Menu

In Memoriam: Astor Place Riots 1849

A LIVE Performance Event

Join us for this special memorial service on the 175th anniversary of
America's Most Tragic Theatrical Event.

Friday, May 10, 2024 at 5:30pm EDT

UNDER St. Mark's Theater
94 St. Mark's Place, just east of 1st Avenue, NYC (directions)

Admission FREE
75 minutes

IN MEMORIAM Astor Place Riots 1849: America's Deadly Theatrical Rivalry a sepia-toned collage of three mid-nineteenth century drawings: woodcut of William Charles Macready as Macbeth on the left, a woodcut of the Astor Place Theater with rioters fighting in front of it at center, and a black and white photo of Edwin Forrest as Macbeth on the right.

Can't join us in person? Click here for tickets to watch the live stream from the New York Adventure Club online!

On the night of the 10th of May, 1849, the Empire City, the great metropolis of the Union, was the scene of one of those horrors of civilization, which for a time make the great heart of humanity stop in its beatings. In the darkness of night, thousands of citizens were gathered in a central square of the most aristocratic quarter of New York—gathered around one of its most conspicuous and magnificent edifices, the Astor Place Opera House.

—The Daily Courier

Handill distributed by the American Committee used to incite the Astor Place Riots: Working Man Shal Americans or English Rule! in the City!Every theater-lover should know the story of the Astor Place Riots, but it’s about much more than a fight between the two biggest actors of the day. The Riots are a national tragedy unlike any other.

May 10, 1849, New York City: the bitter theatrical rivalry between two of the world’s best Shakespearian actors — American Edwin Forrest and British William Charles Macready — reaches a crescendo. On the last night of Macready’s third farewell tour of the U.S., thousands of Forrest supporters surrounded the Astor Place Opera House. The police and even military stepped in, and shortly thereafter, all hell broke loose. By day’s end, over 20 people were dead and hundreds wounded.

For its 175th anniversary, Peculiar Works Project will commemorate this tragic event with a unique memorial service, including musical tributes and comical reenactments. It will celebrate the power of theater, its legacy of influence in New York City, and the thespians who dedicated their lives to it. But the dead were not just theater-lovers, they were also young rowdies, frightened neighbors and unsuspecting passersby.

Step back into the turbulent mid-1800s and bear witness to this cautionary tale that shares many parallels to today’s extreme political culture. Fearful and growing territorialism, the perils of mob mentality, and what it means to be American are relevant once again. Observance of this unique theatrical moment, one of America’s most shameful events, is a solemn, satirical response to today’s nativism and xenophobia, closing with a procession to the site where it happened.


New York State Council on the Arts and NYC Department of Cultural Affairs logosOur Peculiar Works projects are made possible with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature and from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council, and from New York City Council member Christopher Marte; and with private funds from the Mental Insight Foundation, as well as our many, wonderful, individual donors.