Thu, 1 May 2014
England's great thespian William Macready mounted the stage of the Astor Place Opera House on May 10, 1849, to perform Shakespeare's Macbeth, just as he had done hundreds of times before. But this performance would become infamous in later years as the trigger for one of New York City's most violent events -- the Astor Place Riot.
The theater, being America's prime form of public entertainment in the early 19th century, was often home to great disturbances and riots. It was still seen as a British import and often suffered the anti-British sentiments that often vexed early New Yorkers.
Macready, known as one of the world's greatest Shakespearean stars, was soon rivaled by American actor Edwin Forrest, whose brawny, ragged style of performance endeared the audiences of the Bowery. To many, these two actors embodied many of America's deepest divides -- rich vs. poor, British vs. American, Whig vs. Democrat.
On May 10th, these emotions overflowed into an evening of stark, horrifying violence as armed militia shot indiscriminately into an angry mob gathering outside the Astor Place theater. By the end of this story, over two dozen New Yorkers would be murdered, dozens more wounded, and the culture of the city irrevocably changed.