The Skyline as Headline

by Caren Lissner
As appeared in NY TIMES, July 14, 1998 (page A15)


The Empire State Building is famous for changing the top colored lights to celebrate various occassions (ie, red/white/blue on July 4th, green on St. Patrick's Day, etc.) -- for those of you who are curious about upcoming colors and what they mean, check out the Empire State Building's official site

		Recently a friend who had been spending many extra hours at work told 
	me that he hadn't heard about Frank Sinatra's death until the next night, when 
	he saw that the Empire State Building was lighted up in blue and asked someone 
	why.  Those 1,366 blue lights became, for him, a sort of news report.

		It occurred to me that it might be nice to take a break from nightly
	newscasts and see if I could determine what the news was solely by looking
	at the lights.  It would be a bit like the old system of relying on a town

		The first day that I tried to cipher out the news by the lights, they 
	were yellow.  That was their usual color, but I wondered if maybe there was a 
	special purpose to it on that particular night:

		     *	It was the anniversary of the Edsel, America's most famous
		     *	The building was forecasting the next day's sunny weather
		     *	Time was running out to place an ad in the yellow pages

		Judging from the next morning's papers, it had simply been a slow news day.  
	The lights merely signified the absence, rather than the presence, of colorful news.

		But I kept at it. Two nights later, the lights were red, white, and blue.  
	I couldn't imagine what had inspired that, since Memorial Day was a week away.  So 
	I put on my thinking cap again:

		     * 	There was a wine and blue-cheese tasting going on inside 
			the building
		     *	The scorching weather of that week had made employees
 			remember the Astro Pops they enjoyed in childhood
		     * 	They were practicing for the Fourth of July

		A call to the building's public relations department revealed that the 
	patriotic display was in observance of three events: Armed Forces Day, Fleet Week, 
	and Memorial Day.  No Astro Pops involved.

		I gave the experiment one more try.  Near the end of the month, the
	building was lighted in green.  I knew of no songed known as "Ol' Green Eyes."  
	But a few alternatives came to mind:

		     *	In appreciation of "Peter Pan," the only musical ever made 
			that is not currently in revival on Broadway.
		     *	The building got confused and thought it was a tree.
		     *	They were filming a special scene in "Godzilla II"
		     *	The Girl Scouts were gearing up to hawk mint cookies again.
		Actually, No. 2 wasn't far from the truth.  A building spokeswoman said 
	the lights were meant to celebrate the Museum of Natural History's new Biodiversity 

		Now why didn't I know that?

		So I'm back to getting my news from television and the papers.  But I'll 
	keep admiring the view across the water - even if I'm not sure what it's telling me.

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