9. New Year’s Eve Used to be Celebrated at Trinity Church
Before Times Square became the epicenter of New Year’s Eve festivities, the area near the base of Trinity Church was filled with celebratory noise and large crowds on the night of December 31st. The church, located at 75 Broadway in lower Manhattan, has a tall and narrow steeple that forces its bells’ sounds 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 that ushered in 1896. “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,” he writes. 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 writes, “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.’”