The Secret Downtown History of Times Square’s Famous New Year’s Tradition
This New Year’s Eve, hundreds of thousands of revelers gathered in Times Square to watch its iconic ball drop at midnight, with more than a billion people across the globe tuning in to catch the celebration on TV or online. The Times Square ball drop has been an annual event since December 31, 1907, and is one of the world’s most famous New Year’s Eve traditions. But did you know that this celebration has its origins right here in Lower Manhattan?
For a long time, New York City “rang” in the new year literally, gathering together to hear the bells ring at Trinity Church on Wall Street. In 1904, after New York Times publisher Adolph Ochs managed to persuade the city to name the intersection of Broadway, 42nd Street and 7th Avenue after the paper, revelers started celebrating in the new Times Square. A few years later, the Times came up with the idea to mark the new year with a “time ball,” a maritime method of time-keeping that involves dropping a ball perched from a high point that would be visible for ships. The Times Square celebration and its accompanying time ball drew people away from downtown — not that you can’t find plenty of ways to ring in the new year in our neighborhood, but Ryan Seacrest probably won’t be there.
Despite the uptown energy, traces of New Year’s Eve history can still be found downtown, if you know where to look. The Titanic Memorial Lighthouse located at the corner of Fulton and Water streets at the Seaport was erected as a monument to the Titanic’s lost passengers, but it also served practical purposes. Its powerful green light could be seen six miles out from the shore, and its time ball — a humble relative of the much bigger Times Square iteration — dropped at noon daily from 1913 to 1967, helping ships, residents and workers keep accurate time.
While the Seaport’s time ball is no longer in operation, you can still spot it perched atop the memorial, as a reminder that a piece of New Year’s Eve’s most famous tradition can be found far south of 42nd Street. Happy New Year!
photo: iStockTags: nye, the seaport, times square