In New York, nothing draws a crowd like a crowd. Sidney Giustra has lived a block south of the World Trade Center for 17 years, long enough to know when somebody famous is about to arrive. She has gone outside to find Robert De Niro, George W. Bush, Joe Biden and Andrew Cuomo.
Every time, the impending arrival is heralded first by New York Police Department commanders standing around in white shirts, and then by a much larger crowd of lookie-loos holding their smartphones at the ready.
That observation served Ms. Giustra well Tuesday afternoon, an hour before Prince William arrived for a tour of Ten House, the Fire Department of New York station made famous for its response to the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
“I knew he was coming to downtown,” Ms. Giustra, 52, said. “But then I saw the crowd and figured, yeah. He must be coming here.”
Few people in the neighborhood seemed to know of the prince’s visit beforehand. Ann Donnelly was alerted by the law enforcement agents with dark suits and serious faces, who gathered in the middle of Liberty Street.
“Really? Prince William? Sweet,” Ms. Donnelly, a tourist from Fort Myers, Fla., said. “Well, I’ve got to hang around for that.”
Tara Pozza rode a bus Tuesday morning from Scranton, Pa., to spend a day in the city. By 3 p.m. she’d already toured Madison Square Garden, the Natural History Museum, an art gallery in SoHo and the 9/11 Memorial Museum before she spotted the crowd near the firehouse.
“Oh my goodness. And I picked today to come to New York City?” Ms. Pozza, 39, said. “I’m so lucky!”
The crowd swelled to about 700 people. It included Lesleyanne Pearson and her husband John, tourists from England who tried to catch a glimpse of the royal family at Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee in 2022 by standing for hours behind Buckingham Palace.
They failed. Now, in New York City, they were determined. They arrived early and claimed the best spot, in the front row, next to the holding pen for photojournalists. Mr. Pearson held his phone. His wife carried a digital video recorder, its viewfinder open and ready.
The Pearsons are fans of the royal family. They are not so impressed by Prince William’s mission in New York to promote the Earthshot Prize, his charity, which awards millions of dollars to entrepreneurs with ideas to reverse climate change.
“To show his green credentials, he’s flown here across the ocean,” Mr. Pearson, 72, said. “Right.”
A few minutes before 4 p.m., the prince arrived in a dark gray Range Rover. The crowd was quiet, save for a few cheers.
“I’m, like, awe-struck. I’m ready to cry,” Ms. Pozza said.
William shook hands with Laura Kavanagh, the fire commissioner. Together they walked around the corner to see the firehouse’s 9/11 memorial.
“I should have stayed home,” Ms. Giustra said. “I could have seen him better from my apartment.”
William’s tour continued inside the firehouse, protected from the crowd by a metal barricade and two rows of police officers.
One New Yorker managed to get much closer: A gray rat, long but not especially fat, scurried the entire block of Liberty Street, hugging the curb. The rodent reached the front of the firehouse, found a sewer hole and jumped in.
Everyone cheered. “Yay! Go!” Ms. Pozza exclaimed.
A few minutes later, William walked across the street to joke and shake hands with people in the crowd. Jose Cabrera, a tourist from Chile, grew nervous.
“What am I supposed to say if I talk to him?” Mr. Cabrera said. “‘Your Highness’? Is that right?”
New Yorkers were not so easily intimidated. Isabella Ward is 22 and lives in Manhattan. For a moment she found herself squished. The crowd swelled behind her. The tall prince loomed directly ahead. William stuck out his thumb and pointed to his security guards.
“I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to go,” he said.
Ms. Ward wasn’t having it. She asked for a selfie. The future king of England paused. He turned, ducked forward and smiled into the phone. Then he walked back to the Range Rover.
Ms. Ward turned away from the crowd, too. She hunched over her phone, anxious to text the picture to her mother.
“That was cool,” she said. “I was not expecting that.”