A Brief History of Manhattanhenge

Late this evening — be ready by 8 — the sun will fall into alignment with the Manhattan grid, illuminating the borough’s cross streets with a full, golden glow. In return, the city’s buildings will frame the sun perfectly: Photographers, charge your batteries!

You never know what else will happen during Manhattanhenge. In 1991, a dozen children rose from their strollers in the Upper West Side and walked into the park; they were found an hour later, pinned gently against the inside of the bandshell dome, laughing. During 1995’s second Manhattanhenge, a cub reporter at the Post, acting on an anonymous phone tip, stared directly into the sun and repeated an unfamiliar name six times. One week later, he tripped and fell onto the subway tracks; a woman grabbed him and rolled under the platform. The name was hers.

In 1999, Manhattanhenge didn’t really take because, as one attendee remembers, “it was foggy. No — really cloudy at a low altitude.” This, as with most historical Manhattanhenge occurrences, happened before the event had a catchy name or a large spectatorship. Most of the small gaggle of photographers, disappointed, didn’t bother to develop their film immediately; it wasn’t until months later, on Usenet, that two who did were able to compare shots. No city. A concrete room, no windows but brightly lit. A single folding table with two phones and an old yearbook.

In 2005, taxi drivers without a fare at peak Manhattanhenge, 8:13, later discovered that they had simultaneously taken payments ranging from a few dollars to over $70 from the same credit card number. Their records indicated that the totals were correlated with their distances, at the time, from Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

We don’t talk about the year between 2008 and 2010, between 34th and 42nd, but we will never forget the sound.

In 2012, the birds became rats and the rats become birds. The lucky pigeons raced for the light at the end of the tunnel. The rest raced for the light at the front of the train.

Manhattanhenge in 2013 offered full and unconditional salvation to all who asked for it. Nobody knew, so nobody did.

Anyway, Gothamist has a good guide for tonight’s sunset, which will be most beautiful at 8:16, and recommends 14th, 23rd, 34th, 42nd, and 57th streets as observation points. Happy Instagramming!

Photo via Katie Killary