December 27, 2012

Off Beat: Clam Drop in Yarmouth

It's a different take on the New Year's Eve ball drop: The suit worn by Clam Festival mascot Steamer will be lowered.

By Ray Routhier
Staff Writer

For years, we as a nation just took for granted that dropping a sparkly ball into Times Square in New York City was the ultimate symbol of the start of a New Year.

click image to enlarge

Steamer, the official clam mascot of the Yarmouth Clam Festival


WHEN: 7 p.m. and midnight Monday

WHERE: First Universalist Church, 97 Main St., Yarmouth



Why a ball? So we can bounce into another year? Was the ball invented in New York?

Here in Maine, there are folks who are leading the way for the rest of the nation in picking more sensible, iconic and regionally important things to drop from high places on New Year's Eve.

The most recent effort to re-invent the New Year's Eve dropping tradition is the First Annual Clam Drop, planned for Yarmouth's First Universalist Church on Monday evening.

The folks at the church got the idea at least partly from the folks in Eastport, who have been dropping a sardine to ring in the New Year since the end of 2004. The sardine industry basically built Eastport, a waterfront city near the Canadian border, so it makes sense historically and culturally to drop a sardine there.

Likewise with clams and Yarmouth. The Yarmouth Clam Festival has been a southern Maine staple for more than 45 years, and has become one of the area's biggest summer tourist attractions. So you could say that clams have made Yarmouth famous.

Plus, dropping a clam or sardine as the last seconds of the year tick down sounds like a lot more fun than watching a ball drop. Even a sparkly ball.

"It's just something we've talked about for a number of years, after hearing about Eastport and other places doing silly things like this," said Charlie Horstmann, a retired civil engineer, a First Universalist Church member and an organizer of the event. "I think I mentioned it at a meeting, and other people said, 'Let's do it.' "

For the drop, they'll be using Steamer, the official clam mascot of the clam festival. (Actually, they'll just use the suit, with no one inside.) The fabric clam will be hoisted by rope about 25 feet up the church steeple, then lowered to the ground at the prescribed time.

There will actually be two clam drops: One at 7 p.m. to accommodate small children and their families, and another at midnight.

There will also be music as well as a reading of poems in remembrance of Ken Nye, a church member and former principal of Yarmouth High School, who died in October.

The festival's other clam mascot, Little Squirt, will be walking amid the crowd on Main Street, and there will be free cookies and hot cocoa.

"It's basically a gift from the church to everybody," said Horstmann.

In Eastport, they don't drop a real sardine, thankfully for everyone standing below it. Instead, an 8-foot replica made of wood and canvas is lowered from a three-story building.

The sardine drop has become a major attraction in Eastport. The organizer, the Tides Institute and Museum of Art, posts the event on its website along with a list of places to dine and lodge for people who want to see the sardine drop and stay a while.

"It used to be the town was shut down at this time of year, but this has been a really successful event bringing people here this time of year," said Jude Valentine, director of programs at Tides Institute.

The sardine drop has been so successful, in fact, that it grabbed the top spot last year on Trip Advisor's list of the "Top Quirkiest New Year's Eve Celebrations in America." What might have put Eastport on top was that the town's residents, being so close to Canada, also lower a 4-foot-wide red maple leaf (the symbol of Canada) at 11 p.m. -- midnight Atlantic Time.

Also, this year, Eastport folks have been told that CNN will be broadcasting live from their town during its New Year's Eve coverage.

And in case you are wondering, some of the other silly or inspired New Year's Eve drops around the country that made TripAdvisor's list include:

A possum drop -- a live possum, lowered slowly in a box -- in Brasstown, N.C.

A 12-foot-long, 200-pound bologna dropped in Lebanon, Pa.

A 12-foot-high electric Moon Pie dropped in Mobile, Ala.

An 80-pound hunk of Styrofoam fashioned into a wedge of cheese in Plymouth, Wis.

A 500-pound watermelon model made of steel and foam dropped 100 feet in Vincennes, Ind.

With any luck, Yarmouth's Clam Drop could someday make such a list. Or at least inspire other Maine towns to do something similar.

A blueberry drop in Wilton? A moose drop in Jackman? A potato drop in Caribou?

Luckily, the New Year comes, well, every year. So we all have time to think about it.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:


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