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New Year News
NEW YEAR NEWS To Mark 100 New Years a Much Brighter Ball in New York

Date: 12/31/2007 12:39:43 PM

It was not always a midnight kaleidoscope of roaring multitudes and a 1,200pound sphere clad in Waterford crystal, with 30,000 watts of lightemitting diodes to dazzle America. A century ago Monday, the first New Year’s ball descended in Times Square and a tradition was born, with modest crowds cheering a fivefoot iron globe studded with 216 electric lamps.

James Estrin/The New York Times
Tests of the New Year’s ball, loaded with Waterford crystal, were conducted on Sunday.

The New York Times
Traffic will be blocked beginning Monday afternoon.
There were years when the occasion and its globular star had to be subdued. In 1917, the square was blacked out for a wartime coal shortage, and while the ball was dropped, The New York Times reported: “The New Year slunk in with rubber shoes on, coming upon a lightless, noiseless and frigid Broadway.”

In 1943 and 1944, World War II laid a melancholy hand on the celebrations. There were no glowing balls. Instead, planespotter beams crisscrossed the sky, and the crowds, after midnight cheers, silently remembered Americans overseas. In 2001 the specter of Sept. 11 hovered over the proceedings.

But for millions of New Yorkers and visitors to the city, and in the television age for most Americans and audiences abroad, the balldropping has been a euphoric occasion in nearly all of the 100 years since the first globe was created by Walter F. Palmer, the chief electrician for The Times, at the behest of the publisher, Adolph S. Ochs, who wanted a spectacular midnight show in the square.

There were antecedents of a sort. Since the early 1800s, mariners could set ships’ clocks by the lowering of iron balls in ports at noon daily. But in 1907, three years after Longacre Square had been renamed, the idea was celebratory and promotional, with crowds eddying around the 26story Times Tower to watch the ball descend on its 70foot flagpole at midnight to mark the new year.

While The Times occupied the trapezoidal tower from 1905 to 1913, when it moved to a larger “annex” on West 43rd Street, the balldropping tradition continued, even after the building was sold years later.

The balls were made of iron and then wood until 1955, when aluminum was used for a third version. For several years in the 1980s, the aluminum was shaped like an apple. In 1995, it was given a flashier look with rhinestones. Until then, the ball had been lowered by a halfdozen men, but in recent years cables controlled by computers have been used.

The ball that will descend Monday atop 1 Times Square is a new, $1.1 million hightech creation, with a skeleton of aluminum and a skin composed of 672 Waterford crystal panels and additional pyramidshaped mirrors to best reflect the light of 9,576 diodes generating 625,033 lumens. That is more than double the dazzlepower of last year’s ball, which looked like a porcupine with 600 halogenquill bulbs.

Security, a major concern in the age of terrorism, was taking shape on Sunday. For blocks around the square, metal barriers were in place to funnel crowds, and blue wooden sawhorses were stacked on their sides, in reserve, along the curbs of Broadway. Undercover officers in plain clothes will be in the crowds, along with thousands of uniformed officers. Others will be posted atop buildings overlooking the scene.

Alcohol and backpacks are forbidden in the area. Traffic will be blocked off Monday afternoon and parking is banned on most streets. Video surveillance cameras will be used to monitor the activity. Devices to detect airborne chemical or radiological elements are set up, and a helicopter with sophisticated communications equipment will hover overhead.

Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said on Sunday that security for the celebration has been increased, even as crowds have become better behaved. “The nature of the crowd is more of a tourist crowd than 10 years ago,” he said in an interview. “It is an entertainment event from 8 o’clock on, as opposed to years ago, when it was a lot of waiting and a lot of drinking.”

By midafternoon on Sunday, Times Square was already swelling with people in a celebratory mood, watched over by officers and cajoled by entrepreneurs hawking tours and souvenirs, knockoff perfumes and New Year’s Eve glasses with the big zeros in “2008” for eye holes. Crews were setting up spotlights, speakers on lampposts and sound stages for a lengthy roster of entertainers.

The ball was not yet visible from the street.

But a little boy perched on a man’s shoulder glimpsed something. “I think I see it, Daddy,” he said.

Other people pointed toward the sky — was it a bird? a plane? Superman? — and gestured with circled fingertips, as if guiding the great ball in its agonizingly slow descent: 77 feet in 60 seconds, starting at 11:59 p.m.

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