It’s that time of year again: the flashing New Year’s Eve ball waiting to descend from One Times Square, upbeat performances from celebrities, vibrantly colored confetti, and huge excited crowds standing for hours anticipating the new year. Every year, millions of people watch the 12-foot wide, 11,875 pound ball drop 141 feet in Times Square, either in person or on television. However, many don’t know how this worldwide famous event came about. So just in time for the new year, here are our favorite secrets of the New Year’s Eve ball drop in Times Square.
A sketch of Trinity Church in 1846, where crowds once gathered to celebrate New Year’s. Image via Wikipedia
Before Times Square took over, the area near the base of Trinity Church was filled with celebratory noise and large crowds on New Year’s Eve. The church, located at 75 Broadway in lower Manhattan, has a tall and narrow steeple that forces the sounds of its bells outward, rather than inwards and into the sanctuary. Because of this, the bells were rung at midnight to announce the new year. During some years, as many as 15,000 people would show up.
In his book Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt’s Quest to Clean Up Sin-Loving New York, Richard Zacks provides a detailed description of the celebration ushering in 1896. He wrote, “The people…waited for the famed church bells to peal in the New Year with a dozen-tune hourlong medley starting at 11:30 PM and climaxing with ‘Happy New Year’ at midnight.” ‘
Peddlers would sell five-cent tin trumpets, penny kazoos, Dutch watch rattles, slide whistles, and horns called “laughing hyenas.” Teenage gangs pulled petty pranks and people freely passed along liquor bottles since public consumption of alcohol was legal. Zacks wrote, “At the stroke of midnight, the world-famous chimes-man played ‘Happy New Year to Thee’ and then later added ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ and ‘Home, Sweet Home.’”