Every New Year’s Eve in a little town in North Carolina, the residents gather to watch something drop at midnight. But it’s not a ball.
It’s a live opossum.
The man behind the Brasstown spectacle, Clay Logan, writes on his website that “the opossum is not actually ‘dropped,’ it is lowered with great care.” That is after the shy animal is trapped and taken from the wild, caged for days, and then closed up in a clear box high in the air amidst a cacophany of fireworks, muskets, music, and shouting. Only then is it “lowered.” Thousands of people come out to watch.
After all that, one traumatized little opossum is released back into the wild.
Logan has a permit to hold the opossum captive, but People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) took him to court to stop the event. PETA’s application for a temporary restraining order failed, but it won the next battle: a judge ruled that the government “had no authority” to issue Logan’s permit.
While PETA won that round, the judge’s reasoning is a little hard for animal lovers to embrace. He ruled that the only permits the government may issue are for killing wild animals. In a strange twist of logic, the judge wrote, “Hunters must afford wild animals the same right Patrick Henry yearned for: ‘Give me liberty, or give me death!’”
The judge would have required Logan to release or kill the opossum as soon as he caught it, because “citizens are prohibited from capturing and using wild animals for pets or amusement.”
Opossums are the only wild marsupials in the United States, which means they carry their young babies in their pouches like kangaroos. When the babies are 80 to 90 days old, they “begin to ride on their mother’s back,” which is just too cute.
The Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife describes opossums as “inhibited animals, especially in daylight or under artificial light, but [they] are by no means stupid. Results from some learning and discrimination tests rank opossums above dogs and more or less on a par with pigs in intelligence.” Opossums are distinct from “possums,” a related species native to Australia.
As far as Brasstown’s New Year’s ritual this year, Logan said, “we’ll just abide by what the law says. We’ll have the Opossum Drop. I’m just not sure what we’ll have.”
CBS News described the traditional opossum drop in detail, noting that the opossum could look down through the plexiglass box and see all the goings-on below:
A Baptist church choir sang, followed by a cross-dressing beauty pageant.
There was the Brasstown Brigade, an outfit that blesses people at the New Year by chanting, “We wish you a happy new year! Great health! Long life!” and firing black powder muskets and playing tuba solos.
That’s a lot of hubbub for a shy, nocturnal animal.
Whatever it does to mark this New Year, Brasstown will no doubt continue to call itself the “Opossum Capital of the World.” And even if Logan does not appeal the judge’s ruling, the consequences of the lawsuit will likely linger: at the very top of his gas station’s website is a solicitation for donations to “help offset the legal fees.”
Photo credit: iStockphoto