Among the more unusual and delightful rituals of living in New York City is Manhattanhenge, the twice annual event in which the sunset follows the perfect grid of Manhattan’s major cross streets from west to east. Because the grid is on a 30 degree angle, this happens not at the solstice but around three weeks before and after the Summer Solstice. Manhattanhenge takes its name from Stonehenge, where the prehistoric rocks are in perfect alignment with the solstice. You can read more about it here, courtesy of the American Museum of Natural History.
This year’s dates are May 29 and 30 for the initial Manhattanhenge and July 12 and 13 for the final one. May 29 and July 13 are the “half-henge” with half the sun on the grid, and May 30 and July 12 feature the full sun. Many years, viewers miss this phenomenon because of cloudy weather. In fact, one year, Derrick and Lindsey joined us, only the have the sun fall behind clouds five minutes before Manhattanhenge began. What disappointment! This year, though, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky either of the days in May, and I saw Manhattanhenge in its full glory.
On May 29, my friend Genevieve and I watched from the corner of 14th St. and Fifth Ave. The intersection was crowded with people standing in the middle of the street taking pictures. The great thing about 14th St. is that between Third and Sixth Avenues, passenger cars are prohibited on the two way street, so there’s very little traffic and people can stand in the middle of the street, except for the occasional bus. It’s also easy for people to get to because of the large subway station at Union Square, where many lines cross, and the street is closer to anyone living in Lower Manhattan.
I decided to be a bit more ambitious the next day and walk up to 23rd St., which is wider and less crowded than 14th St. but with many more cars and trucks, which threatened to block the view. Still, I had plenty of company, as well as drivers and pedestrians who wondered what the fuss was about or even made fun of the throngs taking advantage of the “Walk” signal to stop in the middle of the street and take pictures. I remember a year ago telling my brother and sister-in-law and their friends who were visiting from Texas about Manhattanhenge, and at 8 pm they dashed out of the restaurant on 57th St. (another good viewing street) to watch it. They were quite impressed by both the natural phenomenon and the crowds that had gathered to see it.
Genevieve, however, did me one better last night. She lives in Greenpoint, so she walked from her home to Marsha P. Johnson State Park in Williamsburg, where the beach along the East River lines up perfectly with 14th St. across the river. Few people know about this view, and the picture she got of the full sunset is stunning! By the way, tomorrow is the beginning of Pride Month, so it bears mention that the park is named for Johnson, a transgender woman of color who played a major role in the 1969 Stonewall uprising.
I hope the weather on July 12 and 13 is as glorious as it was the past few days, and more locals and travelers to New York City will be able to see this amazing sunset and take part in this community ritual. I appreciate these kinds of events that bring people together and are even more necessary today.