America Rings In 2005

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Spring-like temperatures warmed close to a million revelers as they welcomed 2005 with wild cheering, confetti, fireworks and kisses a century after the first New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square.

The crowds, some clad in sweaters and light jackets, were bathed in the bright lights of the so-called Crossroads of the World as an electrified ball began its drop at 11:59 p.m. after outgoing Secretary of State Colin Powell, a native New Yorker, pressed a giant button with Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Later, they sang "New York, New York" and "America" with the crowd.

The masses watched the 1,000-pound Waterford crystal-covered ball slump slowly from atop 1 Times Square, powerfully chanting each numeral of the last 20 seconds of the 60-second descent.

At midnight, a 2-minute city-sanctioned pyrotechnic display lit the sky as 3,000 pounds of confetti was released from rooftops of buildings throughout Times Square.

"The celebration's making me feel optimistic," Andy Kelleher, of the Chicago suburb of Channahon, Ill., said seconds after the fireworks had ended. "I think 2005 holds great promise for peace and prosperity in the world."

The new year arrived after the crowd listened to live music by Lindsay Lohan, Duran Duran and other performers, all setting the stage for Powell's moment.

Powell said Friday it was "a great pleasure for me to be back home" in the city where he first celebrated New Year's Eve.

"In my lifetime I've served in many places around the world, and wherever I happened to be the turn of the year just didn't feel right unless I had in some way seen or heard about the ball coming down on time and all of the hundreds of thousands of people in Times Square cheering, cheering, cheering," he said during a press conference.

With temperatures in the low to mid-50s, the swelling crowds were protected by machine gun-toting police officers led by Commissioner Ray Kelly, who said there were no new terrorism threats.

Some people heading to Times Square early in the evening were serenaded by police sirens as a mechanic at nearby 1 Penn Plaza was arrested at the 57-story office building when someone called police to say he was carrying a military-style rifle. Police said the man was arrested with the loaded gun, and charges were pending. The incident forced a brief closing of part of 33rd Street.

The incident went unnoticed by the bulk of the Times Square crowd, which paused as scheduled at 8:15 p.m. to observe a moment of silence to honor those killed in the earthquake and tsunami in South Asia.

"I think we all have to look in the mirror tonight before we go to bed and recognize just how lucky we are and that not everyone else is so lucky," Bloomberg said.

Despite the tsunami tragedy, Powell expressed optimism for the coming year and said, "Indeed, 2005 can be a great year for humankind if only we capture the same feelings of goodwill, unity and hope that fill Times Square on New Year's Eve."

Powell leaves Sunday, with Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, on a fact-finding mission to the tsunami-stricken countries, a trip intended to help the U.S. focus its relief efforts.

For the first time in 32 years, the celebration went on without TV personality-producer Dick Clark, who was recovering from a stroke. Daytime talk show host Regis Philbin was filling in for the 75-year-old Clark on ABC-TV's "New Year's Rockin' Eve."

Philbin called it "the greatest temp job in the world."

As in recent years, police boats, helicopters, bomb squads and thousands of officers - both in uniform, and undercover - were on patrol around the city. Bloomberg said heavily armed Hercules counter-terror teams, officers armed with radiation detectors and bomb-sniffing dogs were deployed in Times Square.

Police boats monitored Staten Island ferries, long considered a possible target for potential attack. They also patrolled around Battery Park, the Brooklyn Bridge and the United Nations. Also, flights were banned below 4,000 feet from 23rd to 96th streets. Some subway platforms were closed, and plainclothes officers were on trains and street corners.

More than 10 hours before the ball was to drop, James Reavis, of Butte, Mont., stood at 43rd Street and Seventh Avenue to stake out what he called "probably the most valuable ground in New York City today," a spot with a clear view of the New Year's ball.

Many in the crowd said the South Asian tragedy was on their minds as the new year dawned.

"You still have to remember what's going on in the world because it affects everybody and it should affect the celebration," said Chris Lawrence, 21, of Newburgh, N.Y. "We should remember how fortunate we are for everything we have over here."

Others said they hope the new year will bring peace to all corners of the world, especially Iraq.

It's been 100 years since revelers in New York first brought in the New Year in what was formerly known as Longacre Square. The tradition was started in 1904 by New York Times owner Adolph Ochs, who was building a new headquarters in the neighborhood.

The city had just renamed the oddly shaped "square" in the newspaper's honor, and at midnight Ochs had pyrotechnists illuminate his new building at 1 Times Square with fireworks shot from street level.

Three years later, when the city banned fireworks, Ochs brought in the illuminated iron and wooden ball, to be lowered from the building's flagpole at midnight.

Streets this year began closing at 6 p.m. at 43rd Street, with the closures moving as far north as 59th Street as more revelers arrived.

As they passed the time toward midnight, the partygoers were given thousands of party favors, including American flags, pompoms, single-use cameras, orange jester hats, bright red and blue balloons and - serving up tradition - bags of confetti. Giant video screens and loudspeakers provided musical entertainment throughout the evening.