Millennium magic is making its mystical march across Maine.
From Berwick to Bingo, Belfast to Bryant Pond, people all over the state are anticipating the New Year’s revelry. Whether they intend to join in the organized “gala celebrations” some of the state’s larger communities are famous for, or instead choose individual meditations, most people are counting the hours until midnight Friday.
Like the world over, the opportunity to say goodbye to the old millennium and hello to the new is stirring dreams and promising memories.
Sure, you’ve no doubt encountered a few of those stoic northern New Englanders who say “ho-hum hype” to the coming new year, those who will remind you that this faux turn of the century is not worth getting excited about until 2001 when the real thing comes around.
Still, even if the computers may not be able to cope with it, anyone fortunate enough to be alive when the calendar flips from 1999 to 2000 is aware that something out of the ordinary is about to happen.
Take our governor. Angus King and first lady Mary Herman will head Down East on Friday to be on hand when Maine becomes the first state in the nation to welcome in the year 2000. Gov. King will take part in the New Year’s Eve festivities in Eastport, and his wife will be across Cobscook Bay in Lubec.
The first couple will catch up with each other around midnight and will stay up to greet the first sunrise together. That will be at 7:04 a.m., and, according to the calculations of the U.S. Naval Observatory, the first rays of light will hit Lubec’s Porcupine Mountain and Mount Desert’s Cadillac Mountain at precisely the same time. First Maine, then the nation.
And how about Warren and Anna Fernald of Little Cranberry Island? They were married 50 years ago on New Year’s Eve, and they had their big celebration this past summer to ensure the whole family was on hand. The Fernalds may have already eaten their cake, but they did hang onto the cards from their multitude of friends. The golden couple plans to spend New Year’s 2000 sharing the cards with some of their children.
“Our 50th wedding anniversary is New Year’s Eve and the next day is Y2K, so everything will be annulled,” quipped Warren Fernald. “Actually we’ve got a bushel of cards and we’re going to open them that night.”
A lobster fisherman all his life, Fernald is looking forward to seeing some of his six children at the card opening. He expects two or three will show up to share the moment with their parents, but understands that those who moved off the island have lives of their own.
“We’ve got summer people for kids,” Fernald said. “They move off in the winter and come back in summer.”
Then there’s Henry Joy, that maverick Republican legislator from Crystal up in The County. Joy plans to spend the big night resting up for the next day when he will perform a quiet wedding service for a close friend down in Millinocket. Joy is one of those who can’t get too worked up over an event that happens every year.
“It’s like any other New Year’s Eve,” Joy said. “At 66 years of age, you don’t get too excited about another new year coming along.”
Yet, 2000 is the magic number, and all over the world people figure to yell, dance, drink and even mush their way into the new year.
“It’s all a lot of psych and hype,” said Robin Banerjee of Call of the Wild, a Canadian travel company organizing a dog-sled extravaganza in the frozen forests of Algonquin Park in northern Ontario. “Mostly it’s just an excuse to have something to talk about, especially in January,” he said. “When everyone else says, `I was in a bar on New Year’s Eve,’ you can say, `Guess what I did?”‘
Guess indeed. Banerjee promises new year mushers that they will “feel like an explorer with the Hudson Bay Co.” during a weeklong expedition that will include bonfires on frozen lakes and champagne under the stars — accompanied by companions named Snowball, Dagar and Spike.
That call of the wild sounds just fine to Ellsworth lawyer Peter Roy. Roy has wished in the past 35 new years at Sugarloaf ski resort, but not this one. This year Roy and some friends have rented a secluded place on the Brooklin shore.
“The original plan was to rent the Summit House, strap on 10 or 15 porta-potties, get a band up there and celebrate the advent of the millennium,” Roy said. “Instead we’re going to rent a lodge on the water. We’re going to provide our own food, we’re going to provide our own cooking and, hopefully, laugh ourselves hysterically into the next century.”
Or, one could go to Egypt where the Chicago-based Millennial Society will stage a “World Millennium Charity Ball” at the Pyramids and in the shadow of the Sphinx. Why not party where Caesar stood and Napoleon looted?
From the comfort of luxury tents, ball-goers will witness an elaborate state-sponsored celebration, including a 12-hour opera that will transform the area around the Pyramids into an enormous, laser-lit stage. At the stroke of midnight, a 30-foot-tall golden pyramid will be flown by helicopter and placed atop the missing peak of the Pyramid of Cheops, flooding the area with rays to signal the birth of the first day.
Egypt isn’t the only country harking back to centuries past for its celebrations. In Britain, passengers can steam through the night steeped in Old World elegance aboard the Orient Express, ringing in the new year with champagne and a Scottish piper.
The author’s brother, Court Griffin, and his wife Jan will travel to New Zealand with son Sean to spend the new year with their daughter Kelli. The Maryland family are frequent visitors to Maine. They will be primed for the lighting of the “beacon of hope,” the first of a series of such beacons around the world, as native Maoris perform their traditional haka war dance. Except for some small island nations, New Zealand is the first sizable country situated on the international date line to experience the first sunrise of 2000.
“It’s going to be something to take part in the first sunrise festivities on the planet,” Court Griffin said.
Half the world will have been deep into its new year frenzy by the moment the new day’s sun reaches Greenwich, England, the spot from which time is measured all over the globe. London has orchestrated a four-day bash that organizers say will be the biggest street party since VE Day in 1945. The celebration will be highlighted by lavish fireworks and a “river of fire,” a 195-foot wall of flames that will streak up the Thames River in the first seconds of the new year.
Down in Bar Harbor, Harbor Master Eddie Monat figures he’ll be too busy with the activities going on around him to do any serious partying. He has fireworks to set off New Year’s Eve and then the annual new year swim from Sand Beach that morning. Usually about a dozen swimmers show up for that event, but Monat and the National Park Service expect the parking lot to be full of tenters that night. Not like last year when he and his wife did a heavy-metal music call-in show from WMDI radio.
Monroe resident Gusta Ronson plans to spend New Year in Africa visiting her daughter Avis who attends college in Ghana. Ronson and Avis’ older sister Dallas left Maine for Africa two days before Christmas.
“We’re expecting a big New Year’s bash,” Ronson said before her departure. “I was told to bring some bright, snazzy garb and plan to take part in all the native customs. It’s going to be an exciting time.”
And then there’s New York, where giant video screens will broadcast images of the Times Square celebration around the world. The party will peak at midnight when a gigantic Waterford crystal ball is to be lowered among the throngs. Festivities will include fireworks, lasers and thousands of helium balloons, as well as 4,000 pounds of confetti and an enormous puppet of Father Time drifting through the crowds.
Or one could stay at home in Maine, which is what Belfast resident Declan O’Connor plans to do. O’Connor came to these shores from Ireland a dozen years ago, and last week he stood before a federal magistrate to take the oath of citizenship. O’Connor plans to toast his new country during his adopted hometown’s New Year’s By the Bay 2000 celebration.
Though new American O’Connor is looking forward to the new century and is eager to exercise his right to vote, in his mind one Maine politician deserves elevation to a more celestial office.
“I think George Mitchell is a saint,” O’Connor said of the man who was instrumental in laying the political groundwork for an end to centuries of strife in Ireland. “He’s already performed one miracle. He’s a man for all millenniums.”