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Havre de Grace to celebrate 20th anniversary of Duck Drop on New Year’s Eve

Ed Grainger tests a few bulbs on the duck as he and a small group of Susquehanna Hose Company volunteers perpare the duck for this year's Duck Drop. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Havre de Grace New Year's Eve Duck Drop event.
Ed Grainger tests a few bulbs on the duck as he and a small group of Susquehanna Hose Company volunteers perpare the duck for this year's Duck Drop. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Havre de Grace New Year's Eve Duck Drop event. (Matt Button / The Aegis/Baltimore Sun Media)

It’s been 20 years since the first duck dropped in Havre de Grace on New Year’s Eve.

A large, wooden canvasback duck, representing the city’s local waterfowl heritage, covered in colored lights and the numbers 2-0-0-0 descended from Susquehanna Hose Company’s ladder truck to bring an end to the millennium as 1999 gave way to 2000.

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Twenty years later, despite a few missed years, the Duck Drop and fireworks tradition continues. The annual New Year’s Eve Duck Drop will emanate from Concord Point Park, with festivities beginning at 10 p.m. Dec. 31 and continuing until 1 a.m. on New Year’s Day.

This year’s festivities help bring an end to one decade and kick off another and Ed Grainger, who has been part of the celebration since the beginning, is still in charge.

“This is New Year’s for me. I don’t want to be anywhere else,” said Grainger, chairman of the Duck Drop committee and a member of Susquehanna Hose Company. “I start working just before Thanksgiving. I love it and I just like to see the faces and the smiles.”

The first Duck Drop in 1999, started by former Havre de Grace resident and flower shop owner Richard Tome, was supposed to be a one-time only event.

The duck didn’t drop to end 2000 and ring in 2001, but the following year, after a number of comments from area residents, the Duck Drop returned.

The fire company’s only role was to provide the ladder truck to hoist the duck and numbers into the air, while Tome took care of the lighting, wiring and assembly.

“After it was over, he got a lot of comments about doing it all the time,” Grainger said, and the tradition continued.

Susquehanna Hose stepped back in 2006 into 2007 when its old ladder truck was out for repair and the new one hadn’t been delivered yet, he said.

Instead, the duck was hung on the side of the J.M. Huber building on Juniata Street.

The following year, 2007-2008, Grainger and the rest of the fire company decided to take it over for good, he said.

It wasn’t easy, though, since they began work about a week before the new year. They also couldn’t find the duck, which was eventually discovered in the Huber tower, covered in dust.

Fire company volunteers took the duck to the firehouse, cleaned up the lights, “set it up and it went perfect,” Grainger said.

Because construction had begun last year on the new Havre de Grace Middle/High School, the Duck Drop moved to Concord Point Park near the lighthouse, and the fireworks were going to be shot off from a barge in river.

While the duck fell, the sky remained dark, the fireworks canceled because of steady rain. The crowds came, though, Grainger said.

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This year, Grainger is trying to recreate the first duck, a canvasback modeled after a decoy carved by R. Madison Mitchell.

He’s spoken to Tome, who now lives in Arkansas, about coming back to Havre de Grace for the 20th anniversary. Grainger said he’s heard different things from different people about Tome returning, but hopes he’ll be here.

He thinks the tradition will continue for years to come.

“I think it’s always been family-oriented,” Grainger said. “People don’t get tired of it.”

Nor does Grainger. He loves the crowds the Duck Drop draws and gets as excited as the crowd.

“I walk around a lot during the fireworks, because our job is done. I see the kids all excited, with their duck calls. Everybody is dancing — it’s just a fun night and anybody and everybody can come," Grainger said. “These guys laugh at me because I’m on the ladder jumping up and down.”

He’s proud to be part of the Havre de Grace tradition.

“We’re looking forward to it this year again,” he said. “It’s just another thing the fire department does where we do things for the city, other than fight fires.”

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