For 20 years the citizens of Brasstown, N.C. have been welcoming the New Year with a somewhat unusual tradition. The unique New Year’s Eve celebration is an alcohol-free party in which an opossum is lowered at midnight in a tinsel-covered Plexiglas cage over a cheering crowd as fireworks explode in the night sky. After the ceremony, the opossum is released into the wild and the new year.
This event draws national attention for its creative spin on the Times Square apple drop in New York, and the crowds swell into the thousands in the small town about 100 miles from Asheville. The event is planned by Clay Logan and held at his country shop. The entertainment also includes a beauty contest and a musketry demonstration.
While the popularity of the event seems to be growing, it has also attracted some negative attention, which has put the annual event in jeopardy. Last December, this unusual tradition caught the eye of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), who have since fought to stop the small town’s annual possum drop for the sake of the tree-dwelling, nocturnal marsupials and the animal lovers who truly appreciate them.
According to Martina Bernstein, director of litigation for PETA, opossums are naturally very shy and prefer to run away and hide from people. She explained that even though the event does not cause any physical harm to the nocturnal creatures, it does produce mental anguish since all of the loud festivities will agitate the naturally shy creature.
While PETA is concerned for the mental trauma of the possum, the larger issue they have with the event is that wildlife is for everyone in North Carolina to enjoy, and such enjoyment is curtailed if a government agency allows animals to be held captive without special requirements being met. PETA attorney Martina Bernstein argued that Clay Logan had every right to shoot and kill an opossum, when in season, but his hunting license did not allow him to capture it, drive away with it, keep it caged, and then put it on display before thousands at his country store.
In response, Clay Logan pointed out that he had received a permit from N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission that spelled out the size of the cage and terms of the ‘opossum’s release. He agreed the decision over the permit was not perfect, but it was made thoroughly and fairly by the commission’s executive director without any opossums being harmed.
The two parties have been engaged in an almost year-long legal battle that leaves the status of this year’s NYE celebration unknown. The anxious residents of Brasstown are expected to get the court’s final decision sometime next week.