Don’t Drop the Ball
by Jim Priest
I don’t know if you wonder about things like this, but I do. Why do the “drop” the ball in Times Square on New Year’s Eve but we, in Oklahoma City, raise the ball? I know, there are more important things to wonder and worry about. The war in the Ukraine. The demise of civility in politics. I ponder these things too, but I wonder about things like the ball.
So I did a little research. The New York City ball has an interesting history. The tradition started in 1908, sponsored by the New York Times whose building was lit up with festive lights in an attempt to attract party goers to the Square named after it. Before 1908 spectacular fireworks would be set off at midnight. But, as reporter Meg Mathias explains,
The pyrotechnics made for an extraordinary show. But they also rained hot ash onto the New York City streets, a liability that worried city officials so much that fireworks were banned in 1907. Not to be deterred from putting on a fabulous show, the Times introduced a new gimmick to bring partyers to Times Square: the New Year’s Eve Ball.
Who came up with the idea of a ball? No one knows for sure but it was patterned after an old practice called “time balls” which were used as early as 1833. Back then few people had clocks or watches so a ball on a tall pole was installed outside the Royal Greenwich Observatory in London near the River Thames and it was lowered at specific times so people could verify the exact time, especially for ship captains on the Thames who needed to synchronize their chronometers. As more people carried watches or owned clocks, the time ball became antiquated and mostly disused. There are at least two remaining: one at the Greenwich Observatory and one at the US Naval Observatory. And of course, the Times ball which reminds people on New Year’s Eve that time is passing.
Other cities follow New York’s pattern. A giant peach drops in Atlanta, a giant crab descends in Easton, Maryland and Bartlesville Oklahoma lowers a giant olive into a martini glass outside Price Tower.
So if there’s a method to the madness of dropping the ball, why does Oklahoma City raise a ball? The best explanation I could find comes from Peter Dolese who has been involved in the Oklahoma City ball raising since its inception:
We really wanted to have the same kind of effect that they have in New York … but it’s a rising ball. We don’t drop the ball in Oklahoma.
Mystery solved! They drop the ball in NYC because that’s how the ancient time ball worked, but we raise the ball because Oklahoma never drops the ball.
Which got me wondering about something else. How often do I drop the ball? How often do we, as a Rotary Club? My conclusion on that is we, as a Club, don’t drop the ball very often. And that’s the way it should be. This year let’s be sure we raise the ball high and fulfill our mission of “Service above Self.”