Friday, 19 December 2008


Astor Place was the site of the Astor Place Opera House on the corner of East 8th Street. Built to be a fashionable theater in 1847, it was the location of the Astor Place Riot of May 10th 1849. The riot was one of the bloodiest days in New York's history. Anti-British feelings were running so high among New York's Irish at the height of the Irish potato famine that they found an outlet in the rivalry between American actor Edwin Forrest and the English William Charles Macready. It seems that the two actors were slated to play Macbeth at two different theaters on the same night.

The appearance onstage of the Englishman in Macbeth occasioned so violent a protest in the streets that the police overreacted and fired into the large ugly mob of in excess of 20,000 made up of lower and working class men, that had gathered outside the Opera House and were throwing missiles onto the audience and stage.

The National Guard fire into the crowd

The eventual death toll stood at 31 civilians dead, some 30 or 40 wounded from gunfire, and more than 100 soldiers, police, and civilians injured by paving stones, clubs, or other weapons. Eighty-six rioters were arrested. A coroner's jury exonerated the guardsmen, though it criticized the police for not being prepared. Macready had been smuggled out of the theater in disguise and left NYC the next morning, never to return to the USA (quick on the uptake, us English). Forrest, though tainted by association with the riot and by a scandalous divorce from his wife, continued with a successful theatrical career and died in 1872.

The buiding that now stands on the site of old Astor Place Opera House

After the tragic events of May 10th, 1849, The Astor tried to carry on, but the memories of the riot made most managers unwilling to book events there. The curent building was designed in 1890 by George Harney and housed the Chinese consulate in the 1920's.

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