By Dorothy Copus Brush
Not only do I love history I have respect for getting it right. Last week a headline sent me into a tizzy. It read “Watch Nights mark Emancipation Proclamation 150th.”
I remembered the members of that little church by the side of the road, our Methodist Church, gathering every New Year’s Eve for Watch Night services. It was a time of prayers, Bible readings and silence. Missing from that service was any mention of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Turning to Google I learned that in 1740 Methodist minister John Wesley introduced Watch Night. He was distressed by the wild drunken parties that celebrated the holiday season. This alternative solution was picked up quickly by other religions and the faithful observed Watch Night as they waited for the arrival of the new year.
In 1862 during the bloody Civil War, Abraham Lincoln paused to issue the proclamation that his Union forces would be fighting to bring the Union together but without slavery. On December 31, 1862, many black churches held Watch Night services as they waited for the Emancipation Proclamation to go into effect.
Now in this 150th year since the official document appeared it was displayed in Washington, D.C. for a very limited period during this 2013 season. Lincoln wrote in that proclamation, “I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and part of States, are, and henceforward, shall be free.”
It is rare that Watch Night is mentioned today and perhaps some will learn why it was added to the holiday season in past years. Others, including me, now know more about the timing of the Emancipation Proclamation 150 years ago.
I would guess that many homes in Crossville have Mt. Olive pickles in their refrigerator or on their grocery shelf. But how many know that since 1926 there is a small North Carolina town named Mount Olive because that is where the Mt. Olive Pickle Company began business about 80 years ago.
In the early days the company used a number of names for their brand. It was not until the 1950s they decided to use only the Mt. Olive name. Today that name appears on grocery shelves in all 50 states.
In 1998 the Mt. Olive folks began a Mt. Olive’s Pickle Drop. It became an annual tradition. At 7 p.m. on New Year’s Eve a three-foot pickle, well lighted, slides down a flagpole as the crowds watch for the coming of a new year.
Since it is still January it seems a good time to remember how involved the South has been in the acceptance of dropping the ball on New Year’s Eve. It was in 1904 that the publisher of a Chattanooga newspaper and the failing New York Times, Adolph S. Ochs, decided to move the operations of the papers from Chattanooga to New York City.
He chose land known as Longacre Square to establish his business. Unhappy with the name he persuaded the mayor to rename the land Times Square. For several years they held fireworks displays from the top of the buildings to welcome the new year but the danger of a bad fire changed that. In 1907 they dropped the ball from the top of the building and a tradition was born.
As long as there are country store owners like Clay Logan in Brasstown, NC, there will always be quirky possum drops or Mt. Olive’s pickle drop but millions will insist on the best of all, Times Square!