1849, MacReady opened at the Astor Place Opera House. Unbeknownst to the star, the audience was packed with Forrest’s friends who were also packed with a lot of yet to be recycled fruits and vegetables. As MacReady spoke his first lines, the audience recycled the produce at MacReady. Ungratefully, MacReady fled the stage and announced he was through with America.
The “don’tcha knows” were incensed and got the mayor to offer more police and even the National Guard to protect MacReady’s next performance. But all the publicity inspired even greater anti-MacReady feelings. So on this night in 1849, a crowd of 12,000 or so marched on the Opera House. (They were led by a certain E.Z.C. Judson who would later hide his police record by changing his name to Ned Buntline; write “Dime Novels” and create Western heroes.) Anyway, on this night, the mob of 12,000 started throwing cobblestones at the theater, the cops and the troops. (Now if you have not been in a New York riot recently, let me assure you that hurled cobblestones can sting more than rubber bullets.) So the cops, lacking a sense of humor, opened fire, leaving 30 dead and 50 injured.