From Opossums to Bologna: Weird Things Cities Drop on New … – Smithsonian Magazine

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Who needs a ball? Cities get creative on New Year’s Eve by dropping objects that reflect local products and culture
Natasha Geiling
Around the world, the dawn of a new calendar year is often met with bright fireworks, a little bubbly and a ball drop. Arguably, the most famous New Year’s Eve ball drop is the one that happens in New York City’s Times Square, an event that will celebrate its 111th anniversary this year. Over a million people are expected to attend and an estimated one billion more will watch on television around the world.
The first New Year’s celebration in Times Square was held in 1904 and didn’t involve a ball dropping. The New York Times had recently moved its offices into a building on the square—then called Longacre Square—spurring the city to change the area’s name to Times Square on April 8, 1904. That New Year’s, the publisher of the New York Times, Adolph S. Ochs, threw a massive party in honor of both the new year and the Times’ new location. More than 200,000 people attended and were treated to fireworks, which remained a mainstay at the party until the city banned them, primarily for safety reasons, in 1906. Hoping to create an equally festive replacement, Ochs turned to the paper’s chief electrician, Walter Palmer, for ideas. Palmer came up with the idea of a ball that would drop exactly at midnight—and Time Square’s ball drop was born.
The first ball, dropped to welcome in 1908, was constructed from iron and wood and dotted with 100 25-watt light bulbs—still fairly innovative technology at the time—and clocked in at 700 pounds and five feet in diameter. The Times Square ball has dropped every New Year’s since, with the exception of the wartime years of 1942 and 1943. Over the years, the ball has gone through various iterations, from an entirely wrought iron ball in 1920 to a lighter aluminum ball (weighing only 150 pounds) in 1955. Today, the ball is covered in 2,688 Waterford crystals, illuminated with 32,256 LEDs and weighs 11,875 pounds.
Palmer’s idea was inspired by maritime technology that is almost two centuries old: the time ball. The first time ball was dropped in 1829, at Portsmouth, England. By 1833, time balls were a common sight at ports around the Western world. The balls allowed mariners to set their onboard timekeeping devices according to local time: The balls were placed in areas where ships could easily see them, and dropped at precise times each day. Accurate timekeeping was essential for mariners, since their nautical almanacs—which helped sailors calculate their longitude based on sunset, moonrise and the location of stars—were useless without knowing what time it was at the location where their almanacs were printed.
In a world with GPS, sailors have lost the need to set their clocks by the drop of a ball. Judging by the popularity of the Times Square event, however, the world hasn’t yet tired of ringing in the New Year with the sight of a glowing ball descending slowly. But crystal balls aren’t the only things used to mark the New Year—in many places across the United States, cities drop objects that reflect local flavor and culture. Here are ten of the most idiosyncratic items—from a giant peach to a giant Peep—that are set to drop this New Year’s Eve.
Like Bethlehem, Lebanon, Pennsylvania, also uses New Year's as an opportunity to celebrate one of their most famous local products: bologna. This year marks the 22th Bologna Drop, and event organizers are switching things up: Instead of dropping the traditional 200-pound stick of bologna, officials will drop a six-foot-tall papier‐mâché sculpture of the town's mascot, the Bologna Ranger. Of course the Bologna Ranger will also be holding a 70 pound bologna stick. This stick, along with 130 additional pounds of sandwich meat will be carved and donated to local shelters.

On New Year's Eve, Miami gives a nod to Florida's citrus industry by raising a giant neon orange to the top of the Hotel InterContinental. Dubbed "La Gran Naranja," or "The Big Orange," the 35-foot neon fruit must ascend 400 feet to reach the hotel's apex. Once it gets there, precisely at midnight, fireworks shoot out across the Biscayne Bay. 
The orange was commissioned 28 years ago by the Greater Miami Host Committee, who hoped that something like it might inspire families to stay in downtown Miami for the holiday. The resulting celebration has been dubbed the "Times Square of the South," and features an orange designed by Steve Carpenter, whose neon designs have also been featured in films and shows such as Miami ViceThe Fast and Furious, "CSI:Miami" and Marley and Me, among others.
This year, the countdown celebration will include a musical performances by Pitbull.
Touting itself as the largest New Year's Eve celebration in the Southeast, Atlanta's Peach Drop, which began in 1989 in the city's downtown entertainment district, draws over 100,000 visitors each year. After the ball drops, fireworks light up the city sky and millions of pieces of confetti rain down on the expectant crowd.
The giant peach—emblematic of Georgia's nickname, the "Peach State"—weighs more than 800 pounds, is made of fiberglass and foam, and measures eight feet tall by eight feet wide. This year, the Peach Drop festivities will also include live musical performances by Jagged Edge, 112, Better Than Ezra and other local artists.
In 1990, Clay Logan, the owner of Brasstown, North Carolina's only gas station—which doubles as a shop selling kitschy opossum products—got an idea from a passing patron: If New York could drop a ball on New Year's, why couldn't Brasstown drop an opossum? 
That year marked the first Brasstown Possum Drop, which featured Logan lowering a live opossum from the roof of his gas station at the stroke of midnight (the opossum was then released, unharmed if perhaps a bit emotionally scarred). Thirty people attended the first Possum Drop, which reportedly cost around $2,000 to organize, including fireworks and live music.
The opossum has nothing to do with Brasstown. Logan reportedly chose the animal not because Brasstown is home to an unusually large population of the tiny marsupial, but because the small North Carolina town needed "something" to make it special.
The Possum Drop became increasingly well known, thanks in part to a New York Times article from 2003 spotlighting the event, and also drew negative criticism from animal rights groups, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), who viewed the event, with its loud music and lights, as cruel to the opossum.
The live opossum tradition was temporarily put on hold after PETA won an injunction to stop the event from including a live version of the marsupial. Brasstown carried on the quirky tradition using roadkill and opossum stew. In 2015, live-opossum-drop advocates succeeded in passing a controversial law that excludes the Virginia opossum from wildlife protections between Dec. 29 and Jan. 2. In 2017, the Clay's Corner store owners retired, and 2017/2018 marked the final Brasstown opossum drop.
As it turns out, Brasstown isn't the only spot to celebrate with the nocturnal marsupial. Organizers in Tallapoosa, Georgia, drop a taxidermied opossum named Spencer each year, drawing over 7,000 people, twice the population of the town.
For the eleventh year in a row, the town of Vincennes, Indiana, the state's oldest town, will ring in the New Year by dropping 19 Knox County watermelons from a 500-pound watermelon raised 100 feet into the air. The watermelons land on a specially constructed platform, known colloquially as the "splatform," below, saving attendees the worry of leaving the party with their clothes soaked in watermelon goo. 
The Vincennes Watermelon Drop, as it's known, is a nod to Knox County's prodigious watermelon production—more than 2 million watermelons are produced in Knox County each year.
Eastport, Maine, the country's easternmost city, can be a cold, dark place to spend the New Year. Hoping to bring life to its downtown during the holiday, the city decided to try something new for New Year's in 2004—a wacky New Year's drop including a sardine and a maple leaf, the first as a nod to the town's fishing industry, the second as a celebration of their neighbor across the bay, with whom they share both a political border and a time zone border. The maple leaf is dropped at midnight Canadian time—11 p.m. in Eastport—and the sardine is dropped at midnight in Eastport. The sardine, which measures eight feet long, even gets some New Year's kisses after it descends from the third story of the Tides Institute & Museum of Art (a local tradition). This year marks the drop's 14th anniversary. 
Boise's New Year's celebration might be one of the country's newest wacky additions, but that doesn't mean it's small potatoes. In honor of Idaho's prolific potato industry, the Idaho New Year's Commission launched the Idaho Potato Drop in 2013. The event was a success, drawing 40,000 to downtown Boise and making it the city's largest downtown event ever. The original giant potato was made of high-density foam, and measured larger than a Subaru car. A few years ago the event upgraded to the current internally-lit "GloTato" and added enhanced fireworks displays to further wow "spec-taters."
For over 20 years, Bourbon St. Pub in Key West has celebrated the New Year by dropping a red stiletto shoe from its roof, but it's what's inside the shoe that makes the event particularly unique. Sushi—a Key West drag star who has been a local institution for over two decades—hangs suspended two stories above the street before descending among throngs of revelers. For the first two years, Sushi sat inside makeshift shoes made of papier-mâché and paint, but after weather and wet paint spoiled each event, the shoe was remade out of fiberglass. The new shoe has managed to hold up just fine, though it gets a fresh coat of paint—and glitter—each year.
Located within the largest Ponderosa pine forest in the world, Flagstaff, Arizona, uses their New Year's Eve party to celebrate the natural world surrounding it. For 20 years, Flagstaff has lowered a giant pinecone, weighing 70 pounds and measuring six feet in length, from the top of the historic Weatherford Hotel. The pinecone, which sparkles with lights, is lowered twice: once at 10 p.m. local time, to coincide with the ball drop in Times Square, and again at midnight, to usher in the New Year in Flagstaff.
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, might have more of an affinity with Easter than New Year's, but that doesn't keep the town—where Just Born, the makers of Peeps, houses its corporate campus—from getting in on the tradition of adding local flavor to New Year's celebrations. As the culmination of Peep Fest—a celebration of the marshmallow candy that runs December 30-31 at Bethlehem's ArtsQuest Center—Bethlehem raises, then lowers, a 400-pound, internally-lit Peep chick at 5:15 p.m. on Dec. 31 to kick off New Year celebrations.
Natasha Geiling | | READ MORE
Natasha Geiling is an online reporter for Smithsonian magazine.
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