Astor Place: rocked by a deadly riot

A riot sparked by dueling performances of Macbeth? Hard to believe, but it happened 160 years ago in Astor Place. Today, skate rats are the most menacing crowd you’ll find there.

EdwinforrestphotoBut in 1849, things were different. Top U.K. actor William Charles Macready, a favorite of New York City’s upper crust, was booked to perform Macbeth at the refined Astor Place Opera House on May 10. 

That same night, American-born Edwin Forrest (at left, a daguerreotype by Mathew Brady), who started his career in theaters on the nearby Bowery for working-class crowds, was also scheduled to play Macbeth a few blocks away. Once friendly, the actors were now rivals.

On May 7, Forrest’s fans—whipped up by newspaper stories and anti-English sentiment—arrived at Macready’s opening performance and proceeded to bombard the stage with eggs and shoes. 

Macready wanted to go back to Britain, but prominent New Yorkers, like Herman Melville and Washington Irving, persuaded him to stay.

Astorplaceriot

Before the May 10 performance, Forrest’s fans went into riot mode. About 20,000 men amassed outside the opera house, tossing rocks through windows and attempting to set it on fire. While police tried to quell the crowd outside, Macready finished the show and took off.

The rioters did not. National Guardsmen were called in to restore order. They fired on rioters as well as innocent bystanders. After it was finally brought under control, the riot had claimed 22 lives.

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9 Responses to “Astor Place: rocked by a deadly riot”

  1. When ‘Macbeths’ Dueled to the Deaths of 22 - City Room Blog - NYTimes.com Says:

    [...] 160 years ago, a riot that claimed 22 lives started in Astor Place over dueling performances of “Macbeth.” [Ephemeral New [...]

  2. Malcontent Says:

    Imagine what the Dead Rabbits, Plug Uglies or Bowery Boys would do in response to the invasion of bridge and tunnel hipsters and fraternity types. I wish they were here now to see their response.

  3. TijuanaTornado Says:

    @malcontent:

    Yeah because 22 lives are really worthless, no matter who they are, right?, right?!… geez…. people should really think before saying things….

  4. Nabe News: September 15 - Bowery Boogie | A Lower East Side Chronicle Says:

    [...] 1849, riots in Astor Place over Macbeth claimed twenty-two lives.  It spawned from two dueling actors booked the same night at different [...]

  5. John Jacob Astor: New York’s first drug dealer « Ephemeral New York Says:

    [...] Astor Place, Astoria, and Astor Row in Harlem all bear his name. [...]

  6. mike Says:

    astoria queens. is that what they mean?

  7. GrayFoxDown Says:

    Reblogged this on Big Apple Dayze.

  8. When the Straw Hat Riots rocked 1920s New York « Ephemeral New York Says:

    [...] city has had its share of senseless riots: Astor Place, the Draft Riots, Tompkins [...]

  9. Where are New York's mayors buried? An (almost) complete list - The Bowery Boys Says:

    […] Smith Woodhull (1949-51), who ineffectively looked on during the Astor Place Riots, was a landowner in Miller Place on the north shore and is buried nearby at Ceder Hill Cemetery […]

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