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5...4...3...2...1... A Brief History of the Times Square New Year's Eve Ball Drop

It's a tradition I'd venture to guess a good majority of us take part in every year (at least by T.V.): the New Year's Eve Times Square celebration.

Like so many other things, the bash started out as a way to garner a little publicity. When The New York Times moved its headquarters there in 1904, publisher Adolph Ochs convinced the mayor to name the area (then called Longacre Square) for his newspaper. Ochs was more than a little influential - he also managed to finagle a subway stop and the Times Square New Year's Eve party out of the deal. To mark the end of 1904 and the beginning of 1905, Ochs held a day-long street festival for more than 200,000 people that ended in a huge fireworks display at midnight.

As you might imagine, the Times waxed poetic about its own soiree: ""From base to dome the giant structure was alight - a torch to usher in the newborn year..."

In 1906, the city told Ochs the fireworks were too risky. But that wouldn't stop the publishing magnate - he had a plan up his sleeve for a 700-pound iron and wood sphere studded with 100 25-watt bulbs that would drop from the Times Building's flagpole, hitting the base at midnight.

Ochs' "time ball" wasn't an original idea, by the way. The first one that we know of was installed in Greenwich at England's Royal Observatory in 1833. It dropped every day at 1 p.m., letting ship captains know what the exact time was so they could adjust their chronometers accordingly.

But back to New York. Although the Times headquarters moved again just 10 years later, the tradition stayed put, though there have been a few variations since that original iron and wood ball. During WWII, a moment of silence was held at midnight instead of a ball drop. In the '80s, the ball was given a fruity makeover with red bulbs and a green stem to represent the "I Love New York" campaign. In the early '90s, the bulbs were switched out for red, white and blue ones to honor the troops in the Gulf War. The whole thing went computerized later that decade, and these days it's LED lights instead of halogen bulbs.

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You Can Now Rent the Montgomery, Alabama Home of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald Through Airbnb
Chris Pruitt, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

The former apartment of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, perhaps the most famous couple of the Jazz Age, is now available to rent on a nightly basis through Airbnb, The Chicago Tribune reports. While visitors are discouraged from throwing parties in the spirit of Jay Gatsby, they are invited to write, drink, and live there as the authors did.

The early 20th-century house in Montgomery, Alabama was home to the pair from 1931 to 1932. It's where Zelda worked on her only novel Save Me the Waltz and F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote part of Tender Is the Night. The building was also the last home they shared with their daughter Scottie before she moved to boarding school.

In the 1980s, the house was rescued from a planned demolition and turned into a nonprofit. Today, the site is a museum and a spot on the Southern Literary Trail. While the first floor of the Fitzgerald museum, which features first-edition books, letters, original paintings, and other artifacts related to the couple, isn't available to rent, the two-bedroom apartment above it goes for $150 a night. Guests staying there will find a record player and a collection of jazz albums, pillows embroidered with Zelda Fitzgerald quotes, and a balcony with views of the property's magnolia tree. Of the four surviving homes Zelda and F. Scott lived in while traveling the world, this is the only one that's accessible to the public.

Though the Fitzgerald home is the only site on the Southern Literary Trail available to rent through Airbnb, it's just one of the trail's many historic homes. The former residences of Flannery O'Connor, Caroline Miller, and Lillian Smith are all open to the public as museums.

[h/t The Chicago Tribune]

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Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California
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The Concept of the American 'Backyard' is Newer Than You Think
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California

Backyards are as American as apple pie and baseball. If you live in a suburban or rural area, chances are good that you have a lawn, and maybe a pool, some patio furniture, and a grill to boot.

This wasn’t always the case, though. As Smithsonian Insider reports, it wasn’t until the 1950s that Americans began to consider the backyard an extension of the home, as well as a space for recreation and relaxation. After World War II, Americans started leaving the big cities and moving to suburban homes that came equipped with private backyards. Then, after the 40-hour work week was implemented and wages started to increase, families started spending more money on patios, pools, and well-kept lawns, which became a “symbol of prosperity” in the 1950s, according to a new Smithsonian Institution exhibit.

A man mows his lawn in the 1950s
In this photo from the Smithsonian Institution's exhibit, a man mows his lawn in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington
Library in San Marino, California

Entitled "Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Back Yard," the exhibition includes photographs, advertisements, and articles about backyards from the 1950s and 1960s. The traveling display is currently on view at the Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum in Temple, Texas, and from there it will head to Hartford, Connecticut, in December.

Prior to the 1950s, outdoor yards were primarily workspaces, MLive.com reports. Some families may have had a vegetable garden, but most yards were used to store tools, livestock, and other basic necessities.

The rise of the backyard was largely fueled by materials that were already on hand, but hadn’t been accessible to the average American during World War II. As Smithsonian Insider notes, companies that had manufactured aluminum and concrete for wartime efforts later switched to swimming pools, patio furniture, and even grilling utensils.

A family eats at a picnic table in the 1960s
A family in Mendham, New Jersey, in the 1960s
Molly Adams/Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Maida Babson Adams American Garden Collection

At the same time, DIY projects started to come into fashion. According to an exhibit caption of a Popular Mechanics article from the 1950s, “‘Doing-it-yourself’ was advertised as an enjoyable and affordable way for families to individualize their suburban homes.” The magazine wrote at the time that “patios, eating areas, places for play and relaxation are transforming back yards throughout the nation.”

The American backyard continues to grow to this day. As Bloomberg notes, data shows that the average backyard grew three years in a row, from 2015 to 2017. The average home last year had 7048 square feet of outdoor space—plenty of room for a sizable Memorial Day cookout.

[h/t Smithsonian Insider]

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