The term “Manhattanhenge” was popularized in 2002 by Neil deGrasse Tyson of the American Museum of Natural History. It is a twice-a-year occurrence where the setting sun aligns with the east-west streets of Manhattan. As Manhattan was laid-out 29 degrees from a true north-south and east-west grid, this does not take place at the summer solstice, but around May 28 and July 12.
I had never before experienced the event, but after missing my chance in May, I marked my calendar for July.
Wednesday, July 11: I left work at 7:00 p.m. and walked east on 42nd Street. My first thought was to stand on the Tudor City Place overpass over 42nd Street, but it was already packed. I’ve read that some photographers set up their tripods there at 3:30 p.m.!
Having failed to find room at my first option, I walked to 34th Street, east of 1st Avenue, where there is a small parking lot under the FDR. Three young Asians were there, with only camera phones, and I stood beside them. The view was not ideal, being partially blocked by the FDR overpass under which we stood, and partially blocked by traffic signage that spanned 34th Street. However, I put my 45-200mm telephoto lens to good use, and was able to zoom past the aforementioned obstructions.
While I was waiting, a film crew with foreign accents came and set up tripods. I did not have a tripod, relying on hand-holding my camera. The film crew didn’t set up a tripod in front of me, but did set up a tripod in front of the Asians. Later, a car had to leave the parking lot, and the Asians moved out of its way and then ended up standing in front of me. Happily, because I was using a telephoto and aiming up a bit, they did not block my photographic efforts.
These were my shots at sundown:
I was uncertain whether July 11 or July 12 was supposed to be better. I read that July 11 would have the full orb of the sun on the horizon (i.e., the bottom of the sun would kiss the horizon), whereas July 12 was supposed to only be the half-orb of the sun on the horizon (i.e., the horizon would bisect the sun). However, when the sun came into view on Wednesday, half of it was already below the horizon. Maybe there is a hill or some other obstruction at the west end of 34th Street, and if I had been on one of the other cross streets, I would have seen the full sun on the horizon.
Thursday, July 12: Again leaving work around 7:00 p.m., I decided to try a different location, and rode the 7 train one stop east, into Long Island City, Queens. There I walked a few blocks west, to Gantry Plaza State Park, on the East River. The neighborhood and the park were nice; I had never been to either before. I walked around for a few minutes before finding a few photographers standing on the promenade, at a spot that afforded a view west through 42nd Street.
The Tudor City Place overpass is visible toward the bottom center of the image. To the right, one can see the famous spire of the Chrysler Building, which is on Lexington Avenue, and to the right of that is the United Nations Secretariat Building, which is east of 1st Avenue.
The sun dropped below the buildings, and we waited patiently, to see if it would appear at the base of 42nd Street. From our vantage point, the sun would be framed by the overpass of Tudor City Place. Unfortunately, we noted the presence of clouds on the horizon that made the sun’s reappearance doubtful.
Indeed, sunset came and went, and there was no sign of the sun. The assembled photographers and others, such as this hopeful kayaker, had nothing to see.