Dropped Opportunities

No Need to Simply Watch TV For Fun on New Year's Eve

By Nancy Luse | Posted on 12.21.15 – Destinations, Travel

No question a ball will be dropped in New York City’s Times Square as 2015 is counted down and a new year ushered in. It’s not so simple in Lewistown, Pa., a town roughly three hours north of Frederick. In the weeks leading up to New Year’s Eve, town leaders were mulling whether to drop the usual six-foot tall replica of a bag of Hartley’s Potato Chips—a hometown snack favorite since 1935—or a hot dog with a nod to the wieners sold at the equally iconic Laskaris’s Restaurant situated across from Monument Square where the drop takes place.

No matter which symbol wins, Lewistown will join countless other towns and cities in a distinctively American tradition of dropping things on New Year’s Eve. Historians tell us that with the start of standard time, time balls were developed so sailors could adjust their timepieces while at sea by training a telescope on a harbor and watching for the ball to drop at a specified time. In the early 1900s after too many accidents from celebratory fireworks sponsored by The New York Times, the newspaper’s chief electrician suggested borrowing the maritime practice by lowering a lighted ball as a replacement. Since then, the descending symbols are as unique as the necktie your mother-in-law gives you for Christmas.

In Eastover, N.C., once known as Flea Hill, a 30-pound wooden flea is dropped, and in Hilton Head, S.C., an oversized golf ball floats to earth. A glowing duck decoy lights the sky and represents Havre de Grace, Md., being home to a duck decoy museum. Close neighbor Shippensburg. Pa., drops an anchor as a spoof on the town’s name and Mechanicsburg, Pa., drops a wrench. Even Frederick joined the fun in the past few years, using a large key commemorating native son Francis Scott Key. Sponsored by Frederick’s Civitan Club, it will be held at the bridge in Carroll Creek Linear Park.

Time balls were developed so sailors could adjust their timepieces while at sea by training a telescope on a harbor and watching for the ball to drop at a specified time.

Food drops seem to be the most popular. There’s a giant peach in Atlanta, Ga., an equally impressive big cheese in Plymouth, Wis., a crab in Easton, Md., a chocolate kiss in Hershey, Pa., and a puffed-up marshmallow Peep in Bethlehem, Pa., where the Easter candy is manufactured. In Lebanon, Pa., revelers search the sky for a 200-pound bologna that’s later donated to area homeless shelters. Folks in Mobile, Ala., get festive about a 350-pound electronic moon pie, while in Bartlesville, Okla., a giant olive descends from a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building into an equally large martini glass.

So many New Year’s Eve possibilities, but don’t fret if you’re unable to fly to Key West, Fla., to see the giant red high-heeled shoe containing a drag queen hit the street, there are other places closer to home to get your drop on and you won’t have the jostling crowds of Times Square.

If you want to get an early start on the night, travel to Hagerstown’s Public Square at the intersection of Washington and Potomac streets. The festival starts at 6 p.m. and at 6:59 p.m. the countdown begins as an approximately six-foot Fiberglass version of a Krumpe’s Do-Nut descends from the offices of What’s NXT? The business started by Pieter Bickford and Melissa Fountain, both formerly of WHAG-TV, produces a local events guide and promotes the revitalization of Hagerstown and its small businesses. The duo launched the donut drop two years ago after lamenting “there’s nothing going on in downtown on New Year’s Eve,” Fountain recalls.

Also part of the discussion, she says, was what would Hagerstown drop? “The overwhelming response was a Krumpe’s Do-Nut, not so surprising considering that the town has grown up on Krumpe’s.” Free donuts are part of the celebration. “The first year we had no idea what to expect,” Fountain says. “Max Krumpe asked if 1,200 would be enough and then 2,000 showed up.” Last year, 6,000 donuts were handed out.

The latest twist is to have the huge donut fall into a giant AC&T coffee cup. The convenience store is a sponsor of the drop along with Middletown Valley Bank. This year also comes with a special kids’ zone on the square.

Traveling north on U.S. 15 you may want to stop in Dillsburg, Pa. where for more than 20 years they’ve celebrated a new calendar with all things pickle, from pickle soup to two pickle drops. The first is called the baby pickle drop at 7 p.m. when it’s midnight in Ireland, a nod to Dillsburg’s Irish founders. During the wait for midnight’s big pickle, followed by fireworks, visitors can play bingo, dance in the streets and enjoy fire company food. “The pickle soup is cream-based and made from an old recipe,” says Dillsburg Borough Manager Karen Deibler. “It’s actually very good.” She says the event grows larger each year “especially if the weather is good.”

In Harrisburg, Pa., a giant strawberry has been dropped every year since 1989, although in 2013 it was a bit iffy after a practice run when the 65-pound piece of Fiberglass fruit slipped from a safety clip and sustained a large crack. “We quickly got together and one of our vendors, a hardware store, was able to help and within a week we had a temporary strawberry,” says Joe Massaro, general manager of the Hilton Hotel, which sponsors the drop.

Why a strawberry? Massaro says it fits with a city revitalization project downtown called Strawberry Square that involved attracting retail, offices, restaurants and shopping to the area. New Year’s Eve draws as many as 10,000 partiers to the square “and right before the drop you can feel the energy building,” he says. “Local TV covers it live so even more people are seeing it.” Live music and fireworks add another layer of excitement to the night.

If Lewistown sticks to dropping the bag of Hartley’s Potato Chips, it will be in keeping with a tradition that’s nearly 10 years old, says Jenny Landis of the Visitors Bureau of Mifflin and Juniata Counties. “It’s a slow descent from a fire truck ladder,” she says, adding with a laugh that she has suggested installing a zipper in the bottom of the bag, “so that it rains potato chips.” Landis, a town native, and her husband, once hosted a New Year’s Eve party that boasted dropping an oversized whoopee pie, a favorite dessert in Central Pennsylvania. But if it’s sweets that you desire, Landis tells of McVeytown, a tiny burg just outside of Lewistown where last year they dropped a replica of an ice cream cake constructed from vinyl stretched over a steel frame.

Rhonda Harshbarger Gibbons, owner of Harshbarger’s Sub ‘n Malt, a throwback to a ‘50s teen hangout as well as a place known state-wide for its ice cream cakes, says she was so pleased with last year’s response they’re going to make it an annual event. “This year’s cake is all ready to go; we just need to paste a 6 over the 5.”