24 October 2007

The Starbucks Place Riot

New York's past dies hard, at least among the ranks of the City's many history geeks (which, I admit, includes me). I was sitting in the Starbucks on Astor Place, enjoying the panoramic view of the nearby Barnes and Noble, Chase Bank and K-Mart, and taking up space at a table while not buying any coffee whatsoever, when a couple sat down at the neighboring table with their insulated cups of assorted java.

Then the guy, with absolutely no prompting started regaling the woman with the tale of the Astor Place Riot of 1849!

The Starbucks commands a spot once occupied by the Astor Place Opera House, a swank place frequented by the City swells in the early 19th century. In 1849, English actor William Macready played "Macbeth" there, to the great ire of fans of Edwin Forrest, then America's most famous and perhaps most stupid actor. The Bowery B'hoys loved Forrest, and Forrest hated Macready. Macready's first performance was greeted by hoots and eggs; his second descended into a full-fledged, xenophobic riot. The police called in the National Guard, who fired into the crowd, killing dozens.

All this my nerdy neighbor related. And he had it all on the tip of his tongue. Not only the facts, but the year (!), the date, May 3 (!!), and the number of people killed, 23 (!!!). OK, he got the last two wrong: the riot was on May 10, and 22 people died (though accounts are disputed). Still, that's some first-rate geekiness!

I don't mean to tease the man so much. I actually liked the fact that Starbucks couldn't quash the fact that some New Yorkers will always associate this corner with a theatre riot, not frappuccinos.

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