Published January 01, 2004
NEW YORK – The police were out and the military was patrolling the skies, but celebrants across the country greeted 2004 in the traditional way — with confetti, funny hats and defiant cheerfulness.
In New York City's Times Square, nearly 1 million revelers — and police rooftop snipers and hovering helicopters — watched the traditional crystal ball drop under some of the tightest security measures in U.S. history.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his guest of honor, former Iraq prisoner of war Shoshana Johnson (search), sent the 1,070-pound crystal ball on a 60-second drop that culminated at the stroke of midnight.
"It was brilliant," said Tanya Starkin, a 23-year-old waitress from Ireland, as fireworks lighted up the sky. "Everyone was so worried about everything, and now everything is good."
The raising of the national terrorism alert to orange, its second-highest level, prompted cities across the country to step up police patrols, plan aerial surveillance and install equipment to detect chemical, biological or radiological contamination.
"Everything went off very well," New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said after the ball dropped. He called 2003 a good year: "Another year where we haven't had a terrorist attack here."
In a sea of glitter and confetti outside the MGM Mirage hotel-casino on the Las Vegas Strip, sixth-grade teacher Bob Kelly cheered the new year and his newly won $1,000 from a video poker machine.
"What better way to end 2003?" asked Kelly, of Newport Beach, Calif. "I'm going to go back in there and win another one. What better way to start 2004!"
An estimated 270,000 revelers jamming the Strip and downtown's Fremont Street, watched over by about 2,600 police officers, more than 100 FBI agents and 4,000 hotel security guards, authorities said.
The festivities in Boston drew about 1.5 million visitors, reaching the same levels of the previous year. Boston's "First Night" is the oldest and largest New Year's Eve arts festival in the country.
In San Francisco, about 30,000 people gathered along the city's waterfront to watch the fireworks display against the backdrop of the Bay Bridge, which was the focus of stepped up security. Coast Guard boats trolled San Francisco Bay on the lookout for suspicious activity.
Thousands gathered in Seattle to enjoy the city's 7½-minute firework show featuring fireworks bursting from the Space Needle (search). More undercover officers worked the crowd than last year.
In New Orleans, an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 people watched the lowering of a giant, grinning papier mache baby in the French Quarter (search) as helicopters patrolled the banks of Mississippi River.
Denver authorities called in off-duty officers to ensure celebrations did not get out of hand, especially at two fireworks shows on a downtown pedestrian mall, where about 160,000 people gathered. That was 50,000 more than last year's crowd, said Michael Krikorian of the Downtown Denver Partnership.
New York City put more officers on duty this year than last, though officials declined to give numbers. Last year the department said it deployed 2,000 officers in Times Square alone.
Metal detectors were brought in, manhole covers were sealed, and mailboxes, trash cans and newspaper boxes were removed. Police had seven helicopters to patrol above the crowd, including one with communications equipment and crowd-scanning cameras. The Department of Homeland Security sent fighter jets over New York for the night.
Police said there were no reports of crowd trouble.
Tracey Talley, 31, said her birthday was Jan. 1 and that when she was a girl she believed the Times Square celebration was in her honor — "So I've always wanted to come be here in person," she said, laughing.
Although some revelers complained that police barricades and closed streets made them feel hemmed in, several said the precautions enabled them to enjoy the once-a-year celebration.
"It's real controlled, but I understand the reason why," Talley said.
New York-born performer Cyndi Lauper took the stage to lead the revelers, many of whom were wearing bright orange hats and waving red balloons, in a sing-along of tunes from her latest album.
The Federal Aviation Administration banned flights, except for scheduled commercial flights, over Manhattan and Las Vegas for several hours during the celebrations.
Crowds began gathering early Wednesday in Pasadena, Calif., for Thursday's 115th annual Rose Parade. Paradegoers staked out spots for a curbside sleepover as law enforcement officers — many of them undercover — fanned out along the route.
Tim Tussman, 46, of Grantsburg, Wis., brought his girlfriend, Becky Melin, 45, to see the parade as a belated birthday gift. "It's an obvious target, but you hope they've taken all that into account," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.