(RNN) - New York City's Times Square has cornered the market on dropping the ball to usher in the New Year.
The illuminated ball has been bringing in the new year since 1907 – with a hiatus in 1942 and 1943 because of World War II. Thousands crowd Times Square each year to celebrate the New Year – but what if you can't make it but still want to see something lowered to mark the new year?
Across the country, cities and towns of varying sizes have started their own "ball drops," but have modified the tradition to fit their own communities. Anyone can drop a ball, but it takes a great deal of civic pride and creativity to drop watermelons, a pirate wench, sausage, a carp, pickles, a pretzel, a strawberry, a giant cherry, peach, a pelican, a Moon Pie, a guitar, a live possum, a stuffed possum, or a drag queen in a ruby slipper.
If you're going to stand outside on Dec. 31, you might as well be warm, so head down to Florida. Pensacola drops a giant, 10-foot, half-ton illuminated pelican. But Key West is where it's at – for such a small area they have a lot going on.
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 is lowered; but at Bourbon Street Pub, a drag queen is lowered in a giant sparkling red high heeled shoe.
"'Pricilla Queen of the Desert' was a big hit at the time. We were thinking about the shoe on the bus scene, and we thought that could be our drop," said Joe Schroeder, owner of Bourbon Street Pub, about the origins of the shoe drop.
The first year the shoe was hastily assembled out of chicken wire and paper mache and then lowered at midnight with a few ropes. Now, the shoe is larger, fancier and there is an extensive pulley system to lower Sushi, the 95-pound drag queen who has been lowered in the shoe since the celebration began 11 years 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 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 ½-foot wide giant watermelon will be hoisted 100 feet in the air during the last minute of the year. At midnight, the bottom of the giant watermelon will release 12 watermelons for 2012.
"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 so proud.
Vincennes isn't the only town to drop fruit - of a form. Traverse City, MI, drops a cherry. Well, a lighted cherry made of aluminum with more than 5,000 lights, and is 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 non-perishable food item.
The family-friendly event (which means no alcohol) had about 5,000 people show up for their 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 strawberry, the Crayola factory drops a giant crayon (but at 8 p.m. for the kids), Bethlehem drops a PEEP (yes, a replica of giant marshmallow treat), Lancaster drops a rose, Dillsburg drops a pickle, Beavertown drops a beaver, Lebanon a huge stick of bologna - just to name a few.
"The New Year's Eve drops shows how unique Pennsylvania is," said Rose Mape, the acting deputy secretary for the Department of Community and Economic Development and Tourism. "It's all community driven. I don't even think the CVB (Convention and Visitor's Bureau) at the community level even markets them, they just post them on their (web)sites as an event in the area."
Although the state doesn't do much to promote them – they do feed the quirky events as stories ideas to reporters or travel writers. Ahem.
If you want quirky, North Carolina is close behind Pennsylvania. Mt. Olive also 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 that was 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. "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 National Public Radio, 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.
Across the state in western North Carolina, Brasstown lowers a possum. Not a stuffed possum - like Tallapoosa, GA, lowers. (That possum, by the way, is named Spencer.) Nope, this is a real live possum that is captured a week before being lowered in a giant Plexiglas cage. And, after 18 years of holding the event, they're picky about the possum they select.
"We'll tree two or three of them," said Clay Logan of Clay's Corner, the business that holds the event. "If he isn't pretty enough, we'll do another until we get what we want. We don't just take the first possum coming."
Don't worry, the possum is well-fed and cared for before being lowered in the government approved cage. Logan said the animal has never "played possum," which means the possum freezes when it's scared. Logan says they take good care of the possums – he even thinks the critters know when New Year's is approaching.
"There were possums with little signs marching around my house saying ‘Pick me! Pick me," Logan said.
After everyone goes home for the night, Logan releases the possum back into the wild.
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' Parks and Recreation Department. "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."
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