WINDER, Ga. - In New York, New Year's Eve revelers watch a glittering ball drop. In Atlanta, it's a glowing peach. This year, Winder will mark the new year by dropping a clay jug from the hanging tower of the old Barrow County Jail.
Barrow County Historical Society members are hosting the event, dubbed Jug Drop 2009, to give the people of Winder a way to celebrate New Year's. But they also want to draw attention to the more colorful parts of the town's history - its founding as Jug Tavern in the early 1800s, the legend of the vicious and hideous monster known as the Wog, and the town's later reputation as a place that loved its moonshine.
"That's really why we're doing this," said Beth Barton, who's helping to coordinate the Jug Drop. "People don't understand how much history is in this town or appreciate how interesting it is. So many people who live here, some who have always lived here, have no idea."
The Barrow County Museum, which now is housed in the old jail, will have an antique moonshine still on loan from the Georgia Mountain Fair to coincide with the Jug Drop.
While the museum's still is an antique, Barrow County's history of moonshining is pretty recent.
Until the late 1970s, police in Winder and Barrow County still were battling moonshiners and their drivers actively, said Ed Curott, a Florida native who came back from the Vietnam War, moved to Winder and found work as a police officer.
"It was pretty big back then," Curott said. "We were hopping."
In 1972, Curott and another police officer followed a suspicious man into the woods and uncovered what has been described as one of the largest clandestine whiskey stills in the nation, he said. The still was built into a farm field that had been terraced to prevent erosion.
"They had rows and rows of these big vats lined up, and some of them were full of maggots," he said. "There's no telling what was in there - probably feed grain. They had a feed mill in Winder - I think it makes pet food now - where they kept feed corn and grain. They were losing truckloads of that stuff back then. I guess people would use it for their (whiskey)."
The moonshine, which could be dangerous but still was prescribed as cold medicine as late as the 1960s, and was ubiquitous in the dry county, wasn't the main problem.
The real issue was the ancillary crime - people disappearing, businesses and cars exploding, gun fights - that accompanied the moonshining, Curott said.
He understands the draw those stories have for people, but he's not nostalgic for that time period.
"It was exciting," he said. "But now that I look back at it, I might have been safer and better off if I'd gone back to Pensacola to police or another safe town, instead of the little old town of Winder."
Historical society members are hoping Curott will share some of his stories at the museum while the still is on display.
The inaugural Jug Drop celebration will kick off at 8 p.m. New Year's Eve at the Barrow County Museum, 74 W. Athens St., and will include live music, dancing, food and drinks and the Miss Jug pageant, in which men dress as women and compete to see who gets to lower the jug.
Those seeking more information about the Jug Drop party, including an extensive history of mascot John B. Jug and his family of jugs, can visit the Jug Drop's Facebook page.