26 May 2009

The Original Green Lantern


The matter of Law & Order can be such a cut-and-dried, unsentimental matter. And, perhaps because of that, I have always loved the antiquated, completely unnecessary, yet faithfully observed, tradition of two green lanterns bordering the entrance of every police station in New York City.

Every set of lanterns is quite different. Some are older, some newer and some quite ornate. I found this pair, outside the Midtown North precinct building on W. 54th Street, to be quite admirable. If you look closely, the detail on the metal work, from the stand on up, is quite intricate. The legs are long and stately. The feet are, by necessity, bolted down, to deter theft.


The tradition of green lights dates back to colonial times.

According to the NYPD website, "It is believed that the Rattle Watchmen, who patrolled New Amsterdam in the 1650's, carried lanterns at night with green glass sides in them as a means of identification. When the Watchmen returned to the watch house after patrol, they hung their lantern on a hook by the front door to show people seeking the watchman that he was in the watch house. Today, green lights are hung outside the entrances of Police Precincts as a symbol that the "Watch" is present and vigilant."

I'm curious as to whether there's any sort of penalty in honor if the lights ever go out. You know, the way you're never supposed to let an American flag touch the ground.

1 comment:

t said...

This story is quite charming, but I never noticed it in my time in NY. For instance, are there green lanterns here http://maps.google.com/maps?q=130+avenue+c+new+york+ny or have they given up the tradition with new construction?