A few years ago my niece and her family moved to Eastport, Maine from North Carolina. Whenever we talk she tells me about how lovely Eastport is. I’ve lived in Los Angeles for 17 years now and I often miss the quieter lifestyle of my smaller hometown in Massachusetts. My niece has tempted me with stories about Eastport and I’ve considered looking into possibly moving there myself one day. The winter’s aren’t as rough there I am told as one would assume, for a coastal town up on the Canadian border and with great Arctic meltdown that is clearly under way, it may just be warmer there in a few more years, or under water.
Browsing the Boston Globe online last night I ran across this story from Eastport that gives a great glimpse of how the folks Down Maine will be celebrating New Year’s Eve this year, they will be dropping a “22-foot-long sardine” from the front of downtown Eastport building. And you thought all the fun was only going to be in Times Square…
The sardine is a symbol for the easternmost city in the United States, where canneries were once a booming industry. The canneries are gone, and Eastport is known as an artsy seaside community with galleries and a quaint downtown. But the sardine is a new New Year’s Eve tradition.
“We thought it was intriguing enough, bizarre enough, that it might catch some interest,” said Hugh French , director of Eastport’s Tides Institute & Museum of Art , which will lower the sardine on Sunday night.
Eastport, Maine is a picturesque city on Moose Island that is home to approximately 2,000 people year round. It’s a haven for artists and writers and in the summer it becomes a bustling little community for tourists. The Boston Globe reports that “sardine tradition began last year,” when a “downtown civic group suggested lowering a ball from the top of the Tides Institute.”
“I found that very derivative,” said Chris “Crash” Barry , a local artist who was then working at the Tides Institute.
He said he thought a sardine would better represent the city’s cultural history.
And others agreed. Last New Year’s Eve, about 350 people turned out to watch the descent of a sardine — that one was only 6 1/2 feet, with a glittery ball in its mouth — in a salute to Times Square.
To be fair to many Canadians, who live less than a mile away across Passamaquoddy Bay, and to observe Atlantic time there, Eastport also dropped a large maple leaf at 11 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.
But it’s the sardine that gets most of the attention.
“People got a big chuckle out of it,” said French, who got e-mail messages from as far away as Norway (a curator of a sardine museum there sent a picture of “the world’s largest sardine can.”)
The ball-drop tradition harks back to the early 19th century, when a ball installed on the top of the Royal Observatory at Greenwich dropped every day at 1 p.m.
This ball-dropping would allow ship captains to set their chronometers, according to the Times Square Alliance website. Times Square lowered its first New Year’s ball in 1907.
In recent years, as First Night celebrations have flourished in communities across the country, locals have infused the ball-dropping with local pride.
Local New Year’s Eve traditions “often seem to make sense only to the people who live there,” like the folks from
Lebanon, PA who celebrate with the “Bologna Drop.” This year will mark “its 10th anniversary Sunday with the descent of a 150-pound , 10-foot bologna.” How’s that for unique?
Back to Eastport, however, the Globe reports that “this year, the sardine will be part of Eastport’s Festival of Lights, which also includes a dance for seniors, short plays, open galleries, and music. Barry’s wife, the artist Shana Barry , constructed an 80-pound sardine named Sally.”
The fish is three times as long as last year’s, made of lumber and chicken wire decorated with silver lamé. To lower the fish, Chris Barry and another local artist engineered a boom made of welded steel pipe and connected it to a pulley system. A trial run went swimmingly yesterday, to Barry’s relief.
“We would hate to have anybody decapitated by a sardine,” he said.
Until Sunday night, the sardine is being stored at a new restaurant, The Pickled Herring.
Had I only known sooner, I might have flown back east for the celebration… Instead, I’ll have to settle for a phone call to my niece so that she can fill me in on the celebration. Maybe next year.
UPDATE: Watch last year’s Sardine Drop Here.
Browsing through Google for some links to Eastport, Maine I ran across a photo of my niece with a piece of her art work: