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Eastport’s unique New Year’s Eve celebration to be broadcast live on CNN

Tom Walsh | BDN
Tom Walsh | BDN
Hugh French is among the founders of Eastport's annual New Year's Eve celebrations, which includes a midnight countdown and dropping the Great Sardine, a 10-foot sculpture by Bill Schaefer of East Machias.
By Tom Walsh, BDN Staff

EASTPORT, Maine — Why should Times Square get all the attention?

While thousands of New Year’s Eve revelers are cheek to jowl in New York, marking the arrival of 2013 with the eight-story descent of a massive Waterford Crystal orb, hundreds will be gathered in downtown Eastport’s Bank Square to celebrate the midnight descent of “the Great Sardine” and a giant Canadian maple leaf.

World events permitting, the ceremonies will be broadcast live by a CNN crew that includes news correspondent Gary Tuchman providing the Down East element of global coverage being co-anchored from Times Square by Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin. CNN’s New Year’s coverage will run from 10 p.m. Monday, Dec. 31, until 1:00 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 1.

This will be year nine for the Eastport event, which has been an international affair since the first Great Sardine and maple leaf drop in 2004. Neighboring New Brunswick will ring in the new year an hour before the milestone is celebrated in the United States.

“Not only is there a political boundary between Down East Maine and Atlantic Canada, but a time-zone boundary,” said Hugh French, the director of the Tides Institute & Museum of Art and one of the founders of the event. “We’ll drop the Maple Leaf at 11 [p.m.] our time and the Great Sardine at midnight.”

A new twist to this year’s Maple Leaf drop will be the participation of a Canadian “Mountie.” Brent Dakai, who is assigned to the Integrated Border Enforcement Team of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, will lower the Maple Leaf from the roof of the 1887 Eastport Savings Bank building on Water Street. During that 11 p.m. drop, a small brass band will accompany revelers as they sing the Canadian national anthem, O Canada.

An hour later, the creator of the latest iteration of the Great Sardine — East Machias woodworker and sculptor Bill Schaefer — will lower his 10-foot, canvas on wood-frame creation as the crowd on hand sings Auld Lang Syne. Schaefer also crafted the Maple Leaf used in the celebration.

“I figured the reason CNN was coming was that this would be the Easternmost countdown drop,” French said Saturday. “But, when they approached us they said the reason that they wanted to include Eastport is that this is an international celebration.”

The sardine that serves as the artistic centerpiece of the event is the third iteration of the Great Sardine since the inaugural ceremony. A six-foot, fabric-stuffed cloth creation stitched onto a frame did the honors in 2004. It was later replaced with a 20-foot version that French said proved so unwieldy that it became a “one-year wonder” and was subsequently destroyed. The original Great Sardine still exists and is on display at Eastport Pets, a year-round emporium for animal lovers at 89 Water Street.

French said he expects as many as 400 people to attend Monday night’s festivities. The first drop in 2004 attracted about 200, he said.

“The weather forecast looks good, no snow and not too cold,” he said. “One year it was 10-below. People still came, but it was pretty brutal.”

An Eastport native, French said he and other local co-conspirators who created the event were eager to breathe some life into the downtown in the dead of winter.

“Eastport has gone through some tough times,” he said. “If you were here on New Year’s Eve in 2003, there would not be a light, a car or a person downtown. This has really resonated with people over the years.”

To add to this year’s celebration a number of downtown Eastport restaurants — Liberty Cafe and Pub, The Pickled Herring, The Happy Crab, Rose Garden Cafe, Dastardly Dicks, Repunzel’s and WaCo Diner — will be offering food, drink and entertainment specials throughout the evening and into the New Year. Downtown businesses — Port O’Call, The Commons, Breakwater Gallery, Eastport Pets, Dancing Dogs Pottery, S.L. Wadsworth’s & Son, Moose Island Bakery and the Tides Institute — will be open throughout the day, with some retailers staying open until midnight and beyond.

Eastport’s Peavey Library hosts an “Eastport Recites” event at 5:30 p.m., which features a CD collection of Eastport residents reading their favorite written passages. The Eastport Arts Center will host 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. performances of “Life Cycles,” a series of one-act plays.

A complete list of events can be found at www.tidesinstitute.org/newyearseve2012.html.

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