On The Ball

Tonight, over a billion people will tune in to watch the ball drop in Times Square. Latif Nasser traces the history of the New York tradition:

In 1877, Western Union installed a time ball on its Manhattan headquarters, at Broadway and Dey Street. … After Adolph Ochs became the publisher of the Times, in 1896, he decided to move it to 2014 New Year's Eve Philips Ball Testthe former site of the Pabst Hotel, at the intersection of Forty-second Street, Broadway, and Seventh Avenue. The Times’ new terra cotta and pink granite building was the second tallest in Manhattan. By 1904, Ochs had convinced Mayor George McClellan to rename the square after the paper. That same year, Ochs planned a New Year’s Eve party, promising fireworks at midnight, to lure New Yorkers away from the city’s traditional gathering, on Wall Street, where people listened to the bells of Trinity Church. It worked. Three years later, though, Ochs couldn’t get a permit for the fireworks. Instead, he installed a seven-hundred-pound sphere of iron and wood, covered it in a hundred twenty-five-watt light bulbs, and had it lowered from the flagpole at midnight.

The Times moved in 1913, but the Times Square ball drop continued, interrupted only by wartime blackouts in 1942 and 1943. Until 1995, the ball was lowered much as older time balls once were: by “six guys with ropes and a stopwatch.” Today, the drop is initiated by a laser-cooled atomic clock in Colorado, the primary time standard for the United States. It continues to be our most spectacular display of public time-keeping.

Two years ago, Jen Glantz joined a crowd of a million to watch the ball drop in person:

By 8:30 pm, I wanted to call it quits.

I could no longer feel my itty-bitty toes and my bladder was starting to hit that 3/4 full mark. I was sandwiched between the pushy elbows of someone from Turkey and the unnecessary baggage of someone from Idaho. I was fully immersed in it all. Smells of food, people peeing in their pants, babies in a state of misery I desperately wish I could get away with at this age, rowdy crowds of hungry and antsy human beings.

But instead of giving up, I gave in. Dancing beside a family of 5 to keep busy, to keep sane, and most importantly to keep warm. Exchanging life stories, told to me in broken English juxtaposed with beautiful accents. Learning about people, their places and their things has the ability to make 9pm flirtatiously flow into 10pm…. If I wanted to get through spending New Years Eve in Times Square, an occasion half of the people I know batted their eyelashes at me and told me I was crazy for attempting, I had to let myself go. And if you, my friends, want to make it through a New Year, a new list of resolutions, changes, discoveries you want to make, I suggest you do the same.

(Photo: The 2014 New Year’s Eve Waterford Crystal ball during a test at One Times Square on December 30, 2013. By Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images)