NEW YORK – A century after the first New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square (search), close to a million revelers welcomed 2005 with wild cheering, confetti, fireworks and kisses, while also pausing to mourn the devastation of the South Asian tsunami.
The crowd was bathed in bright light as the electrified white ball began its drop at 11:59 p.m., when outgoing Secretary of State Colin Powell (search), a native New Yorker, pressed a giant button with Mayor Michael Bloomberg (search). The revelers powerfully counted down the last 20 seconds as they watched the 1,000-pound Waterford crystal-covered ball slump slowly from atop 1 Times Square.
As the clock struck midnight, a two-minute pyrotechnic display lit the sky and confetti fell from surrounding rooftops.
"In my lifetime I've served in many places around the world, and wherever I happened to be the turn of the year just didn't feel right unless I had in some way seen or heard about the ball coming down on time and all of the hundreds of thousands of people in Times Square cheering, cheering, cheering," Powell said Friday.
Springlike temperatures in the low to mid-50s helped draw the swelling crowds, who were protected by machine gun-toting police officers.
At 8:15 p.m., the crowd quieted to mark a moment of silence in Times Square to honor those killed in the earthquake and tsunami in South Asia.
"I think we all have to look in the mirror tonight before we go to bed and recognize just how lucky we are and that not everyone else is so lucky," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.
For the first time in 32 years, the celebration took place without Dick Clark, the TV personality-producer who is recovering from a stroke. The daytime talk-show host Regis Philbin filled in for the 75-year-old Clark on ABC-TV's "New Year's Rockin' Eve."
Philbin calls it "the greatest `temp job' in the world."
Along the route of the Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif., a huge crowd gathered Friday after the morning's heavy rain subsided. There was only a 20 percent chance of light showers when the parade begins Saturday morning.
The parade will include a 50-foot robot, the debut entry from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology.
Louise Mannion, 75, traveled from South Carolina to aid the effort by Caltech, where her son, Tom Mannion, is assistant vice president for student affairs. "I did the world yesterday," said Mannion, describing a globe float.
In New York, as in recent years, police boats, helicopters, bomb squads and thousands of officers were on duty, and officers armed with radiation detectors and bomb-sniffing dogs patrolled Times Square.
At an office high-rise several blocks from Times Square, police arrested a man who was found carrying a loaded military-style rifle Friday evening. The incident briefly closed 33rd Street, but most revelers didn't notice.
More than 10 hours before the ball was to drop, James Reavis, of Butte, Mont., stood at 43rd Street and Seventh Avenue to stake out what he called "probably the most valuable ground in New York City today," a spot with a clear view of the New Year's ball.
Many of the revelers said the South Asian tragedy would be on their minds.
"You still have to remember what's going on in the world because it affects everybody and it should affect the celebration," said Chris Lawrence, 21, of Newburgh, N.Y.
Others said they hoped the new year would bring peace to all corners of the world, especially Iraq.
"Maybe 2005 will see an end to war and all those tragedies," said Nancy Walter, 46, of Tucson, Ariz. "This might be a moment to put all those terrible things in the past."
It's been 100 years since revelers in New York first brought in the New Year in what was formerly known as Longacre Square. The tradition was started in 1904, by New York Times owner Adolph Ochs, who was building a new headquarters in the neighborhood.
The city had just renamed the oddly shaped "square" in the newspaper's honor and at midnight Ochs had pyrotechnists illuminate his new building at One Times Square with fireworks shot from street level.
Three years later, when the city banned fireworks, Ochs brought in an illuminated iron and wooden ball, to be lowered from the building's flagpole at midnight.
As they passed the last hours of 2004, partygoers were given thousands of party favors, including American flags, pompoms, single-use cameras, bright red and blue balloons and confetti bags. Giant video screens and loudspeakers provided musical entertainment throughout the evening.