Over the Moon (Pie)
By Emmett Burnett
Mobile celebrates an iconic snack on New Year’s Eve
Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a Moon Pie!
You heard me – a 12-foot, 600-pound electric pastry with 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 moon pie with embedded computers and synchronized lighting is a newsworthy event. The drop is seen on CNN, The Today Show, FOX News, Good Morning America, national magazines, a worldwide audience, and 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.” Yeah, it’s different all right. Take the world’s largest edible moon pie, for example.
As the giant electronic circular pasty is suspended above, its edible counterpart is distributed below. Like all moon pies, this one is produced by Chattanooga Bakery. Don’t try this at home.
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 – if served with Diet Coke.
“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
At press time, final details were still unfolding about featured entertainment. Past headliners from all musical genres have included The Village People, .38 Special, Three Dog Night and last year’s 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. At midnight, moon pie 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 moon pie.
Atop the Trustmark Tower’s late night roof, Randy Garvin huddles in The Moon Pie 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 moon pie 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 moon pie is lowered by a track system of three steel cables: Each run 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 6th floor landing spot cradle.
Ironically, Garvin, who is RSA’s building manager and has been the moon pie 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 moon pie starts dropping I lose sight of it.”
The other half of Team Moon Pie 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 Moon Pie 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.” But he adds about coordinating the drop, “The key is communications – if communication breaks down, it could fall too late or not at all.” The drop flops.
But in 11 years, MoonPie Over Mobile has run relatively trouble free. It turns the pages of a fresh calendar the way it should be turned – with a glowing pastry above, shining on happy people below. A great start to a new year.n