PRAIRIE DU CHIEN, Wis. (KWWL) -
New York City's annual countdown to midnight wouldn't be complete without the dropping of the ball. It's so popular, in fact, that cities around the nation have come up with their own version of the drop.
The New Year's Eve event in Prairie du Chien, Wis. might be one of the most unique.
Across the Mississippi River from Marquette sits Prairie du Chien, Wis. Like many Midwest river towns, it derives much of its cultural identity from the Mighty Mississippi. It shouldn't be too surprising, therefore, that its New Year's Eve tradition involves a fish. A big fish.
Prairie du Chien celebrates the Droppin' of the Carp. This family-friendly event counts down the seconds to the new year by lowering a frozen, 25-pound carp named Lucky onto a cradle in the middle of the crowd.
On Monday afternoon at Rowdy's Bar and Grill near the event site, founders sat and reminisced about the annual "Droppin' of the Carp," now in its twelfth year.
"Twelve or 13 years ago we were sitting around the table at home, and there were three of us couples there, deciding that we're kind of bored for New Years Eve," co-founder Randi Kluesner said. "One of the couples that was with us said, 'Hey, you know, last year we were down in Savannah, Georgia, and they dropped a-- lowered a peach,' and then we all started laughing and giggling and then we decided maybe next year here in Prairie du Chien, we should lower a carp!"
Prairie du Chien mayor Dave Hemmer said the event is great for the city.
"It's been on the national news in other years and the local hotels are usually pretty full for this weekend. I think that has something to do with it. Not just that, it's New Year's weekend, of course, you have relatives around, but I think it brings a lot of people in," Hemmer said.
People can even kiss Lucky for good fortune in the new year.
"You can get right up there, lip-to-lip with the fish, if you want," Kluesner said.
In the first year, co-founder Tom Nelson said, "Somebody walked up and they kissed the carp because they thought that was going to bring them good luck. Well, one thing led to another and, all of a sudden, the tradition of kissing the carp on New Years Eve has really kind of caught on, and people know that they're going to have good luck in the following year."
With more than 1,000 people gathering each year for the actual carp drop, Nelson said many of the founders never expected the event to get so popular.
"We thought maybe a half a dozen people would show up down here and that would be it," Nelson said. "Well, after the first year, the director of the chamber of commerce said, 'No you're going to have to continue this event. It's too big!'"
It's a big fish story you have to see to believe.
The festivities, including bonfires and live music, begin Monday at 9 p.m. in Prairie du Chien, near the intersection of Main Street and Blackhawk Avenue.
Fireworks will follow the midnight carp drop.
"Kind of a neat way to do it, you know, in the Midwest," Nelson said.
The Droppin' of the Carp is the biggest and original event of what has since grown into a week-long celebration called Carp Fest, which the city developed as it saw the popularity around the drop.
Organizers said Lucky the carp goes back on ice after the event and then gets buried in May under a newly-planted tree. Every year a local commercial fisherman catches a new Lucky in the Mississippi River.
Nelson said founders bury that year's Lucky always facing the river.