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The lights of midtown's lighthouse
Even if you have never scaled the Empire State Building and witnessed the view, most visitors enjoy the reverse -- marvelling at its illuminated semaphore-ish calendar. Credit goes to real life Mad Man Douglas Leigh who gave us such classics as the Times Square smoking Camel sign. His idea was to make Empire a weather alert and talked Coca-Cola into sponsoring the endeavour by printing a guide to the colour system on their bottles, until post-Pearl Harbor blackouts interfered with the plan. In 1976 he tried again and the building was lit red, white and blue for the nation's bicentennial. After that success a colour scheme was devised for major holidays and now good causes (Japanese disaster relief and Parkinson's awareness, for example) and occasionally more esoteric and commercial honorifics like purple/purple/yellow for the Westminster Kennel Club. The full lighting schedule can be found at www.esbnyc.com.

David G Allan is the editorial director of BBC Travel.

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