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DisAstor Place

Astor, the place of DisAstor
Bright red, ripped shreds of fabric, shallow screams, elaborate halls still filled with extreme white smoke...fragments of diamond bracelets and cuff links lay scattered in this ghost of a building. It is the morning of May 11, 1849. This building is a sad, revealing testament to the events of the previous day, as well as the string of events that came before and the sentiments that will follow. The scene flashes before you. Careful! The image might hit you if you don't duck. Do you see that man over there lying in the pool of blood? It's too bad; he was coming home from work and was trampled by the stampede of angry rioters.

As I step out of this time machine I built, just for my personal enjoyment, I am curious as to what malfunction must have brought me to such a turbulent time. If I could get any other kinks out this would be great for the rest of the US Trek. I guess when I set the dial to "Wild" you never know what you are going to get.

Now let's see...my crystal "Explanation Screen" is giving me the low-down on this crazy situation. I am in downtown Manhattan, where anger and violence seem to be ripe for the picking. Two names are key in this situation: William Macready, and Edwin Forrest. Macready was an English actor, with a reputation for being liked by few, but respected by many for his dedication to the craft. That "many" happened to consist of the elite of Britain and New York. This was before movies, so we are talking theatre here. Theatre was serious business during this time; it was one of the more popular forms of artistic expression, one that in some way included the audience. Audience members were even known to interrupt performances to let the actor know that he or she sucked big time.

Commoner is off to work
Who went to see theatre? Mainly it was the pastime of the rich and elite. However, others (commoners) did on occasion enjoy a good "show". The working class happened to be fans of quite a different individual. Edwin Forrest was the working man's actor. Many of the roles he played were characters that fought against the bonds of oppression in triumph. He had a robust build and was not quite as fancy as Edwin Forrest. In the eyes of Forrest fans, Macready seemed like a pansy who needed to tilt his nose down a couple thousand feet in order to see that his "holier than thou" attitude was not going to fly with the commoners. The Astor Place theatre is the destroyed place that we began this adventure, and the last place where Macready played in America.

Modern day protesters take a more 'civil' approach
So how did these two actors bring a great building, a great city to its knees? What if you had to dress up just to go to the movies. What if you had to wear white gloves and a silk vest? For me, if I did not like the performance, someone would definitely have to pay my cleaning bill! Many who worked in average jobs did not feel that this was a fair requirement and was merely a way to exclude them from entering the theater. They were right. This requirement suggested bigger things too. Astor Place Theatre was built in the center a wealthy neighborhood, and even though commoners were not outright excluded, they were certainly not desired. It was as if the class struggles of what was then a modern day New York City were being lived out on stage, and the two actors Forrest and Macready were the knowing and proud front men for this very large and real conflict. The theatre had been a place of refuge for the elite, and now even it had been contaminated and ruined by the likes of commoners. OH SHAME!

Kevin just can't take it anymore!
Before long, bricks were being thrown, and glass took to the air as a fish to water. After the madness of May 11th, 18 were dead and 150 were wounded! You and I today are used to seeing mild forms of protest. Signs with paint splattered over them reading some inflammatory message. Well, the time had passed for that kind of protest as far as these commoners were concerned. Many of the rioters were Irish immigrants still upset at Britain for their role in the severity of the huge famine occurring in Ireland at the time. The day that I arrived on the scene in my Time Trekker 2000 time machine, people were marching to the courthouse with bricks in hand and ill speech on their tongues. They denounced the mayor and his protection of the rich. During this time all of the rich neighborhoods were protected by police, and even the military.

Breakdancing on Astor Pl: this beats opera anyday!
Now the lesson of this adventure comes: do you think the same protection would have been offered to a bar or theater located in a less wealthy neighborhood? I will let you figure that one out. This riot said many things about class struggle in America at the time. More importantly it says many things about the class struggles of today. The gap between the rich and poor is widening rapidly. With the government misspending money the way it does, some children do not even have books to take home for their homework. What does this have to do with Astor Place? Everything! In a society based on equality, it's odd that the authors of the documents that define our country (the Constitution and Declaration of Independence) were not equal to those who make up our country. Astor Place's was a violent display of the stress that common workers underwent. Not even in the arena of entertainment were they considered (or at least treated) as equals. Ultimately, we are all equal. Even though Donald Trump and I may not get the same reception walking into Armani, if you cut us we both will bleed. Well, actually if you cut me I will probably cut you back. So when you see someone on the street who wants a bite to eat, remember that a burger is only a buck. One day that person asking for food could be YOU! Overstand?


Please email me at: kevin1@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Rebecca - Public school's best friend
Teddy - Those radical, shakin' Quakers!
Daphne - Standing up for the mentally ill
Rebecca - A simple walk 'round Walden Pond
Teddy - Intellectuals plow into a farming commune
Ned - Looking for Utopia - and mint chocolate chip ice cream
MAD - Homeless shouldn't mean hopeless