EPISODE 289: In old New York, one hundred and seventy years ago, a theatrical rivalry between two leading actors of the day sparked a terrible night of violence — one of the most horrible moments in New York City history.
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.
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 chaotic bloodshed as armed militia shot indiscriminately into an angry mob gathering outside the theater at Astor Place. By the next morning, over two dozen New Yorkers would be murdered, dozens more wounded, and the culture of the city irrevocably changed.
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