On New Year’s Eve, some cities drop a ball, Detroit has other ideas

DETROIT — The 7.5 -foot “D” with LED back lights sits in a Royal Oak warehouse, counting down the seconds until it will be dropped about a hundred feet from a concert-type truss system when 2012 arrives at Campus Martius in downtown Detroit.

The city nicknamed “The D” will be among at least nine in Michigan to usher in the New Year by dropping something – a tradition so old that even Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, who founded Detroit in 1701, could have read about it in his history books.

“We didn’t want to be kitschy and (drop) another ball,” said Jerrid Mooney, cofounder of Motor City New Year’s Eve The Drop. “We wanted something everyone could rally around. Everyone calls us ‘The D.’ “

Balls, however, will drop in Ludington, Marquette, Grand Rapids, Midland, Jackson, Hastings and Kalamazoo. The ‘Zoo is environmentally friendly with an orb made from 240 pounds of recycled aluminum and 3,000-plus LED lights in a rigging that runs on ethanol. And Traverse City has decked out its 8-foot-diameter dropper to look like its favorite fruit, the cherry.

The ball drop in Manhattan’s Times Square may be the most famous New Year’s Eve event, but it’s hardly the oldest.

“There is a medieval custom of dropping objects onto passersby underneath for feasts and celebrations,” said Simon Bronner, distinguished professor of American studies and folklore at Penn State University.

“It was on that basis that the New York celebration was devised, which was an invented tradition in 1907,” he continued, adding that using a lighted object is symbolic, too. “There were celebrations around the winter solstice to try to hasten the coming back of the light and warmth, so light has a lot to do with it.”

The idea of dropping a ball to mark a certain moment in time is more recent.

According to the Times Square event organizers, starting in 1833, the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England, dropped a ball every day at 1 p.m. to help ship captains set their navigational equipment.

Today, a public event featuring an object falling as a crowd chants down the seconds to a new year is more about civic identity, boosting business and having a good time.

“Downtown Traverse City was pretty much dead on New Year’s Eve, so we wanted to come up with a way to bring people downtown in a fun, family environment,” said CherryT Ball Drop organizer Dean Rose, who expected 500 people at the inaugural event three years ago that drew 5,000. “A ball wasn’t even thought of. It was a cherry first and foremost. All the bars and restaurants are packed now on New Year’s Eve. The hotels are busy now on New Year’s Eve. We have people from all over the state for this. It’s really amazing.”

That business boost is why Midland is going the sphere route this year for the first time. The city’s 1,800-pound 8-footer is covered with 2,400 LED lights.

“Our bars and restaurants are all open, and we have a handful of businesses that decided to take a chance and stay open and see what it’s all about,” said Selina Tisdale, executive director of Downtown Midland. “Next year, I expect it to be an even larger turnout.

“Hopefully, people will like what they see down here and go back and visit us when we have summer events or any time they have travel plans,” she said.

In Kalamazoo, with its eco-friendly take on the traditional ball, “what the community wanted to do is create something no one we know of has done, certainly no one close,” said event organizer Deborah Droppers. (Yes, that is her name.) “Grand Rapids hosted its ball drop, and we thought, ‘Whoa, we can’t be outdone by Grand Rapids. … I said that all I really want for Christmas is a ball drop for New Year’s.”

The Detroit event, which is sponsored in part by the Detroit Free Press Metromix.com, will draw the holidays to a close, said co-founder Mooney.

“You think of bookends,” he said. “You have the Thanksgiving parade. It has an 80-year tradition. That’s the beginning of your holiday season, but there really is no end bookend. We said, ‘You know what? We’ve got to cap off the holiday season with this New Year’s Eve celebration.’ “

And for Detroit, while the D will fall at midnight, the time to celebrate is the now, Mooney said.

“It’s something the city could come around and celebrate … ‘I love the city. I’m going to celebrate it.’ We don’t care what (the) problems are. We are going to get past it,” he said.

So while that big D may be falling, he sees “The D” on the rise.

Contact Zlati Meyer: 313-223-4439 or zmeyer@freepress.com



Posted by Tribune News Services

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