Your Cause in Lights: The Empire State Building's Tribute Policy

iStock
iStock

One of the most recognizable buildings in the world—loved by tourists, locals, and giant gorillas alike—the Empire State Building decorates the New York City skyline with regular displays of colored lights. A recent controversy over the Empire State Building's rejection of the Catholic League's proposal to honor of Mother Teresa's centennial with blue and white lights has put a spotlight on the building's lighting policy. Among the protestors, City Council members are speaking out against the decision.

As stated by the building management, which receives hundreds of lighting requests each year, "The Empire State Building's tower lights recognize key milestones, events, charitable organizations, countries, and holidays throughout the world, not political or religion related events."

Yet, some lighting choices have been controversial. For example, in 2009, when red and yellow lights shone to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of China, critics called it a tribute to Communist rule and a country with a poor human rights record. And religious figures have been honored in the past, such as in 1979, when the building lit up in white and gold in honor of the pope's visit to New York, and in 2005, when they were dimmed to honor his death. The Catholic League also pointed out that in 2000, the building was lit in red and white when Cardinal Archbishop of New York John Joseph O'Connor died, and the building is regularly lit black, red and green in honor of Martin Luther King Day. In May, the building lit up in blue and white to honor the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York's Salute to Israel Parade. Also, a number of the holidays marked with lights (Christmas, Chanukah, Eid al-Fitr) have religious significance.

The 2008 rejection of an application from the Marine Corps to honor its birthday has also come back into the discussion.

The management has stayed quiet on the Mother Teresa decision other than stating that it's final. It has been self-critical in the past for lighting choices on occasion. In a 2003 New York Times interview, building special events manager Lydia A. Ruth said she regretted some of the more commercial lighting choices—Microsoft 95 (blue, red, green and yellow), new M&Ms (blue), and Pink Floyd's new album (red pulses).

WHAT DO HERBERT HOOVER AND JUSTIN BIEBER HAVE IN COMMON?

Justin Bieber may have generated the most buzz when he flipped the switch on the Empire State Building light display for the Jumpstart Reading Challenge in 2009, but Herbert Hoover was the first to light up the Empire State Building back in 1931 after the building's completion. (Technically, he pressed a button in D.C.) Since then, the lights have gone through many evolutions, expanding in size, color and occasions, and decreasing in wattage. In 1932, a searchlight switched on to signify New York's own FDR's presidential election win. (On election eve 2008, the tower displayed both red lights for Republicans and blue lights for Democrats. After Obama won, it switched over to all blue.)

In 1956, revolving beacons, known as "Freedom Lights" were added to the building, turning it into a "lighthouse of the sky." A new set of Empire State Building lights debuted during the 1964 World's Fair, brightening the building's facade.

Douglas Leigh was behind the colorful lighting advancements. In his advertising career, Leigh was also the innovator behind a number of iconic billboards that featured steaming cups of coffee, glowing weather displays and rings of cigarette smoke. Equipped with Leigh's new color palette, the building started lighting up in earnest in the 1970s. The first display was on July 4, 1976: the Empire State Building lit up in red, white, and blue, but it might not have been for the nation's bicentennial. Some accounts say that it was actually to celebrate the birthday of Leona Helmsley, one half of the real estate empire of Harry and Leona Helmsley (she was also born on the fourth of July).

The following year, Yankees fans celebrated their World Series victory in the glow of blue and white lights from a new bigger display that reached from the 72nd floor all the way to the television antenna. As The New York Times put it, "Colored lights turn the Empire State Building into a toy."

In addition to vertigo, engineers who change the light gel colors as many as 200 times per year must contend with snow drifts and wayward hawks. Now, a more computerized system has greatly reduced the daily work of changing the colors of the lights

WHAT DO THE NATIONAL OSTEOPOROSIS SOCIETY AND WINDOWS 95 HAVE IN COMMON?

Since 2006, the official Lighting Partner program has reviewed applications for those who want to celebrate with colored lights atop the famous building. A variety of holidays, occasions and individuals are celebrated.

Usually, no more than three different colors are allowed, but a lighting display in honor of the Grateful Dead's museum exhibit sparkled in a tie-dye rainbow of colors. In addition to regular holidays, what else has been celebrated in lights?

  • Frank Sinatra's 80th birthday and also his death (blue)
  • Mariah Carey's top-selling album (purple, pink and white)
  • The Simpsons movie release (yellow)
  • Popeye's 75th birthday
  • Microsoft, for Windows 95 (blue, red, green and yellow)
  • Snapple, for a corporate meeting (yellow)
  • Breast Cancer Awareness (pink)
  • National Osteoporosis Society (teal)
  • Cat Fanciers Association (purple, orange and white)
  • Westminster Dog Show (purple and gold)

The Cat Fanciers Association lights shone for three nights, one night longer than the Westminster Kennel Club display—perhaps there are more cat lovers than dog lovers behind the scenes at the Empire State Building.

On other nights, the lights shine in all white, or in the colors of New York sports teams when they have home games. Following 9/11, the Empire State Building went off its regular schedule to shine red, white, and blue all through the night to offer comfort to those looking out at the sky in the wee hours.

LIGHTS OUT

In addition to brightening up the sky, the Empire State Building has gone dark on a few specific occasions.

  • In 2004, it went dark for 15 minutes in honor of Fay Wray, the actress carried up to the top of the building in King Kong.
  • In 2008, the Empire State Building went "green" by turning off the lights in honor of Earth Hour. (Though far more energy is conserved in this and other commercial buildings through changes to what's going on inside of the building.)
  • During certain times of the year, the building dims its light to be less distracting to migratory birds.
  • In 1992, Harry Helmsley ordered the lights turned off for the first night of Leona's prison sentence for tax evasion.
  • When Harry died in 1997, the building paid tribute by dimming its lights for 7 days.

If you can't see the Empire State Building from your own window, check out this handy site to see what color the building is today and how it looks.

10 Rad Gifts for Hikers

Greg Rosenke/Unsplash
Greg Rosenke/Unsplash

The popularity of bird-watching, camping, and hiking has skyrocketed this year. Whether your gift recipients are weekend warriors or seasoned dirtbags, they'll appreciate these tools and gear for getting most out of their hiking experience.

1. Stanley Nesting Two-Cup Cookset; $14

Amazon

Stanley’s compact and lightweight cookset includes a 20-ounce stainless steel pot with a locking handle, a vented lid, and two insulated 10-ounce tumblers. It’s the perfect size for brewing hot coffee, rehydrating soup, or boiling water while out on the trail with a buddy. And as some hardcore backpackers note in their Amazon reviews, your favorite hiker can take the tumblers out and stuff the pot with a camp stove, matches, and other necessities to make good use of space in their pack.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Osprey Sirrus and Stratos 24-Liter Hiking Packs; $140

Amazon

Osprey’s packs are designed with trail-tested details to maximize comfort and ease of use. The Sirrus pack (pictured) is sized for women, while the Stratos fits men’s proportions. Both include an internal sleeve for a hydration reservoir, exterior mesh and hipbelt pockets, an attachment for carrying trekking poles, and a built-in rain cover.

Buy them: Amazon, Amazon

3. Yeti Rambler 18-Ounce Bottle; $48

Amazon

Nothing beats ice-cold water after a summer hike or a sip of hot tea during a winter walk. The Yeti Rambler can serve up both: Beverages can stay hot or cold for hours thanks to its insulated construction, and its steel body (in a variety of colors) is basically indestructible. It will add weight to your hiker's pack, though—for a lighter-weight, non-insulated option, the tried-and-true Camelbak Chute water bottle is incredibly sturdy and leakproof.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Mappinners Greatest 100 Hikes of the National Parks Scratch-Off Poster; $30

Amazon

The perfect gift for park baggers in your life (or yourself), this 16-inch-by-20-inch poster features epic hikes like Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Once the hike is complete, you can scratch off the gold foil to reveal an illustration of the park.

Buy it: Amazon

5. National Geographic Adventure Edition Road Atlas; $19

Amazon

Hikers can use this brand-new, updated road atlas to plan their next adventure. In addition to comprehensive maps of all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico, they'll get National Geographic’s top 100 outdoor destinations, useful details about the most popular national parks, and points on the maps noting off-the-beaten-path places to explore.  

Buy it: Amazon

6. Adventure Medical Kits Hiker First-Aid Kit; $25

Amazon

This handy 67-piece kit is stuffed with all the things you hope your hiker will never need in the wilderness. Not only does it contain supplies for pain, cuts and scrapes, burns, and blisters (every hiker’s nemesis!), the items are organized clearly in the bag to make it easy to find tweezers or an alcohol wipe in an emergency.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiker Hunger Ultralight Trekking Poles; $70

Amazon

Trekking poles will help increase your hiker's balance and stability and reduce strain on their lower body by distributing it to their arms and shoulders. This pair is made of carbon fiber, a super-strong and lightweight material. From the sweat-absorbing cork handles to the selection of pole tips for different terrain, these poles answer every need on the trail. 

Buy it: Amazon

8. Leatherman Signal Camping Multitool; $120

Amazon

What can’t this multitool do? This gadget contains 19 hiking-friendly tools in a 4.5-inch package, including pliers, screwdrivers, bottle opener, saw, knife, hammer, wire cutter, and even an emergency whistle.

Buy it: Amazon

9. RAVPower Power Bank; $24

Amazon

Don’t let your hiker get caught off the grid with a dead phone. They can charge RAVPower’s compact power bank before they head out on the trail, and then use it to quickly juice up a phone or tablet when the batteries get low. Its 3-inch-by-5-inch profile won’t take up much room in a pack or purse.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Pack of Four Indestructible Field Books; $14

Amazon

Neither rain, nor snow, nor hail will be a match for these waterproof, tearproof 3.5-inch-by-5.5-inch notebooks. Your hiker can stick one in their pocket along with a regular pen or pencil to record details of their hike or brainstorm their next viral Tweet.

Buy it: Amazon

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LEGO and IKEA Have Designed a New Line of Storage Boxes With the Help of Child Psychologists

IKEA
IKEA

Putting together IKEA furniture can remind grownups of their days playing with LEGO bricks. The two brands serve very different demographics, and now they've joined forces to create these ready-to-assemble products designed to appeal to both kids and adults.

As ThomasNet reports, BYGGLEK (Swedish for “to build and play") puts IKEA's practical, minimalist spin on the traditional LEGO toy. The key is a plastic storage bin featuring LEGO-compatible studs on its interior and exterior. Instead of using the floor as their play place and making rooms minefields for barefooted parents, kids can contain their creations within the box. When playtime is over, adults simply pick up the box holding the LEGO masterpiece and move it out of the way. The BYGGLEK boxes come in clean, neutral tones, so parents can show off their kids' handiwork on a canvas that fits the style of their home.

Opportunities for artistic expression for children often lead to headaches for the grownups who clean up after them. In order to make play a more organized experience without inhibiting creativity, LEGO and IKEA collaborated with child psychologists. The resulting product is a win for everyone: It allows parents to organize messes without deconstructing their child's work-in-progress.

IKEA and LEGO's BYGGLEK collection includes four products: A large box, a medium box, a set of three small boxes, and a basic 201-piece LEGO set for kids 5 and up. Prices range from $10 to $15; you can order yours today from IKEA.

[h/t ThomasNet]