Sunday, November 14, 2010

New York City Nightlight

I've been looking out my kitchen window at the New York City skyline since 1981. Over the decades more and more buildings have installed decorative lighting, creating a wondrous nighttime view.

Normally the lights switch off some time after midnight, but lately I've noticed an exception: My favorite skyscraper, the spectacular and wildly ornate Chrysler building, has been leaving its lights on until dawn. I've started to think of it as New York City's version of a nightlight.

That got me wondering: Had anyone in the wide world of knickknacks actually created a Chrysler building nightlight? Apparently someone has. The Chrysler building is included in a set of souvenir nightlights on a New York City souvenir site, but it seems to be out of stock. However, if you so desire, you can acquire a set of Chrysler and Empire State Building salt and pepper shakers from a different souvenir site.

I think I'll just listen to this old Jimmy Reed song.


  1. Ah, Bright Lights, Big City: Haven't thought about this Jimmy Reed song in years. Always loved it. Have you heard the version of the song where Reed describes the scene that inspired him to write the song? He says something like, "You couldn't hardly see the car lights for the street lights," and then the song begins.

    What is it about outlines, or strings, of lights on structures that make the human heart soar? I live on the seventh floor of a building that is snugged up just to the north of the Bay Bridge in San Francisco. Each evening a string of white lights comes on, defining the thick curves of the suspension bridge cables.

    I've lived here for 13 years. Every night—every night—when the lights come on, it moves me, and fills me with new hope. In the terms of your article here, those lights are my night light. The lights blink off in the pale, morning light as each new day begins.

  2. I love Jimmy Reed. He had an album in the early 1960s with "Bright Lights," "Big Boss Man," "You Got Me Running" and a bunch of other great songs; it was one of the first blues albums I ever bought.

    I've been thinking a lot about lights and cities, planning to write about it. The old Shorpy photos of festive city streets in the early 1900s got me started. I keep trying to imagine what it was like to go out on the first night after the lights were installed. There is something that thrills the soul about them, but they also block out the stars. I'm so torn. That's what I'm writing about — the trade-off.

    My husband used to work as an electrician for NYC's Bureau of Bridges, and keeping the necklace lights shining on the Queensboro, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges was part of his job. He absolutely loved it up there.

  3. I've never been to a big city. The fact that I just said "big city" probably gives away my small town roots. But... there's a hill not far from my house. When it's dark, we can see the Nashville skyline from there -- it's beautiful, peaceful. There's a building downtown we all refer to as the Batman building because, well... it looks like Batman of course! At night, when it's all a glow, it looks like it's protecting the city, protecting all of us.
    I'm not sure how I will react when I visit the places I plan on visiting (starting this summer) but I imagine I will be filled with wonder and awe.
    I imagine I'll be looking for night light souvenirs as well.

  4. That is an amazing photo, Becky. You were not kidding — that building looks exactly like Batman. There's one here called the Lipstick Building because it looks like...well, you know.

    Most people I know who come to New York from a small town are a little overwhelmed when they first get here; the people, the noise, and the crazy amount of things going on create sensory overload. But then they take a few deep breaths and get centered and have a great time. I'm sure you will, too.