Adam and I sat, huddled under the awning at the Washington Inn and Tavern, as sheets of rain poured from the sky. Half a block away, a duo of gentlemen shucked fresh oysters, plating them on a tent-covered table. Across from us, a similar table offered individually wrapped slices of cake. Down the street, we watched as a woman darted from one side of the road to the other, ducking her head and using one hand to keep her hat from falling off into the puddles. I unconsciously adjusted my paper crown, which bore the same message as her hat: Happy New Year. There couldn’t have been more than 20 of us braving the deluge, 2021’s parting shot as yet another challenging year faded into the history books.
“I would rather be here than on our couch,” Adam said, gazing at the spaces where crowds might be on a clearer night. I nodded in agreement. After spending numerous years ringing in the new year in exotic spots like Cape Town, Reykjavik, Porto, Bruges, and Tokyo, it had been a huge let down to spend the previous year at home in our living room. A rainy night in Princess Anne, Maryland was an enormous step in the right direction.
New Year’s Eve has always been our favorite holiday. It has also provided the perfect excuse— and backdrop— for a vacation for the better part of a decade. In addition to maximizing our paid time off with the use of a federal holiday, almost every corner of the world has a unique celebration or tradition that adds a little magic to the experience: something memorable that encourages visitors to open their minds and embrace something new. Although we weren’t expecting it, that’s exactly what we found when we chose Princess Anne as our New Year’s Eve destination— and we owe the memories to none other than a muskrat named Marshall.
New Year’s Eve in Princess Anne: Make Way for the Muskrat Dive
We discovered Princess Anne thanks to one of its most beloved residents: Marshall P. Muskrat.New Year’s Eve is marked by hundreds of gestures every year, although one of the most iconic is the glittery ball drop in New York City’s Times Square. Hoping to find something just as fun but perhaps a bit less crowded, Adam discovered that Princess Anne welcomes the new year not with a ball drop but with a muskrat drop. Marshall, in all of his taxidermied glory, takes his place on a platform that is raised into the air and then slowly lowered back down, completing his journey as the clock strikes midnight. The official website declared it to be “free weird fun.” Well, we didn’t want to miss that.
The drive from the Washington, DC area to the Delmarva Peninsula takes about three hours, and we left early on December 31 to build in some time for a few stops before arriving in Princess Anne. The sun was starting to set as we pulled into the Washington Inn and Tavern’s parking lot, and inside the first of their guests were just sitting down to New Year’s Eve dinner. We had made dinner reservations as well, and with a few hours to go before our own seating we dropped our luggage off in our room and wandered back out to Main Street to see the festivities coming to life.
Curiously, there was no action at all: no lights on in restaurants, no booths constructed for the event, no platform for Marshall to sit upon. I asked Adam if we were in the right place; he assured me we were. We walked two blocks up the street, crossed to the other side, and walked two blocks back to stand across from our hotel. The glow of light illuminating smiling diners and bustling waitstaff were the only signs of life. Adam reached into his pocket and realized one of his favorite hats, a souvenir from a trip to Iceland, had fallen out. We retraced our steps and were shocked to find someone had gently hung it from a lamppost; we hadn’t even seen another person on the street, let alone someone who might do such a good deed. Princess Anne was quiet on New Year’s Eve, but it also seemed to be home to some very good people.At 8:00 we sat down to dinner, one of the best New Year’s Eve meals we have had: cream of crab soup, Maryland crab cakes, seafood risotto, and slices of Smith Island Cake filled us to the brim, as did very full glasses of wine paired with each course. As we enjoyed our meal inside, we watched from the window as the skies began to open, first with a steady drizzle, and eventually breaking into a downpour that looked like it would wash away the few booths that were starting to pop up along the road. Just across the street, a few volunteers erected a tiny platform surrounded by lights. Midnight was coming. Marshall P. Muskrat would be there.
We sat down at a table just on the other side of the windows from where we had dinner to wait for the new year. Slowly but surely, Main Street started coming to life. The crowd was small at first; a few groups of people sat around tables outside of the tavern like we did, and others gathered along the street. We ordered a couple of glasses of sparkling wine, and I picked up a few of the biggest Chesapeake Bay oysters I have ever seen after watching a duo shuck them right in front of us. The oysters were offered for free, as were slices of Smith Island Cake at a booth across the street. I thought back to some of the bigger, louder events we have attended over the years. None of them had provided free oysters and cake. Princess Anne made a good first impression.
A woman who had been chatting with the people at the table next to us sat down across from us, introducing herself as Carrie and thanking us for braving the weather to ring in the new year. We knew who she was before she sat down: Carrie Samis is the manager of Princess Anne Main Street and the event planner for New Year’s Eve, and we had watched a segment featuring her on the local news before dinner. Like us, she took the weather in stride; she told us about what it was like to coordinate the event and make sure Marshall P. Muskrat was ready for his big moment, and we loved the chance to discover more about the local culture through her work. Before long, she was off to brave the rain and escort Marshall to his place of honor.
As midnight approached, the rain tapered off and stopped completely, and the crowds started to make their way to Main Street. As we stood up to secure a spot a little closer to the festivities, we were surprised to meet the muskrat-of-the-hour himself! Carrie brought Marshall right to our table for a quick meet-and-greet, which instantly became the highlight of the night. Marshall took his role seriously. Dressed as dapperly as a muskrat could be, Marshall gazed at us from beneath a top hat, a long black cape covering his shoulders. His eyes glistened above a tiny mask, a nod to how health and safety is everyone’s responsibility. Before long, Marshall was escorted off to prepare for his ascent, and we followed behind. It was just 20 minutes before midnight.
New Year’s Eve is typically a joyful night, and this one was no different. In fact, after the years in our most recent collective memory, the chance to wipe the slate clean once more has never felt so promising. As Marshall’s platform notched its way into the sky, there was a sense of lightness in the air, as if he might be carrying some of the frustrations, worries, and sorrows away with him. Below his platform, a timer counted the minutes and seconds to midnight. Cheers began to erupt when less than a minute remained; finally, it was time to shake off the old year and welcome the new.
We excitedly watched as the timer counted down through thirty seconds, then twenty seconds, then ten seconds. Marshall stood proudly above us, his cape waving majestically in the wind. His platform had not budged. I turned to Adam. “I’m not sure he’s going to make it down in time,” I said.
Sure enough, the countdown commenced: 10. 9. 8. 7. 6. 5. 4. 3. 2. 1. The crowd cheered as the countdown clock changed to read Happy New Year. Confetti erupted from behind the podium. Marshall P. Muskrat, who should have been celebrating at ground level with the rest of us, watched the celebration from above. As I looked up at him, a thought crossed my mind.
“If the muskrat doesn’t drop, are we still stuck in 2021? Or is it really 2022?” I asked Adam. He looked at me, and a flash of terror crossed his face. We were ready for 2021 to disappear into the rearview mirror. Instead, we stood in limbo as the whole of Princess Anne, Maryland straddled the line between the old year and the new one. Marshall, for his part, remained calm and collected as a volunteer struggled to diagnose what might have frozen his platform in place. I appreciated Marshall’s sense of serenity; inner peace is a valuable trait these days.
Seven minutes into limbo, Marshall P. Muskrat’s platform dropped by a couple of inches, and then a couple of inches more. In fits and spurts he began to lower himself back down. Eventually, his platform arrived back at its starting point so he could join the celebration that was well underway. We were caught up to the rest of the USA’s east coast; it was officially 2022.
The party continued outside for a while, but we untangled ourselves from the crowds and headed back into the Washington Inn and Tavern. Back in our hotel room, scrolling through photos from the evening, Adam asked what I thought of the celebration. I thought about all of the big parties we have experienced around the world: the bands, the fireworks, the stories-tall billboards that have counted us out of one year and into another. And I thought about our night in Princess Anne with Marshall P. Muskrat. “I think this is the first New Year’s trip we have taken that I know I want to experience again,” I told him.
Experiencing the Delmarva Way of Life: Princess Anne and Beyond
Visiting a place like Princess Anne, Maryland is a reminder that there are great things to learn and experience in every corner of the world. New Year’s Eve is brimming with quirky traditions and small-town fun, and it’s backed by centuries of character that are still part of the community today.Located in the Delmarva Peninsula— which is a region incorporating parts of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia— Princess Anne dates back to 1733, and centuries later some of the town’s earliest buildings still stand. In addition to pre-Revolutionary structures like the William Geddes House (known to many locals as Tunstall Cottage), buildings like the 200-year-old Teackle Mansion offer an intriguing glimpse into what life was like for some of the wealthiest Maryland residents at the turn of a very different century.
We spent quite a bit of our visit at the Washington Inn and Tavern, which has been a central part of life in Princess Anne since it was built in 1744. Like some of our favorite spots throughout the region, it is widely believed that George Washington stayed there, and the building itself is full of historic charm— right down to the floors that slant due to the building’s shifting foundation and two staircases intended to separate men and women during an era when a woman’s modesty would be of concern when she was climbing stairs. The experience of exploring historic properties like the Washington Inn and Tavern bring Princess Anne’s history to life, inviting us to both reflect on the way life once was and consider the charm it inserts into the modern day.
More Information: Booking.com/Washington-Inn
While you’re in the area, don’t miss these locations!
Just beyond Princess Anne, Delmarva has an incredible variety of spots to visit.
► Transpeninsular Midpoint Marker
Geography aficionados will not want to miss the Transpeninsular Midpoint Marker, the easternmost boundary of the Mason Dixon line. While many people know the Mason Dixon line as the boundary between the north and the south in the United States, historically it offers an even more interesting story. Before there were states there were colonies, and the colonies’ borders were poorly administered at best and flat-out confusing at their worst. Some colonies were granted land only to find another colony had been offered the same land, and there was significant overlap in many places. In 1763, two surveyors— Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon— were hired to survey the borders. Leaving stone markers as they progressed, the two men walked every inch of what became the Mason Dixon line. Today, a marker still stands at the Transpeninsular Midpoint, which is the southernmost point of the border between Maryland and Delaware. Today, the marker they placed still stands, which means you can both straddle the border between two states and stand on a symbolic historical spot.
► Harriet Tubman SitesVisiting the Delmarva Peninsula will connect you to one of US history’s most important people: Harriet Tubman. Responsible for leading approximately 70 enslaved people to their freedom, her legacy is celebrated for her bravery and selflessness. Born in Dorchester County, Maryland, her presence remains an important part of the landscape. We stopped to see the Harriet Tubman Childhood home historic marker, and although the structure no longer exists a signpost stands in tribute to the “Moses of her people.” To learn more about her life, visiting the Harriet Tubman Museum and Educational Center in Cambridge would be a worthwhile part of any trip to the Delmarva Peninsula. Additionally, the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park is a beautiful place for a hike or drive; the Tubman Byway takes visitors past 30 historic sites connected to the Underground Railroad and locations where Harriet spent time first as a young girl and later as the courageous woman whose actions changed history.
Enjoy a Visit to the Delmarva Peninsula!
By the time the sun rose over the Delmarva Peninsula for the first time in 2022, Adam and I were again settled at a table inside the Washington Inn and Tavern, this time enjoying pancakes and coffee and a great conversation with our server. After checking out, we stood under the awning and looked up and down Main Street. All traces of the celebration from the night before were gone: the oysters and cake booths had disappeared, the muskrat platform was dismantled and back in storage, and Marshall himself was undoubtedly in a warmer place, an eventful night of meeting and greeting the public and a tumultuous ride on a platform behind him for another turn around the sun.
Almost every corner of the world has a unique celebration or tradition that adds a little magic to the experience. Princess Anne is no different. In a way, we couldn’t have hoped for a more perfect New Year’s Eve. Sure, it rained. Yes, Marshall left us stuck between the old year and the new as he sat on his platform above us. But there were oysters and Smith Island Cake and laughter and the most welcoming of people. As we drove away, down the sleepy streets that would take us back home, Adam asked what I thought of our Delmarva New Year’s Eve. I smiled as I thought about the muskrat that fearlessly shepherded us into 2022.
“That’s one celebration we’re definitely going to repeat one day,” I told him. Save our spot, Marshall P. Muskrat: we’ll be back.
More Information: MainStreetPrincessAnne.org
Want to learn about more interesting locations around the world? Check out these posts from our archives!
* From time to time, our travels are directly impacted by a service or company. In this case, we visited multiple locations in Princess Anne and the Delmarva region of Maryland. This post includes our candid review of our experience. We selected this location based on our own research and travel needs; we were not offered and did not receive compensation of any kind from them or any other party in exchange for our review. Learn more about our travel philosophy here.