These days, being an opossum in North Carolina comes with a lot of attention — from lawmakers, animal rights activists, and even Superior Court judges. Besides being the official state marsupial (we’re not kidding) they play a starring role in the annual New Year’s Eve Possum Drop in Clay County and over the last few years, they’ve become the subject of some light-hearted deliberations in the General Assembly.
[Editor's Note: there is apparently a difference between a "possum" and an "opossum." According to something we read on the internet, the opossum is the only marsupial native to North America (a marsupial is an animal that carries its young in a pouch, like the kangaroo). Possums, however, are found in New Guinea, Australia, Indonesia and other places we've never heard of. Here in North Carolina, we use the terms interchangeably. Now back to the story.]
For as long as anyone can remember, people around the world have celebrated the possibilities and hope of the new year — and for some reason, it always seems to involve dropping things. In New York City, hundreds of thousands of people gather in Times Square (and millions more watch on television) as a giant Waterford crystal ball drops while huge digital screens tick down the seconds. In Atlanta, they drop a huge illuminated Peach. In Mobile, Alabama, they drop an enormous Moon Pie. In Key West (and live on CNN) they drop a big glitter-festooned red high-heel shoe.
Here in North Carolina, we have our own unique traditions, In Raleigh, (the “City of Oaks”) they drop The Big Acorn. In Mount Olive, they drop a lit pickle. In Eastover, they drop a three-foot long foam and wooden flea. And in the little mountain burg of Brasstown, folks gather down at the Citgo station to watch a live possum as it’s gently lowered about six feet from a crane in a tinsel-festooned plexiglass box while Mr. Clay Logan, the master of ceremonies, leads the audience in the countdown: “three, two, one…the possum has landed!”
“It’s more exciting than when the hogs ate Granny!” declared The Carringer Chronicle of the event.
The Brasstown Possum Drop at Clay’s Corner Store began back in 1990 with no more than 30 curious onlookers. Now, the town’s population of 240 swells to more than 3,000 festival-goers who enjoy the annual non-alcoholic family-friendly extravaganza that includes music, fireworks, food, souvenirs, and cross-dressing truckers competing for the coveted title of “Miss Possum Queen.” Just imagine the possum-bilities!
“We’re kind of poking fun at all the stereotypes of rednecks and hillbillies,” said Mr. Logan, who also founded the Possum Drop. “See, some people think of rednecks as ignorant skinhead types, waving the Confederate flag and living barefoot in the mountains,” agreed Mr. Crisp, a local building contractor. “We do live in the country. And we like to hunt. But besides that, we’re just trying to have fun.”1
Mr. Logan likes to remind any critics that the possum is not actually dropped, but lowered with great care. “We treat our little friend with respect, hold him in awe, and we do not inflict any injury or traumatize God’s creature of the night.”
But some animal rights activists are not amused. Every year, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) objects to the Possum Drop as somehow being cruel and inhumane — and has filed multiple lawsuits in an effort to put a stop to the event.
“We’re amazed that something as ill-conceived and cruel as dropping an opossum in a box is still taking place in the 21st century,” says Jeff Kerr, PETA’s general counsel in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “This is pure terror for a small wild animal that’s shy and avoids humans at all cost.”
Mr. Logan said of PETA, “I know they’ve been here New Year’s Eve. They’re the only ones not smiling.”