One year or another, you’ve no doubt become aquatinted with this Manhattan resident, occupying the roof of 1 Times Square since 1907. But that’s only one night of every 365. For the rest, we forget about this permanent Broadway fixture. While most jaded New Yorkers might be cynical toward anything Times Square, several minds were changed during last week’s Atlas Obscura Tour. The ball, normally seen from afar, was other-worldly up close.
As you ascend to the roof of the Walgreens Tower at 1 Times Square, you’ll see an access door. Opening it, you’re outside, a glow emanating from atop a flight of stairs. Every surface around you is made of see-through metal grate, and, combined with that mysterious light, you might feel like a part of the movie Alien; Certainly miles away from Times Square.
Yet walk up those steps, and you’re face-to-face with a New York icon: The New Years Eve Ball.
Made of Waterford Crystal and LEDs, this 12-foot in diameter ball weighs nearly 12,000 pounds and is completely computer controlled. As you can imagine, a lot of detail is lost when standing a minimum of 395 feet away, the height of the tower. During the tour, Jeff Straus, president of Countdown Entertainment, went over several historical iterations of the ball, as well as the various themed crystal triangles which compose the ball. Each year, different themes are introduced, such as “Let there be peace” or “Let there be Love.” Each feature their own design, although this can only be seen up-close.
At twenty-five stories, the building on which the ball rests was home to The New York Times for less than ten years, just long enough to have Times Square named for it, as well as starting the New Years Eve “Ball Drop” tradition. Those unimpressed might be more interested in previous traditions. According to Straus, during New Years, revelers would throw bricks into the air, agitating the elders of Trinity Church, where celebrations were held prior to 1904.
The NYPD, perhaps to compensate for previously brutal New Years Eve celebrations, kept a tight reign on very recent New Years history. Until 1998, no music was played, for fear rock music would incite people to riot. Square confetti? Fear it would blind pedestrians with its sharp corners forced organizers to create a circular alternative, a bit of a precaution that lasts to this day. You can, however, write your wishes on the confetti that will fall at the Times Square Visitors Center at any point in the year.
Whatever your feelings on Times Square or its New Years Eve Celebration, it’s easy to be a skeptic from afar. But to see it in person is a different story. Strauss told us that when after he showed one of his midwestern business partners the ball, he was so blown away, he went home, packed up, and moved to New York. Scroll down for more images below.
While the Atlas Obscura tour has passed, they’re gearing up for more diverse tours in the coming year. Be sure to keep up-to-date with them to see what other out-of-sight secrets New York has to offer.