They’re Calling it LICHenge

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Midsummer is still about a month away, but twice every year—once around Memorial Day and again around Bastille Day—New Yorkers point their cameras at the setting sun to capture it as it lines up with the Manhattan street grid. Because of the similarity of how the sun lines up with the rocks at Stonehenge on the summer solstice, this specifically New York City–phenomenon has been called “Manhattanhenge.”

I first learned about Manhattanhenge back around 2002 or 2003, when a friend forwarded me a link to Neil Degrasse-Tyson’s article explaining the event, which was written not too long after People named him the sexiest astrophysicist alive. I believe he is also credited with concocting the portmanteau “Manhattanhenge.”

Almost every year since then, I missed it. For most of my early years in New York City, I lived in Greenwich Village, and I would invariably feel discouraged to take my camera and tripod to 14th Street, where I would have to dodge pedestrian and vehicular traffic at a busy time of the day. As budding New Yorker, my cynicism didn’t judge it worth the trouble.

However, after moving to Long Island City in 2008, I realized that I had the perfect spot to view the sunset on any given night, and starting in 2011, I got over my reservations over photographing Manhattanhenge and headed for Gantry State Park, where Long Island City meets the East River at Hunters Point. There, I found that I was in good company of other curious photographers, including one guy who used his girlfriend’s head as an improvised tripod.

Shooting the Shooters

And, of course, the photographic results were pretty stunning.

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Much like Long Island City itself, watching Manhattanhenge from Long Island City is “blowing up.” I hate to say that because it seems silly to brag about watching a particular sunset longer than anybody else. That same sun has been “setting” beyond our horizon for over a billion years, and it has been lining up with the Manhattan street grid since about 1811. I’m old, but not that old.

However, two events came to my attention this week that suggest the growing popularity of watching Manhattanhenge from Long Island City:

  1. On Thursday, May 28, the Hunters Point Parks Conservancy, the non-profit organization that advocates for Gantry State Park and Hunters Point South Park, is hosting a viewing party. The name for it is a portmanteau of a portmanteau: LICHenge. Members of the organization get some vittles and a beverage while they watch the sun set in line with 42nd Street.

  2. Jeanmarie Evelly, the DNA Info reporter who covers the “Brooklyn parts” of Queens, posted a story about viewing Manhattanhenge from LIC. I had actually completely forgotten about Manhattanhenge until she emailed me yesterday, asking permission to use one of my photos of the 2011 LIC-Manhattanhenge. The photograph now illustrates her story about “soaking” in views of Manhattanhenge from the LIC waterfront.

As an exile from Long Island City, I doubt that I will return to the Queens waterfront to view Manhattanhenge. Perhaps, instead, I will head to Transmitter Park in Greenpoint to watch it from a new vantage point. In either case, I would hate to miss it. Even if it’s more popular than ever before, watching Manhattanhenge from here is still a great experience.

What’s not to like about a sunset?

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