The New York Times (January 1, 1944)
GAY CROWDS GREET THE NEW YEAR HERE IN VICTORY SPIRIT
Broadway echoes to song and laughter of greatest revel since Pearl Harbor
Bright lights add to joy; many greet 1944 in churches, where day of prayer asked by President is begun
By Meyer Berger
Times Square crowds moved into the New Year last night with the same spirit that moved the Allied world everywhere – with singing hearts and with hope that the New Year may bring victory in Europe, increased pressure against the enemy in the Pacific, as Allied military leaders predict.
The crowds were gayer, greater than they were last New Year’s Eve. The whole picture seemed to have changed since then, from dark foreboding to the certainty of victory, and this was reflected in the singing, the general laughter in the street, in the din of horns and in greater happiness written on faces.
Where Times Square had been dimmed out a year ago, the streets last night were aglow with almost pre-war brightness. Where theaters, shops and restaurants shrank away from the building line in comparative gloom a year ago, they radiated brilliance with the approach of 1944.
Lights dimmed at 10:00 p.m.
At 10:00 p.m. ET, the theater and hotel marquees went dark, restaurant and hotel signs were switched off, but the din only increased and the sounds of revelry – the insistent blare of horns, the clank of cowbells – swelled in volume.
Traffic kept moving north and south, east and west. It was thinner than in recent years, but every cab, every private car, was loaded with servicemen or with civilians and with women dressed in gay evening attire. Traffic flowed until shortly after 11:00 p.m.
Then the crowd grew more restless. The silhouetted hosts surged over into the avenues, despite police pressure, and gradually filled all the empty spaces. Overseas and garrison caps and sailors’ flattop gear showed against dimmed store windows in great numbers. It was predominantly a service crowd.
Police regulated the flow smoothly. The hosts moving northward kept to the east side of the Square, those headed south kept to the west. Except for the few lights behind boarded shop windows, the only outstanding lights in the Square were the traffic lamps, glowing alternately red and green.
Powder flashlights shot by photographers standing at high windows in office buildings facing on the Square, exploded like distant cannon. The crowds roared and cheered each heavy boom. Bits of paper released from skyscraper windows turned and twisted in the dark and a few streamers writhed in the half light, but the amount of paper was piddling compared with other years.
There was no glowing globe in the New York Times Tower to indicate the split second of the new year’s entry and of the old year’s end. This seemed to confuse the crowd. The stroke of midnight brought a brief silence. Then the thousands jammed in the Square screamed, roared, cheered, blew their horns, shook their rattles.
The demonstration was brief. Within five minutes, the crowds moved again, north and south, but the cheering steadily diminished.
Watch Night in the churches
Only in the city’s great churches and cathedrals, where more sober, thoughtful souls congregated for Watch Night services, was the atmosphere graver. In the Holy Hours at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and at Trinity, men and women bowed their heads in prayer, as the President had asked them to do, seeking divine aid for peace.
The White House proclamation set forth:
At the beginning of the new year 1944, it is fitting that we pray to be preserved from false pride of accomplishment and from willful regret of the last measure of public and private sacrifice necessary to attain final victory and peace.
The prayers echoed this sentiment.
From across the Atlantic, at the same time, word came that Nazi spokesmen could extend to their people for the new year only predictions of further gloom, defeat and hardship. Even as the years pivoted, bombers started up from England’s dawn to continue their battering of Germany and the occupied countries.
Here, the gaiety exceeded anything the city has experienced since Pearl Harbor.
Until 8:00, the crowd seemed fairly thin, but at that hour it curdled clogged and moved sluggishly north and south through the square. It was a far gayer crowd than were the revelers of a year ago. There were more horns, more rattles and there was more laughter.
Temperature drops slowly
The noon that had hung over Broadway vanished behind sullen clouds soon after 8:00. The stars disappeared and light fog reflected red neon the length of Broadway and in the side streets. It grew damper and colder. The temperature dropped slowly to 40 degrees.
More than 2,000 policemen, commanded by Chief Inspector O’Connell, were prepared for a long and crowded night. Mounted men lined the curbs and discouraged overflow into the Street. Patrolmen in groups of four herded the carefree at street junctions. Traffic kept moving with a fair degree of ease up to 10:00 p.m.
An unusual assemblage of emergency Police and Fire Department equipment and several ambulances waited at the curbs, prepared for any emergency. There were emergency trucks, squad cars, wreckers, and a few motorcycles.
Optimistic howlers arrived early in the square, whereas there were next to none a year ago. The noise-making devices were chiefly paper substitutes for the big-mouthed tin types, yet they got metal prices. One huckster of small tin horns, stationed near Schrafft’s, offered “pre-war horns, all tin,” at 25¢. The same horns sold for 10 and 15¢ in 1941.
The chief factor in lifting public spirits, though the merrymakers were probably not conscious of it, was the revived marquee, hotel and restaurant lighting. Marquees blazed in neon and incandescence, in old color vat brilliance, along the main stem and in the side streets. Last year they were dimmed.
Theaters had great queues long before 9:00 p.m., though prices were unusually high. First-run pictures were asking – and getting, without question – as high as $2.20 for seats. Some charged only $1.65, some $1.50, but wherever the doors were open, the crowds assembled. The Paramount used a line of giant ushers, linked to one another with stout straps to hold off frontal box-office attack.
The usual rebates for servicemen seemed to be off for the great celebration. Houses that charge a soldier or sailor only 28¢ any other night, were exacting full price last night, and getting it. Prices everywhere, on everything, were higher, but the money flowed freely.
The crowds seemed in a singing mood, civilians and servicemen alike. This was in striking contrast to the crowds of the previous year. Servicemen and civilians let 1942 pass without music, without gaiety. In side streets and main streets last night, soldiers and civilians made building walls ring with happy chorus.
An Army truck stopped in Times Square, in front of the Paramount Theater shortly before 10:00 and a large detail of Military Policemen, armed and banded, jumped out. Tipsy servicemen at the curb greeted their arrival with good-natured boos and catcalls. The MPs dispersed around the square.
Some bars closed at 10:00 p.m.
There were comparatively few alcoholics in the early crowds in the Square though the bars were busy everywhere. Times Square bars and many along 6th and 8th Avenues and in the side streets shut down around 10:00, pleading they had run out of whisky. Actually, they were saving some of their supply for the new year.
In the city’s railroad and bus terminals, earlier in the day, traffic was heavy but not so heavy as at Christmas time. In Grand Central Terminal and at Pennsylvania Station, the peak seemed to come around sundown as servicemen, businessmen and weekenders moved countryward for the weekend. Railroad officials figured traffic was around 20% above normal.
Airlines were solidly booked, but comparatively little of this traffic was holiday traffic. Government priorities still accounted for more than nine-tenths of the seating as military men and other federal workers and executives moved on war errands. Most civilian traffic seemed headed southward, principally toward Florida.
Transportation executives said the great strain on railroads, buses and other common carriers will come tomorrow, as students, men on military furlough and weekenders move homeward or back to camp after a week of festivity. The number of men in furlough was extremely large.