On New Year's Eve, some Maryland towns will drop anything but a glittering ball

New York City has its descending ball. Miami Beach has its giant orange. And Princess Anne has its stuffed muskrat.

At midnight Saturday, the town of 2,400 people in Somerset County will become the latest in a line of Maryland communities — and scores of towns across the country — to embrace a growing tradition: dropping a locally significant if less than elegant object from a great height as a way of welcoming the new year.


"The muskrat is a part of our heritage, and we wanted to drop something relevant to us," said Ben Adler, director of the Princess Anne Main Street Partnership, one of the brains behind the plan. "Last year, one of our commissioners heard about these towns in the South [Brasstown, Ga., and Tallapoosa, N.C.] that have been dropping a possum. Frankly, we think a muskrat is a whole lot better-looking."

The muskrat is the wetlands rodent that has been the object of hunters and trappers on the Eastern Shore and elsewhere in Maryland for generations. Muskrat season recently began, and the creature will be featured at banquets and social gatherings throughout Somerset.


Members of Princess Anne's volunteer fire company will lower a stuffed iteration of the animal, Marshall P. Muskrat, complete with top hat and bow tie, from the top of a ladder truck.

By the time the furry figure comes to rest, local musician Mickey Justice will be well into his version of "Auld Lang Syne" on the bagpipes.

"It's going to be a real celebration," said Adler, a Realtor.

Because it's the first time the town has held any sort of New Year's gala, it's unclear how close it will come in attendance to, say, the gala in nearby Berlin, which drew 1,600 when it dropped a ball for the first time last year.

"The town commissioner and I were talking, and we agreed that if we get 250, that would be great," Adler said. "But [Marshall] has been getting a lot of press around here. From what we're hearing through the grapevine, a thousand is not inconceivable."

Elsewhere in Maryland,

(like Bangor, Maine, and Panama City, Fla.), drops an illuminated, oversized beach ball. In Easton, officials do the same with a red crab.

And in Havre de Grace, a town that boasts a heritage of outstanding decoy carving, firefighters have developed a tradition of placing an 8-foot long, 5-foot-high wood-and-plastic foam duck at the top of a ladder truck and letting it fall.


Known as the Duck Drop, it started in 1999, when a local florist came up with the idea as a way of celebrating the millennium and commissioned a local carver to create the design.

It attracts 500 to 1,000 people each year, according to firefighter Ed Grainger, who has been spearheading the ritual since 2005.

Grainger has led upgrades to the operation, helping to paint the duck red, white and blue, festoon it with more than 600 lights and develop a Trumanesque catchword: "The Duck Drops Here."

Many celebrants bring duck calls and put them to use.

"The duck goes down, the lights flash [as people take pictures], and you hear 'quack, quack, quack,'" Grainger said. "Then the fireworks begin. I look forward to this every year."

Since the first Times Square ball drop in 1907, cities started putting their own stamp on the drop-and-count. A 35-foot neon orange has been dropped on the beach in Miami for years. Atlanta puts on an annual Peach Drop.


And in what appears to be equal parts veneration and satire, towns across the country have decided to spotlight local items of their own, and they make a compelling tour of modern Americana: a 30-pound carp in Prairie du Chien, Wis.; a giant sausage in Elmore, Ohio; an 8-foot replica of an Atlantic herring in Eastport, Maine, and a 72-inch conch shell that drops onto the roof of Sloppy Joe's Bar in one part of Key West, Fla., while a large ruby slipper containing a drag queen named Sushi descends in another.

If those communities are anything like his hometown, Adler says, they're reaffirming their cultural roots and having a heck of a good time in the process.

"People are loving this," Adler said of Marshall the Muskrat. "We're going to try to find a way to keep this guy in the community year-round."