It is widely known that when the ancient Druids built Manhattan, hundreds of years before the dawn of history, they envisaged future Druids jumping into the middle of 42nd Street, cellphone cameras in hand, to mark the semiannual occasions when the sun set in exact alignment with the city’s east-west thoroughfares. (This was before marauding SantaCon bands wiped out the Druids.)
Twice a year at sunset, the borough’s towers transform into Manhattanhenge.
One of those occasions arrived this Tuesday and Wednesday, drawing the Druids’ descendants, along with four New York Times photographers, to line the borough’s wide cross-streets and gaze in the general direction of New Jersey. And to try to will the sun to appear from behind low-lying clouds.
Many visitors were among them.
“Because other people are here,” said Matthew Hu, 21, from Toronto, who joined the polyglot crowd on 42nd Street near Second Avenue on Tuesday, undeterred by the murky horizon. “You see the hype. You see someone else does something and think something cool’s happening. I just took a video of people reacting to this rather than the actual sunset. They’re all doing something because everybody else is doing it.”
Judy Stephen said she came for the beauty, a word not often associated with 42nd Street, and for the crowd, a word that is. “I do this every year,” she said, noting that the crowds get bigger with each year. “I love it. Because the people stand in the street, the buses come and nobody moves. Nobody obeys the cops or the buses, they just stand and they take a picture. I love it.”
“She does obey the law,” her friend Marien Klushin clarified. Ms. Klushin noted that for most of her life she paid no attention to the occasional extra-bright sunset. “I just thought, oh, it’s bright tonight, not knowing what it was,” she said. “Now, it’s an event.”
On Tuesday, the sun mainly hid in the summer haze. This reticence did little to dampen the bonhomie of the crowds. If it was not a miraculous experience, it was still a shared one — free, noncommercial and, unlike many shared experiences these days, not involving a subway delay.
Miguel Huaman, a salesman, said he did not see spiritual significance in the buildings’ alignment, but added: “I’m going to say something silly. I think there’s love in there. Beauty always goes where love goes.”
As do second chances: Manhattanhenge returns tonight and again around July 12.
John Leland, a Metro reporter, joined The Times in 2000. His most recent book is “Happiness Is a Choice You Make: Lessons From a Year Among the Oldest Old,” based on a Times series. @johnleland