published Monday, December 31st, 2012

Possum or not, the show must go on in Brasstown, N.C.

Clay Logan talks on the phone behind the counter at Clay's Corner in Brasstown, N.C.
Clay Logan talks on the phone behind the counter at Clay's Corner in Brasstown, N.C.
Photo by Kate Harrison Belz.

IF YOU GO

What: 2013 Possum Drop

Where: Clay's Corner, Brasstown, N.C. Parking at Tri-County Community College, two miles away.

When: Festivities start at 10 p.m.

What: New Year's Eve festival with music, "Possum Idol" and womanless beauty pageant topped off by fireworks. Family friendly; no alcohol or lawn chairs.

More info: Visit www.clayscorner.com or call 828-837-3797.

BRASSTOWN, N.C. — Two troubling questions loom over the American people on the verge of the New Year, says Clay Logan.

"Will we go over the fiscal cliff?" Logan asks, pulling up a chair next to several buddies in his gas station in Brasstown, N.C. "And are we going to have an opossum at the Possum Drop? Both will probably be decided in the eleventh hour."

For 18 years Brasstown has rung in the new year at Logan's store by lowering a live opossum in a Plexiglas cage as a crowd of thousands cheers below.

But since a judge's recent decision to ban the event, Logan, 66, has fielded dozens of calls from reporters across the country asking whether the possum will drop to welcome 2013.

Situated in a bend of Old U.S. Highway 64, about 25 miles across the Tennessee state lane, Clay's Corner is a general store and town hub, peddling everything from groceries, chewing tobacco and auto parts to custom-made moonshine stills and "redneck wind chimes" -- cans dangling from some wire.

The stove-warmed store is a daily pit stop for many locals, and on Friday nights, folks gather in the back room to play bluegrass.

But for decades, the store's magnetism has been its self-proclaimed status as the Opossum Capital of the World.

"In a nonfunded government survey, we counted all the dead possums in a square mile in Brasstown and multiplied them by 10,000. We ended with the most possums of anywhere," Logan explains.

An oversized opossum dangles from the eaves above the front door at Clay's Corner. Inside, the walls are plastered with signs with warnings like, "Hug a possum, lose an ear."

Shelves are stocked with cans bearing labels for "sun-dried possum" and "Diet Lite possum." In one corner, stacks of T-shirts are emblazoned with a possum labeled "The OTHER other White Meat." The fridge brims with chilled "possum water."

But all of this is only a prelude to the Possum Drop, the tongue-in-cheek tribute to the crystal-studded ball drop in New York's Times Square.

The spectacle draws hundreds from across the county. One family drives more than 15 hours from Texas every year. Two years ago, a group of former classmates from Boston decided to have their reunion at the drop.

But while the party will continue this year, 2013 will not kick off with a marsupial's four feet reaching the ground.

Peta protestests

For several years, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has been trying to stop Logan from using a live opossum in the stunt. This year a judge agreed that it was time for the practice to end.

In November, Raleigh, N.C.-based Judge Fred Morrison sided with PETA, ruling that the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission did not have legal grounds to issue special permits for Logan to capture and display the opossums.

"Citizens are prohibited from capturing and using wild animals for pets or amusement," Morrison wrote in his opinion.

"Hunters must afford wild animals the same right Patrick Henry yearned for: 'Give me liberty, or give me death!"

Martina Bernstein, director of litigation for PETA, said the organization was pleased with the judge's decision to clamp down on a practice she called "barbaric" and "medieval."

"It's a horrific way to celebrate a holiday to put a feral animal in a box and let it dangle down to the amusement of the people below," said Bernstein. "It's bizarre in the 21st century for people to amuse themselves in this way. ... You wouldn't do this to your dog or your cat."

The loud crowds and fireworks only add to the trauma, said Bernstein, who described opossums as extremely shy animals.

Show goes on

Logan's friend Paul Crisp, who has helped with the event since its beginning, said he doesn't understand the accusations of cruelty. The opossum, trapped in the weeks leading up to New Year's Eve, is kept warm and well fed before the drop, and is released minutes after midnight, he said.

"They seem to impose traits that humans have on the animals -- like reasoning and logic," Crisp argued. "Animals don't think that way. They operate on instinct. They don't think the way we think."

Logan was curt when talking about PETA, saying, "Common is the most unused sense of the senses. No one has any common sense any more."

He gestured to a sign hanging above the condiments in the back of the store: "PETA: People Eating Tasty Animals."

While Logan said the event will go on, he was evasive about what exactly will happen at Clay's Corner tonight at midnight. Will there be a show of defiance with a live opossum? Will it be replaced with a stuffed opossum, or Repurposed roadkill?

The event featured roadkill opossum about 10 years ago, when PETA first came after Logan.

"We cleaned him off, propped him up pretty and froze him in the freezer," said Logan.

Bernstein said PETA will be checking to ensure Logan and his crew comply with the judge's ruling.

"We're not against the party and the people of Brasstown having a good party on New Year's Eve. Just not at the expense at a wild animal," Bernstein said.

For his part, Logan plans to be creative. He won't let the crowd down, he said.

"We have a saying here," he said. "We aren't pessimistic or optimistic, we're o'possumistic."

Staff writer Susan Pierce and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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