Y2K! The Last Millennium’s Last New Year’s Eve: A Photo Essay

New Year's Eve in the nation's capital city was a street vendor's dream.

New Year’s Eve in the nation’s capital city was a street vendor’s dream.

By the calendar, it was only fifteen years ago. Yet, with all that has radically changed since then, it seems like an entirely different century.

And, of course, it was.

The 1999 Blackberry, now dead.

The 1999 Blackberry, now dead.

People were using Blackberries. You could still buy an iPod Classic. There were no camera phones. Sure, most people were using email – but not for quite yet a decade.

Only three months before, Hilary Clinton had bought a home in New York, gearing up for a tough race for the U.S. Senate against New York City Mayor Rudi Giuliani. Former President George Bush was known as former President George Bush. Not former President George H. W. Bush.

Dick Cheney was an obscure ex-Congressman from Wyoming.

The former Wyoming Congressman.

The former Wyoming Congressman.

It would still be five months before Britney Spears came out with her Oops!… I Did It Again. Cassette tapes were long gone, and CD’s ruled the aisles of music emporiums like The Virgin Store. Smashing Pumpkins was a hot band, not an act of vandalism.

And Paris Hilton was a place to stay when visiting the capital of France.

All the while, as the months of 1999 neared New Year’s Eve, the wearied world was on hot red alert, ready to weather what most feared would be the worst global catastrophy ever to hit civilization.

They called it “Y2K,” as in “year two thousand.”

The jig was up, so they said.

The jig was up, so they said.

Bank deposits would be haywire.

Computers would explode from internal confusion.

Planes would fall from the sky if you happened to be flying on one precisely at midnight.

Everyone would go around thinking it was 1900 just because all the digital clocks would go bonkers.

Still two years away, but the hotel in France's capital by the same name was already thriving.

Still two years away, but the hotel in France’s capital by the same name was already thriving.

At the stroke of midnight on December 31, 1999, the world would be launched into the Twenty-First Century!

For the quaint at heart, the passing of the dear, old Twentieth Century was the sad goodbye, but most of the world had been bitten with Millenniumitis.

This was going to be a life-changing New Year’s Eve!

The globe was fixated on one second, that moment of the last second of the last minute of the last hour of the last day of the last week of the last month of the last year of that last decade of that last century of the First Millennium.

Of course, those parts of the globe in the earliest time zones would already be living in  one millennium while the later time zone folks were still stuck in the old one.

Kiribati dancers raise their arms to celebrate  the new millennium at the end of their performance in the Millennium Island, Kiribati, on Saturday January 1, 2000. The islanders in this Pacific island are the first to witness the beginning of the new millennium. They are now people of the first nation which must entirely abandon their land due to global warming's rising sea levels. (AP Photo/Katsumi Kasahara)

Kiribati dancers raise their arms to celebrate the new millennium at the end of their performance in the Millennium Island, Kiribati, on Saturday January 1, 2000. The islanders in this Pacific island are the first to witness the beginning of the new millennium. They are now people of the first nation which must entirely abandon their land due to global warming’s rising sea levels. (AP Photo/Katsumi Kasahara)

And if you were lucky enough to have reached one hundred years of age before midnight, surviving just a few more minutes would mean you’d lived for three centuries!

To catch a bit of the fervor, I took my antiquated Pentax K1000 and headed down to “the nation’s backyard,” Washington, D.C.’s National Mall and just see how this nation was coping with the anticipation.

Along the way, I passed regular, working people leading their regular working days, many pausing in store where television sets were blaring so customers could catch a glimpse of those people on the other side of the globe already living in the future.

Here and there, one encountered alarmists and optimists each with their sets of just how different life would be for us all the next morning.

By and large, however, it was a rather mundane, chilly, post-Christmas day of tourists huddling around souvenir stands. Kids were bickering, grandmas lingering over styrofoam shells filled with lunch.

In a matter of one second, tje entire would all be different, an unknown future to be feared. Not.

In a matter of one second, tje entire would all be different, an unknown future to be feared. Not.

And yet, for some reason, I snapped away. It would be a bit of a visual time capsule and perhaps, over the decades to follow, a starting point for a visible shift in our evolution. It would be a record of a very historical day.

Not.

The 21st century, the new millennium of another, new one thousand years would not really begin until the stroke of midnight on December 31, 2000.

But nobody seemed willing to wait an entire year just to be mathematically correct when the excitement of universal demise was so close at hand.

People wanted to party like it was 1999 simply because – well, it was. And because, at the end of the day or the end of the millennium, people are always just human.

Lots of indecision over just which of the multitude of millenium tee-shirts to store unworn in the closet for several decades to come.

Lots of indecision over just which of the multitude of millennium tee-shirts to store unworn in the closet for several decades to come.

One gent was hawking Y2K keychains.

One gent was hawking Y2K keychains.

Good old regular New Year's Eve horns were always in demand, regardless of which century was turning.

Good old regular New Year’s Eve horns were always in demand, regardless of which century was turning.

Life went on as scheduled at the barbershop, though all the talk was about how life might change the following morning.

Life went on as scheduled at the barbershop, though all the talk was about how life might change the following morning.

There were a lot of trucks clogging the street that day, including one delivering cases of champagne on K Street.

There were a lot of trucks clogging the street that day, including one delivering cases of champagne on K Street.

This elderly woman and her daughter were just eating lunch in the Old Post Office main floor quite routinely, save for the paper hats on their head.

This elderly woman and her daughter were just eating lunch in the Old Post Office main floor quite routinely, save for the paper hats on their head.

The range of millennium hats ranged from the Lincolnesque....

The range of millennium hats ranged from the Lincolnesque….

...to the routine. For a very cold and crowded day, there seemed to be a large number of parents who brought their children out, hoping perhaps they'd remember it all.

…to the routine. For a very cold and crowded day, there seemed to be a large number of parents who brought their children out, hoping perhaps they’d remember it all.

One of the genuine Milleniums ready for her century, by now perhaps out of college, working or married, a quarter of a century old herself.

One of the genuine Millenniums ready for her century, by now perhaps out of college, working or married, a quarter of a century old herself.

Hats bought, most of the crowd seemed simply intent at taking in the last hours of the last day of the last month of the last year of the last decade of the last century of the last millenium.

Hats bought, most of the crowd seemed simply intent at taking in the last hours of the last day of the last month of the last year of the last decade of the last century of the last millennium.

Among the more encouraging signs welcoming in the new century was a group meditation for world peace.

Among the more encouraging signs welcoming in the new century was a group meditation for world peace.

In a city particularly fixated on security, even before the September 11 atttacks twenty-one months down the road, it was no surprise to see vigilant children at attention, ready to do their part.

In a city particularly fixated on security, even before the September 11 atttacks twenty-one months down the road, it was no surprise to see vigilant children at attention, ready to do their part.

Even in relatively staid workaholic Washington, December 31, 1999 was a day that even the usually serious folk caught the street fever of being silly.

Even in relatively staid workaholic Washington, December 31, 1999 was a day that even the usually serious folk caught the street fever of being silly.

Who needs a New Year's Eve hat when they've got a great smile.

Who needs a New Year’s Eve hat when they’ve got a great smile.

Like every other day, before or since, if there was dough to be made, everyone wanted to get into the act.

Like every other day, before or since, if there was dough to be made, everyone wanted into the act.

 


Categories: Holidays, New Year's Eve & New Year's Day

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2 replies »

  1. We had a millennium dinner with a few friends in our (then) loft residence in San Francisco’s SOMA district…pre-dot.com bust, to be sure. Then took champagne up onto the frigid rooftop to view either the fireworks or implosion of the world, whichever came first. Your great photo essay now makes me realize I wish I’d had a camera with me as the millennium changed, but then my handy pocket-sized Sony Cybershot was in those days not yet even a glimmer on the horizon. Not everyone from that party is still among the living, and our former neighborhood has become so built-up with high-rises that few fireworks would probably now be visible from the roof. And by the way: many of your photographs seem eerily antiquated, as if they had been taken in the 1950’s, instead of only 14 years ago. Did we really look like that then?

    • Interesting observation about the pictures looking older than they are. Maybe the old Pentax played a part, but so much has radically changed since then. I also hosted a large holiday dinner in 1999 with each course being one popular during each decade of the 20th century. We need these sort of events and moments to mark the passage of our lives, at least I think so. Thank you for writing – and I apologize for the delayed response.

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