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The Story Behind Syracuse's Upside-Down Traffic Light

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Unlike nearly every other traffic light in the U.S., the traffic light up on Tipperary Hill in Syracuse, New York displays green above red. Why this bizarre reversal? Well, St. Patrick's Day is an appropriate time to tell this story.

Perhaps more urban legend than history by now, the origin of Tipperary Hill's upside-down traffic light derives from the city's proud Irish heritage. (This is a city that, after all, has a parade in February to kick off St. Patrick's Day Season.) Legend has it that a traffic light first came to the intersection Milton Avenue and Tompkins Street in 1925. It was, in the beginning, just a normal traffic light.


But the local Irish youth wouldn't stand for British red sitting on top of Irish green. They repeatedly threw stones to break the lights, over and over again. Supposedly, evil leprechauns were even blamed for some of the mischief. Eventually, the city's council relented, and an upside-down traffic light has directed cars at Tipperary Hill ever since.


In 2005 the local newspaper, the Syracuse Post-Standard, scanned their archives and couldn't find any evidence of the traffic light before 1945, when New York City's mayor greeted two sets of famous triplets at the intersection. Nor could they find city documents proving exactly when the light went up. However, they did find widows of men who claimed to be those stone-throwing Irish youth back in the 1920s.

With scant historical record but ample oral legend, the traffic light on Tipperary Hill has taken on its own mythical significance. Regardless of its origins, it has been subsumed into the city's Irish heritage. In fact, when the Irish Prime Minister came to visit the U.S. in 2005, he made a special trip to Tipperary Hill—just to visit this one-of-a-kind traffic light. [Syracuse Post-Standard]

Image: Dougtone/Flickr, Doug Kerr/Wikimedia Commons