By Molly Stassfort
Nothing solidifies the New Year like fireworks, a midnight kiss and … a possum; at least in west Georgia.
In the Haralson County town of Tallapoosa, the annual New Year’s Possum Drop is the highlight of the season. Drawing in a crowd of almost 10,000 onlookers, this small town event is a holiday staple for the west Georgia and Alabama areas.
Before taking the name of the nearby river, Tallapoosa was originally coined “Possum Snout,” an ode to the abundance of the namesake creatures in the area. To solidify the unofficial possum mascot, Bud Jones, a local taxidermist, decided to stuff and preserve a possum he found on the side of the road in the late 1990s. He named it “Spencer,” after 19th century Tallapoosa businessman Ralph Spencer.
This stuffed possum was the start of a local phenomenon. With just a small gathering of local friends, Spencer descended from the top of the bank building at midnight on New Year’s Eve, christening the new year.
“Spencer has definitely become the unofficial mascot of Tallapoosa,” says Danny Welch.
Welch, one of three organizers of the event, first traveled to Tallapoosa from his home in Powder Springs in 2010, when he purchased the old Merchants’ & Miners’ Bank building in the city. The building, built in 1891, was the first bank in Tallapoosa, and the original location of the Possum Drop. Welch first witnessed the annual event later that same year.
“It was really neat, just watching everyone have a good time.” With a background in marketing, Welch decided to join the Possum Drop committee the following year, hoping to bring his expertise to the table and expand the event further.
“Each year, it just got a little bigger, and eventually we started getting bigger sponsors and more bands, which then attracted larger crowds.”
Originally held on Head Avenue, the drop became such a spectacle it expanded into other areas of Tallapoosa, gaining more food and souvenir vendors as the crowds grew.
Now the Drop spans two stages and the streets are filled with vendors offering plenty of coffee and hot chocolate to keep everyone warm during the wait to midnight. The culmination of the evening: Spencer lowered inside his twinkle light-covered wire ball the final minute before the new year.
For years, the host of the party was local radio announcer Rhubarb Jones, who brought his charismatic, down home style to the annual festivities. Sadly, Jones passed away earlier this year, leaving an empty slot for the 2017 host.
“Although Rhubarb won’t be with us this year in person, we know whoever takes his slot will keep his spirit going,” said Welch.
This year is set to be the biggest drop yet, kicking off at 8 p.m. Dec. 31 with food, local music acts and a kids zone, complete with bounce houses and carnival games. Although the final details of the event were still in the planning process in August, Eagles tribute band, “On the Border,” will be headlining the celebration.
“We’re really lucky to have them with us this year; they tour all over the U.S. so having them at the drop will be a great show.” Joining the lineup is country band “South of Nashville.” To accommodate the ever growing crowd, the event has expanded its live shows to two stages with a handful of local artists. Making a return is crowd favorite Eric Snyder, a renowned Elvis Presley impersonator.
And after Spencer drops, the finale of the night is a gigantic firework spectacular.
“Our firework show this year is over $3,000 and is really going to be a sight. With all of our sponsors and support, our budget has grown to almost $25,000, which allows our team to invite bands and acts from across the country that local residents might not have the opportunity to see regularly.”
This is also the third year the event is offering a shuttle service with Haralson County vans. Travelers in town for the event can ride the shuttle from the Hampton Inn in Bremen to the Drop, and back again at the end of the night. The Hampton Inn also offers discount rooms for guests coming to see the Possum Drop.
“It’s an unbelievable atmosphere; everyone’s having a good time. The crowds now are anywhere from seven to 10,000, but we’ve never had any issues with rowdiness or violence.”
If you happen to miss out on the extravaganza, Spencer’s permanent location during the rest of the year is at the Georgia Welcome Center on I-20. As more and more guests see Spencer and hear of the Tallapoosa Possum Drop, the event has gained wide national notoriety.
“People are coming from all over – the event is known across the United States,” said Welch. “We had an interview a couple years ago with KFI radio in Los Angeles, which is one of the largest AM radio stations in the nation. CNN has also covered the event before.”
One of the largest outlets for the event was in 2013, when the TLC network shot its New Year’s Eve special for “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” at the Possum Drop. The 90-minute special allowed for lots of footage for the event, and gained Tallapoosa national media coverage.
As attention flourishes so does involvement. Sponsors continue to flock from across the West Georgia area to have their name associated with the Possum Drop.
“This is not just a Tallapoosa event anymore; we now have sponsors from all over the west Georgia area and even Alabama; it’s really a regional event. We are funded entirely from civic and business sponsors within the greater West Georgia area; we cannot express how much we really appreciate them, and it’s because of them that we are able to do this every year.”
As the year draws to a close, the hype around the drop grows bigger and bigger. With this year poised to be the biggest drop yet, hopefully bringing over 10,000 viewers, Welch hopes to not just bring visitors to the town, but bring more permanent residents to the charming, small town.
“Our main goal in the drop is not just to have people see it, but it’s to bring people in from other areas to see the west Georgia region, fall in love with it too and possibly move here or open up business here.”