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Pickle, Peach, Carp Drops Mark New Year

He draws smaller crowds than the ball in Times Square does, but Mr. Pickle is a New Year's Eve star in his own right.

Each year, thousands of people gather in this central Pennsylvania town to watch the 6-foot-tall, papier-mache pickle drop from the fire department's ladder truck into - you guessed it - a pickle barrel to mark the start of the new year.

The event, started to drum up business for Dillsburg's downtown, is just one of dozens of drops around the country that play off the New York spectacle.

Many of the items dropped play off communities' names. Dillsburg, for example, has nothing else to do with pickles. In nearby Mechanicsburg, a wrench is dropped on New Year's Eve.

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Some drops promote a local product. In Atlanta, an 800-pound fiberglass peach will be dropped from the top of a 138-foot tower of lights in what has been billed as the Southeast's largest New Year's Eve celebration. This year's event will feature singer Julianne Hough, of "Dancing with the Stars." The celebration, staged by Underground Atlanta, is a daylong affair, starting at noon with children's activities and culminating with fireworks after the peach drop.

New Year's Eve drops trace their roots to the use of "time balls" dropped from a pole at noon as a navigational aid for ship captains, according to Jeff Straus, president of Countdown Entertainment, an organizer of New York's Times Square ball drop.

In 1907, after New York City banned fireworks demonstrations, Alfred Ochs, then owner of The New York Times, arranged for a 700-pound iron and wood ball adorned with 100 25-watt bulbs to be dropped from Times Tower on New Year's Eve. Today, about 1 million people attend the annual event, said Minerva Martinez, spokeswoman for the Times Square Alliance.

"What started in New York City, our lighted pole, has been copied around the country, and each part of the country puts its own little spin on it," Straus said.

He gets calls from communities interested in having their own New Year's Eve celebrations, some asking how to tie into the Times Square event or run an event like it.

Still, he says, "there's nothing like that ball."

Maybe, but can you get chocolate-covered pickles in Times Square? Or pickle soup? Or deep-fried pickles?

Barber Al Kauffman, who has helped coordinate Dillsburg's pickle drop, said it took him years to try the chocolate-covered pickle and that it wasn't as bad as he'd imagined.

Kauffman said the pickle that is dropped was originally made by a girl scout troop. "He later was modified with arms and legs, a face and we put a bow tie on," he said.

A fireworks display closes the festivities.

Kauffman said organizers were curious about where the crowd came from so they put out a map and thumbtacks so people could pinpoint their homes. "We had all 50 of the United States and also several foreign countries," he said.

The carp drop in Prairie du Chien, Wis., also attracts people from afar, creating business for motels and shops.

The carp is a real - but dead - fish weighing between 25 and 30 pounds and caught locally. It's frozen, then partially thawed and prepared for the big day. "Like a woman goes to the beauty shop, the carp goes to the beauty shop," said Cathy Nelson, one of the drop's organizers.

Nicknamed "Lucky," the carp is lowered onto a throne as the new year arrives. Fireworks follow, courtesy of the Chamber of Commerce.

Nelson said she and her husband got the idea for the carp drop after seeing a peach drop down South. "We thought, 'We can do this in Prairie. We can get this kind of crowd."'

Why a fish? Prairie du Chen lies along the Mississippi river. "People eat smoked carp. They sell carp. We have a nice fishing industry," said Nelson.

She added, "The carp is a very strong fish, and the Chinese and the Asians noted that it provides strength."

After the drop, revelers can go up and kiss Lucky, and have their picture taken.

"It's a cheap thrill for those who want it," Nelson said.

This year's fish will be Lucky No. 8. Sometime after New Year's, he'll be refrozen and then buried. A tree will be planted on top with a marker bearing his name and number.

Some places in the country celebrate the New Year with a twist on the theme - with lifts instead of drops. In Seattle each year, the elevator in the Space Needle rises, reaching the top at the stroke of midnight. And in Hershey, Pa., a giant replica of a Hershey's Kiss rises to bring in the new year.

Besides the famous ball drop in New York City's Times Square, here are some other items dropped on New Year's Eve at celebrations around the country:

  • Acorn - Raleigh, N.C.
  • Car - Carlisle, Pa.
  • Carp - Prairie du Chien, Wis.
  • Orange - Miami (rises instead of drops)
  • Pickle - Dillsburg, Pa.
  • Possum - Tallapoosa, Ga. (every other year, next will be New Year's Eve 2009)
  • Peach - Atlanta
  • Pine Cone - Flagstaff, Ariz.
  • Popcorn ball - Marion, Ohio
  • Strawberry - Harrisburg, Pa.
  • Wrench - Mechanicsburg, Pa.

    Carole Feldman

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