Drop the ball: Cities find novel ways to welcome new year
ore watermelons to ring in the new year in Vincennes, IN. (Source: Rick Linenburg)
The CherryT is dropped to ring in the New Year in Traverse City, MI. (Source: Dean Rose, WindStorm Marketing)
Prairie du Chien, WI, drops a carp named 'Lucky' to ring in the new year, and folks can kiss it for good luck. (Source: droppingofthecarp.blogspot.com)
Jasper, the flea, in Eastover, NC. (Source: C. Kim Nazarchyk, Eastover Town Manager)
(RNN) - New York City's Times Square has cornered the market on dropping a ball to usher in New Year's Day.
The illuminated ball has been bringing in the new year since 1907 – with a hiatus in 1942 and 1943 because of World War II. Hundreds of thousands will crowd Manhattan again for 2013 – but what about everyone else who wants to see something lowered to mark the new year?
With that in mind, other places started their own "drops," with a few modifications to fit the individual communities.
Anyone can light up an orb. It takes a little more creativity to drop watermelons, or a pirate wench, or sausage, or a carp. And why not a Moon Pie, a live possum, a stuffed possum or a drag queen in a ruby slipper, too?
If you're going to stand outside Dec. 31, you might as well be warm.
Pensacola drops a giant, 10-foot, half-ton illuminated pelican. Not bad, but Key West wins points for variety and originality.
At Schooner's Warf, a pirate wench is lowered at midnight from the mast of a ship as cannons are fired; at Sloppy Joe's Bar, a giant conch shell gives in to gravity; and at Bourbon Street Pub, a live drag queen drops down in a giant sparkling red high heeled shoe – because why not, right?
"Priscilla Queen of the Desert was a big hit at the time," said Joe Schroeder, owner of the pub. "We were thinking about the shoe on the bus scene, and we thought that could be our drop."
The first year, the shoe was hastily assembled out of chicken wire and paper mache. Now, the shoe is larger, fancier and there is an extensive pulley system to lower Sushi, the 95-pound drag queen who has been riding the shoe since the celebration began more than a decade ago.
The shoe dropping has become so popular that Anderson Cooper features it during his New Year's Eve special on CNN.
"We're going to continue to do that every year until Sushi becomes the old lady in the show," Schroeder said.
If you're interested in something that would appeal to the 10-year-old kid in all of us, try a bunch of watermelons splattering all over the place.
A few years ago, John Frenz invited a few friends over to his Vincennes, IN, home for New Year's Eve to watch the ball drop in New York City.
"Someone said, ‘We should do something around here,' and the next hour and a half was the most lively – thoughts were flowing freely," said Rick Linenburg, friend of Frenz, party attendee and planning committee member for the watermelon drop.
Knox County is Indiana's largest melon producer, so dropping watermelons seemed like a logical choice. An 18-foot long, 15 1/2-foot wide watermelon will be hoisted 100 feet in the air during the last minute of the year.
At midnight, the "watermelon" will illuminate and the bottom will release real watermelons.
"The first year it was all over the street and no one could see it," Linenburg said. "We've erected a ‘splatform' that's about 10 feet high."
Gallagher would be proud.
Vincennes isn't the only town to drop fruit - kind of. Traverse City, MI, drops a cherry.
Well, a lighted cherry made of aluminum with more than 5,000 lights officially called the CherryT, which is a bit of a mash up for "charity" and "cherry."
The Traverse City region grows about 75 percent of the nation's tart cherry crop annually, and the price of admission is either a monetary donation or a nonperishable food item.
The family-friendly event (no alcohol) had about 5,000 people show up for its first year in 2009. The next year, that amount doubled.
For some reason, Pennsylvania seems to be a hotbed of communities that lower quirky items to celebrate the new year, many of which play off the name, industry or feature of the town.
For example, Harrisburg drops a lighted strawberry, the Crayola factory drops a giant crayon (well before midnight, for the kids), Bethlehem drops a Peep (yes, a replica of the marshmallow treat), Lancaster drops a rose, Dillsburg drops a pickle, Beavertown drops a beaver, Lebanon a huge 200-pound actual bologna, Hershey raises a giant Hershey kiss, Mechanicsburgh lowers a wrench - just to name a few.
If you want quirky, North Carolina is close behind Pennsylvania. Mount Olive drops a pickle - not an olive - because of the Mt. Olive Pickle Company. In Charlotte - the queen city - a crown is raised.
In Eastover, NC, a flea is lowered. A big 3-feet long, foam and wood flea constructed by Mayor Charles McLaurin. His name is Jasper.
"We had over 100 write-in suggests for naming the flea," C. Kim Nazarchyk, Eastover town manager, said in 2011. "The name chosen was Jasper, in honor of Jasper Geddie who was a very large landowner in the 1800s, which included the spot we use for the event."
In a 2010 interview with NPR, McLaurin said a flea was chosen because many of the town's buildings in the 1880s were not underpinned, and animals would crawl up under the church, which became infested with fleas.
Don't worry, there aren't any there now, but the name "Flea Hill" stuck.
Until this year in western North Carolina, Brasstown lowered a possum. Not a stuffed possum - like Tallapoosa, GA, lowers (his name is Spencer). Nope, this was a real live possum that was captured a week before being lowered in a giant Plexiglas cage.
But earlier this year, PETA sued the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission for issuing the permit to allow the possum drop.
The commission can issue permits for animal captivity, but it issued a temporary permit to Clay Logan, owner of Clay's Corner. A judge ruled the temporary permit violated state law prohibiting capturing and using wild animals for pets or amusement.
Logan told the Asheville Citizen-Times there will be a possum drop – but the possum won't be a live one, and the rest of the festivities will go on as scheduled.
Not to be outdone in the lowering-weird-animals category, Prairie du Chien, WI, lowers a carp named "Lucky," so named because carps are considered lucky in Chinese culture.
Each year, a new Lucky is fortunate to be plucked from the Mississippi River to be kissed by those wanting extra luck and then lowered at midnight.
Yup. People kiss the dead carp for luck. Lipstick is even put on the fish's lips.
"Anyone can kiss the carp," said Mike Ulrich of the city's Parks and Recreation Department in 2011. "Quite a few people kiss it."
And are Lucky's lips cleaned between kisses?
"It is what it is. You know how people are during New Year's Eve," Ulrich laughed. "There's already alcohol on their lips, so I'm sure it's fine."
Copyright 2011 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.
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