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1999 Arrives on East Coast

January 1, 1999

NEW YORK (AP) _ Thousands upon thousands of revelers converged on Times Square on New Year’s Eve to party like it’s 1999.

Bundled in layers of clothing, blankets and thermal wraps, a boisterous crowd predicted to reach as many as 500,000 gathered to ring in the New Year in 20-degree weather that felt well below zero with the wind.

At the stroke of midnight, more than 15,000 balloons showered the crowd and fireworks and 42 spotlights _ including the so-called ``50K Space Cannon″ _ illuminated the sky.

``Well, it’s 1999. The last time in the century. I figured why not,″ said Garrison Whittaker of Washington D.C.

Heather Long, 19, of Atlantic City wrapped herself in five layers of clothing, two blankets and a foil wrap to celebrate in the square with host and perennial teen-ager Dick Clark, who was shepherding in the new year for television viewers.

``The only thing I forgot was to put on more socks,″ she said.

As celebrations began in cities across the country, tragedy struck near New Orleans. Fireworks and other missiles exploded in the staging area for a midnight celebration, killing two workmen and injuring a deputy sheriff.

The cause of the explosion wasn’t immediately known.

In Las Vegas, where police predicted as many as 400,000 people would line the Strip, Matt Berry, 25, and Kristy Shore, 21, were in lawn chairs in front of Caesars Palace, watching the crowd.

``The past two years we would go with the crowd, but that was just too tiring,″ said Berry, wrapped in a blanket against a chilly wind. ``This year we’re just people watching.″

In Boston’s Copley Square, thousands of revelers watched as ice sculptors put the final touches on a frozen display that included a castle and a knight in armor battling a dragon.

``It’s really, really, really good!″ exclaimed 6-year-old Paige Roosa, who viewed the display perched atop her the shoulders of her father Andy.

Rose Mabuney, 56, of Los Angeles sat on a folding stool in the middle of Times Square, her legs covered by a blanket and a portable propane heater at her feet. She and another couple were taking turns warming up.

``We just met a couple that had set this up,″ she said. ``They let me sit here for awhile.″

Earlier in the day, the finishing touches were put on a 16-foot Father Time puppet, a 15,000-balloon release, a spotlight said to be visible from Mars, and the final drop of a 500-pound aluminum ball that has ushered in every New Year since the 1960s.

The ball will be replaced by a Waterford Crystal-made successor next December. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Chinese gymnast Sang Lan, who was paralyzed in a fall at the Goodwill Games, pressed the button that started the ball’s drop.

Meanwhile, the folks in Lebanon, Pa., were planning the Second Annual New Year’s Eve Bologna Drop. The Lebanon Valley Sertoma Club was to lower a 100-pound, 7-foot cylinder of smoked bologna from the roof of the Lebanon Unfinished Furniture building.

In Fayetteville, Ark., the city was having its first family-oriented First Night celebration, an outdoor festival that includes artisans, musicians, food, jugglers and midnight fireworks.

``We’re going to party like it’s 1999,″ said Nancy Hendricks, assistant to the mayor. ``This is a way for young people to spend New Year’s Eve with their families and also a way for people to see you can have a wonderfully good time without getting wasted.″

In Worcester, Mass., this year’s party was to have a medieval theme, hence a change in name to First Knight. Organizers hoped City Hall would feel like a medieval castle, with lords and ladies, jesters and dragons.

New Year’s Eve was perhaps not so festive for the roughly 10,000 customers still without power in Virginia since an ice storm on Christmas Eve.

But in Branson, Mo., the folks at the Chateau on the Lake were promising New Year’s Eve would be a night to remember.

The hotel constructed a replica of the bow of the Titanic and placed it in its 32,000-square-foot Great Hall. There, 500 party guests were to dine on the same seven-course meal the Titanic passengers ate just before the ship struck an iceberg and went down in 1912.

In New York, a few hardy people took off most of their clothes for a swim in the Hudson River, which at about 40 degrees wasn’t much warmer than an iceberg. Four members of the Coney Island Arctic Ice Bears completed the 200-yard swim.

Ken Jones, a 37-year-old former Mr. America and president of the Arctic Ice Bears, had to be rescued by a police scuba unit after suffering cramps near the halfway point in the swim.

``When you’re only 4 percent body fat, sometimes it’s tough,″ he said after the rescue. ``It’s still the greatest feeling in the world though.″

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