Henge: A type of Neolithic earthwork featuring a circular banked enclosure with an internal ditch. The most famous henge is Stonehenge, in Wiltshire, England; it is estimated to have been built between 3000 and 2000 BCE. The -henge element “may have meant something ‘hanging’ or supported in the air,” according to the OED.
Detached henge first appeared in the mid-18th century; Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, wrote in his 1742 Tour of Great Britain that “The present Name [sc. Stonehenge] is Saxon, tho' the Work is beyond all Comparison older, signifying a hanging Rod or Pole, i.e. a Gallows, from the hanging Parts, Architraves, or rather Imposts; and pendulous Rocks are still in Yorkshire called Henges.”
Henge is in the news this week because of Manhattanhenge, an affectionate name for an annual east-west alignment of the setting sun with New York City’s street grid. The phenomenon occurs today, May 31, at about 8:12 p.m. (It also occurred on May 30, and will be visible again on July 11 and 12.)
According to a Wikipedia entry:
In accordance with the Commissioners' Plan of 1811, the street grid for most of Manhattan is rotated 29° clockwise from true east-west. Thus, when the azimuth for sunset is 299° (i.e., 29° northward of due West), the sunset aligns with the streets on that grid.
Other cities with fairly uniform grids and unobstructed views of the horizon may also experience the event. A similar phenomenon, dubbed MIThenge, can be experienced at varying times of the year.
Manhattanhenge observed from 34th Street. Photo via American Museum of Natural History.
For Manhattan, a place where evening matters more than morning, that special day comes twice a year, when the setting Sun aligns precisely with the Manhattan street grid, creating a radiant glow of light across Manhattan's brick and steel canyons, simultaneously illuminating both the north and south sides of every cross street of the borough's grid. A rare and beautiful sight. These two days happen to correspond with Memorial Day and Baseball's All Star break. Future anthropologists might conclude that, via the Sun, the people who called themselves Americans worshiped War and Baseball. …
Note that several years ago, an article in the New York Times identified this annual event as the Manhattan Solstice. But of course, the word solstice translates from the Latin solstitium, meaning stopped sun, in reference to the winter and summer solstices where the Sun's daily arc across the sky reaches its extreme southerly and northerly limits. Manhattanhenge comes about because the Sun's arc has not yet reached these limits, and is on route to them, as we catch a brief glimpse of the setting Sun along the canyons of our narrow streets.
Other -henge compounds include:
Carhenge, a Stonehenge replica constructed of 38 cars on a farm field in Alliance, Nebraska.
Phonehenge, an assemblage of red British telephone boxes in South Carolina’s Freestyle Music Park. For a few years there was also an unrelated Phonehenge West in California’s Antelope Valley, north of Los Angeles; it contained a working windmill and a replica of a Viking house (but no phone booths). In 2012 it was found to be in violation of building codes. Its creator was charged $82,000 to demolish the structure and was sentenced to 539 days in jail.
Sconehenge, a bakery-café in Berkeley, California. I could not find a trademark registration for Sconehenge, which may explain the competitive existence of Fine Sconehenge Baking Company a few hundred miles to the south, in Camarillo (Ventura County). Protect your brands, people!
The Berkeley Sconehenge. Photo via Psycho Gourmet.