Happy New Year

New YearsIn 1969 two of my friends and I went to welcome in the future in Times Square. This is something that everybody has seen on TV year after year, but few have experienced. In those more innocent times there were no metal detectors, no bomb sniffing dogs, and for the most part no restrictions on anything. It was a WILD AND CRAZY TIME. It was the 1960s, but more on that.

I actually had no idea to what to expect. I had grown up in the 1950s and the most exciting thing I remember about New Years Eve was watching Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians and then seeing the ball drop. For those of us, of a certain age, that really was all there was to New Years Eve. If you lived in a small rural town, as I did, there was nothing to do except stay home and watch the festivities on a black and white TV. For me as a kid, the future was 1970 and to find myself in Times Square to welcome the new decade was a great thing.

I had a good friend from college who was teaching high school math on Long Island, so I took the train to New York from Washington DC to be there for New Years. I had often driven up to New York, but the train took the same amount of time and had the advantage of leaving you in downtown Manhattan, without having to drive in traffic there. So there I was in Penn Station meeting my friends on December 31, 1969 to welcome the future.

It was an extremely cold New Year’s Eve, about 10 degrees and clear. We decided since we had some time to kill to stop at the bar in the old Americana Hotel for a drink and then it was on to Times Square. We got there about 10 p.m.; the crowd was large but not huge. Once we got there, however, there was no leaving. I guess I had better bladder control in those days as more and more people began to arrive and we literally were trapped there.

Now a funny thing happened: while it was about 10 degrees outside the area, the temperature quickly rose it seemed to about 90 in the Square. We had our heavy winter coats on and we ditched them; some folks stripped down to bare skin. I never thought I would be standing in Times Square at 11:45 at night with half-naked people. It was now a mob, people yelled and screamed and the mob grew and grew. Bottles were passed around, yes it was more innocent time. With no crowd control, people continued to press into the area until you could not move even if you wanted to.

Another funny thing, I don’t remember seeing the ball drop. I think there were so many people it was hard to see the top of the Times building. The crowd roared and then it was over.

Almost as quickly as people pressed in to fill the square — they left.

The temperature dropped.

It was 1970.

The future was here.

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About jenorv

John E. Norvell is a retired Air Force Lt Colonel, decorated air combat veteran of the Vietnam War, and former Assistant Professor of American and Military History at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He has written freelance for the Washington Post, the Middle Tennessee Journal of Genealogy and History, and for several newspapers around the country.
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