Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a MoonPie!
The 12-foot, 600-pound electric pastry has enough LED lighting to guide ships at sea. As thousands cheer, the iconic cake of Carnival illuminates the past, shines on the future, and has a good time doing it.
This is MoonPie Over Mobile, the celebration that puts the happy in Happy New Year.
Now in year 11, the Dec. 31 spectacle blends Mardi Gras-like festivities with a Times Square ball drop. Overlooking it all is the mammoth simulated confectionary disc suspended from the top of the RSA Trustmark Tower, 34 stories above downtown Mobile. Meanwhile back on Earth, the good times roll.
“Attendance depends on the weather,” says the event’s marketing director, Kinnon Phillips. “We have experienced New Year’s Eve nights that were freezing and then some like summer. But on a good clear evening, 50,000 people are possible.”
Understandably, a giant MoonPie with embedded computers and synchronized lighting is a newsworthy event. The drop is seen on CNN, The Today Show, FOX News, Good Morning America, in national magazines and by ships in the bay.
Kinnon adds, “As far as New Year’s Eve celebrations go, ours is definitely a unique item. Because of the originality, we receive a lot of national attention.”
It’s different, all right. Take the world’s largest edible MoonPie, for example.
As the giant electronic circular pasty is suspended above, its edible counterpart is distributed below. Like all MoonPies, this one is produced by Chattanooga Bakery. Mobile’s concoction-in-the round is custom made for the party. It serves 190. Uncut, the crust-encased creamy filling weighs about 150 pounds with an estimated 45,000 calories.
“Typically, we start slicing and serving around 8:30 p.m.,” Phillips says. “It kicks off the event.” But much more occurs on 2018’s final night.
More than the Moon Pie
Sister Sledge is the featured headliner this year. Past headliners from all musical genres have included The Village People, .38 Special, Three Dog Night and George Clinton. Professional entertainers are great, but this is the people’s party.
Typically, at least two parades meander through downtown Mobile, ending at Bienville Square. The main procession often features city leaders and special guests. The Second Line Parade includes anybody who wants to be in it.
Participants showcase their strutting skills or lack thereof. Everybody is either in the parade or watching it. Many folks take the opportunity to sign the Resolution Wall, a large banner where goal-driven scribes post hopes and wishes for the new year.
And then it happens. Just before midnight, MoonPie magic begins. A chorus of Auld Lang Syne erupts. All eyes gaze skyward.
Most people have little idea about the behind-the-scenes endeavor of lowering a disc the size of a minivan down a building. It takes coordination, teamwork and precise synchronization. It takes two men and a MoonPie.
Atop the Trustmark Tower’s late night roof, Randy Garvin huddles in The MoonPie Building. Beside him is the building’s namesake colossal disc, awaiting activation. Randy’s finger is on the button.
“As soon as I receive the ‘go’ signal, the MoonPie starts its 69-second journey,” he says. “It takes 9 seconds to maneuver out of the building and 60 seconds to descend 475 feet, landing exactly at midnight.”
The MoonPie is lowered by a track system of three steel cables: Each runs through the frame, one on each side and one through the middle of the pie in the sky. The cable trio prevents it from swaying in the wind. And down it goes to the Sixth floor landing spot cradle.
Ironically, Garvin, who is RSA’s building manager and has been the MoonPie controller for all 11 years, has never seen it drop. “Once I press the button, it moves outside the building and suspends from its cradle. When the MoonPie starts dropping I lose sight of it.”
The other half of Team MoonPie is Ryan Lambert, RSA infrastructure engineer. He monitors the event from a nearby building, also high above Mobile. From his perch, Lambert mans the laser light show, oversees fireworks and the MoonPie drop. He gives Garvin the signal to let it go.
“It’s a really neat job,” Lambert says. “You can expect anything – heat, fog, freezing, every weather combination possible.” He adds about coordinating the drop, “The key is communications – if communication breaks down, it could fall too late or not at all.”
In 11 years, MoonPie Over Mobile has run relatively trouble free. It turns the pages of a fresh calendar the way they should be turned – with a glowing pastry above, shining on happy people below.
A great start to a new year.
*This article has been reprinted with permission of Alabama Living.