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Happy New Century!

4 minute read
Howard Chua-Eoan

On New Year’s Eve, six-year-old Christian put the lighted flashlights into the sleeves of his rust-red sweater and, a veritable 21st century automaton, ran down the hallways of TIME magazine to his mother, picture editor MaryAnne Golon. With not a small degree of pride, he loudly declared, “I’m Y2K compliant!”

And so were we. Some 90 staff members, a few with family members in tow, worked in our New York City offices this past weekend to prepare this keepsake issue. We had planned it for two months with some trepidation, aware of the potential for the fog of technology and the insinuation of terrorism. Last weekend all of TIME’s bureaus were on alert, and we posted several dozen photographers around the world to record the passing of 1999 into 2000. In Washington, correspondent Sally Donnelly took a New Year’s Eve flight with the head of the FAA. Julie Grace of our Chicago bureau spent the evening with a family of Y2K worriers in Ohio. Denver bureau chief Richard Woodbury watched Norad even as Norad watched the skies. Meanwhile, other correspondents followed sun worshippers in India, opera lovers in Egypt and nervous brides in Vegas.

As police throughout the world secured emergency bunkers for themselves, the TIME magazine and Time Inc. information-technology staff set up a generator-powered “war room” in the basement of the Time & Life Building, filled with computers and equipment ready to produce the magazine in case of a catastrophic breakdown of electricity and communications. “We even rented extra furniture,” says creative services manager Kin Wah Lam.

As it turned out, the most dramatic incident, indeed a historic one, was unexpected: the resignation on the morning of Dec. 31 of Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Our Moscow bureau quickly supplied reporting, and managing editor Walter Isaacson asked for an assessment of Yeltsin from the White House, which the President provided virtually overnight in an essay that appears on page 94.

The world’s passage into the third millennium after Christ proved to be more celebratory than alarming, as Joel Stein notes in his story accompanying the magazine’s photographic commemoration of the turn of the century. That was certainly clear to those of us who worked through New Year’s Eve into the early hours of New Year’s Day. TIME’s headquarters overlooks part of the Times Square area, and every now and then, as we monitored the world, we looked out our windows to see the crowds massing, waiting for the famous ball to drop.

At the strike of midnight, the roar from the streets echoed into the building and a snowfall of confetti fell outside as fireworks reflected off the glass walls of nearby buildings. We popped champagne and sprinkled some of our own confetti to mark the passing of the old millennium before heading back to our terminals. They worked.

Other adventures into the 21st century were fortunate. Photographer Steve Liss traveled to the Chatham Islands, which were, until the Kingdom of Tonga and the nation of Kiribati tampered with the rules, the first inhabited place on earth to greet each new day, and thus would have been the first to reach the new millennium. But when he got to the tempestuous isles, he was told, “We get to see the sun rise maybe four times a year.” Nervously, Liss waited and was rewarded, along with the islanders, with a brief but stunning dawn, the first sunrise of the new century. A single daybreak, the beginning of another accumulation of days to make a year, a century, a millennium. After all the extravagant and theatrical celebrations of immense measures of time, all of us must now return to live the future day by day.

And the war room? It will be dismantled. The rented furniture is going back to the store.

Howard Chua-Eoan, Assistant Managing Editor

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