Big turn out for inaugural Westminster New Year's Eve celebration

At the stroke of midnight New Year's Day in downtown Westminster, nothing dropped.

Not a brightly lit ball, or anything, for that matter.

As the crowd shouted in unison, "five, four, three, two, one; Happy New Year," a large American flag was raised on a bright yellow bucket lift donated by Ben's Rental.

The "2012" sign accompanied the flag in numbers in bright lights on a homemade four-by- eight Styrofoam backboard, powered by a portable generator.

"Hey, you know, I mean, why not, we're always looking up in Westminster … and if anything, we're patriotic," said Westminster Kevin Utz with a grin, as he nodded at the flag suspended about 35 feet in the air above Main Street.

With the temperature in the lower 40s, no snow and hardly any wind, the weather was perfect for nearly 500 people who attended the first Westminster New Year's Eve celebration in historic downtown Westminster Saturday night.

Lori Graham, who spearheaded the event, had put a great deal of thought into the question "what the heck do you drop?" for a new Westminster New Year's Eve tradition.

There were plenty of silly ideas, Graham said. In the end, it was decided to not drop anything at all.

In honor of U.S. troops coming home from the Middle East, Graham wanted to honor their service by raising the flag for the Carroll County New Year's celebration, which was held in the first unit block of West Main Street.

"I wanted a patriotic Westminster family-oriented event," she said.

Westminster police and the city's street department blocked off the area just minutes before 11:30 p.m., Saturday evening, as folks had already begun to gather.

Westminster Councilman Tony Chiavacci was there, with 30 folks from his own New Year's Eve party.

"I brought the whole party here," said Chiavacci as he peered over the crowd. "Great to see everyone here. … Give us a couple of years and look out Times Square."

"Just like New York," said Bernie Stallknecht, of Hampstead. She was there with her family. "We usually go the (Baltimore) harbor. We wanted to support a Carroll County celebration… (This was) just wonderful."

"New York hasn't got anything on Westminster," added Graham, as families hugged and kissed and strangers greeted each other with "Happy New Year."

Westminster Volunteer Fire Department President Bob Cumberland, watched from the back of the crowd with fire department treasurer Bob Ruby and Westminster Police Chief Jeff Spaulding — who was busy coordinating crowd control with Captain Nancy Yeager.

"Happy New Year — be safe in 2012," said Cumberland.

Utz said he was "overwhelmed with the turnout. We thought we might just get a few folks,- a Westminster crowd, from the downtown restaurants. But families came from all over Carroll County," said Utz.

Long after midnight, Utz, Graham, Westminster Street Superintendent Larry Bloom, Westminster Administrator of Economic Development Stan Ruchlewicz and his wife, Pat, waited to dismantle the flag and lights while families lined up to have their pictures taken with the "2012" display.

"Great turn out for a first time event," said Ruchlewicz. "Especially for a family-centered event at midnight."

Mike Johnson, from Westminster, was also pleased with the event and added, "All traditions have to start somewhere."

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