Anyone who has found themselves in Times Square in the middle of the night will recognize that some things are still the same as they were 100 years ago. This article is a beautiful description of a full night’s worth of characters, sights, smells, and sounds. It could easily describe the same area today, if not for a few little things like the horse-drawn fire engine that races up Broadway shortly before morning.
The time is 2 A.M., there is a slow fall of fine drizzling rain, a sort of imitation fog, the thing that aims to be what London dreads so much, and never realizes its ambition (which is fortunate for us), and through which the incandescents and the arc lights, on the signs, and in front of the big hotels, shine with a sort of discouraged lustre.
The day was fine, one of those early sweet-scented days with promises we have been having lately of a charming Spring, the kind of day that puts spirit into all of us. Now the air is cooler, in fact it has zip enough to make you glad you have your overcoat along.
Since 8 o’clock or before, building hope on the generosity of the theatregoing crowd the [homeless man wearing a] bundle of rags has been squatting in its corner, forcing out wheezy sounds from its wretched concertina. Before it, massing on the pavements, dashing across the street in front of whizzing motors and clattering caps, the panorama of Broadway has been unfolded — that panorama of strange contrasts, with its luxury and pseudo luxury, to bring envy to the snapping point. But such a one as this, the bundle of rags aforesaid, has lost the spirit to be envious. At least a pallid hope, a sort of anaemic longing, that an occasional nickel will be dropped into the cup, mistaken in the darkness for a penny…
Three or four blocks up the street a string band is still playing away for a dozen or more couples who will not forsake the rather Bohemian restaurant until the gray of dawn, and who now, under the inspiration of their wine, are whooping it up in songs, telling silly stories, or retailing unpleasant gossip.
But in the big hotels, the Knickerbocker across the way, and the Astor, the fiddles have had time to get into a deep sleep, the lights in the grill are out, chairs are banked on the tables, and the sweepers are already busy in the lobby getting ready for another day…
But does Times Square ever sleep?
It never really does.
For a brief interval it may drowse, get somnolent, lose its chronic state of wearing, tearing, nervous energy, and pull up for a little rest. But wait here with me from 2 or 3 A.M. while there are still plenty of signs of active life, see the night lights flicker and go out, see the last of that line of waiting taxis there crawl away toward home, or wherever belated taxis go; see the gray of dawn giving place to the rose of morning, and you will still find through all these varied phases some signs of the big pulse of this big square.
Great so far, right? Download the PDF for the rest.
NIGHT IN A FASCINATING SQUARE THAT NEVER SLEEPS: A Varied Panorama of Life Keeps Moving and Changing in Times Square from Early Evening Until the Small Hours of the Morning (PDF)
From May 8, 1910