Georgia's New Year’s Eve Possum Drop

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If you want to learn about someplace, you can always pick up a textbook. But if you want to get to know a place, you're going to have to dig a little deeper. And what you find there might be a little strange. The Strange States series will take you on a virtual tour of America to uncover the unusual people, places, things, and events that make this country such a unique place to call home.

This time we’re headed to the home of peaches, peanuts, Coca-Cola, and Billy Carter: The Empire State of the South, Georgia.

The Possum Drop

New York City may drop a giant Waterford Crystal ball on New Year’s Eve, but Tallapoosa, Georgia has the next best thing—a stuffed possum named Spencer. OK, so maybe it’s not an even comparison, but the 4000 people who annually attend the Possum Drop wouldn’t have it any other way.

The story of Spencer starts many years ago, when Bud Jones spotted a dead possum on the side of the road. Jones pulled over to retrieve the fresh roadkill and took it back to his taxidermy shop/wildlife museum to work his preservation magic. He placed the new piece on display and named it Spencer after Ralph Spencer, a businessman who helped the town thrive in the late 1800s.

But why bestow such an honor on a curly-tailed marsupial? Before the city became officially known as Tallapoosa after the nearby river of the same name, the miners who panned for gold in the region called the town Possum Snout.  Many locals consider this colorful history a point of pride, so possums have become a sort of unofficial mascot of the town.

The tradition of dropping Spencer, encased in a wire frame ball covered with white Christmas lights, from the roof of one of the tallest and oldest buildings in town, began in the early 2000s with just a small gathering of friends. The Drop occurred every other year until the festivities grew large enough to warrant an annual event. Today, people from all over the region come to Tallapoosa to enjoy a night of food, drinks, and live music, and to witness the crowning of the new (human) Possum King and Queen, all before counting down the descent of Spencer. When the long-dead guest of honor touches down, it sets off one of the largest fireworks displays in the state. And you don’t need a crystal ball to know a good time is had by all.

Have the scoop on an unusual person, place or event in your state? Tell me about it on Twitter (@spacemonkeyx) and maybe I’ll include it in a future edition of Strange States!   

See all entries in the Strange States series here.