Dec. 31, 1999
Celebrating the new year is one thing, but celebrating a new millennium required upping your game.
That’s just what happened in Scranton in 1999, when the City Pride Committee of Scranton Tomorrow decided to put on an event dubbed First Night, a family-oriented gathering featuring music, theater, a parade and fireworks to ring in the new year and millennium.
The First Night concept came about in Boston in 1976, and, in 1999, Scranton became the 16th city in Pennsylvania to hold a First Night celebration.
Events happened throughout the downtown, with the Mall at Steamtown hosting John Stanky and the Coal Miners and the Poets. At Bishop Hannan High School, guests could see the play “Charlotte’s Web” and hear performances by Big Daddy Dex and Mere Mortals. Doug Smith’s Dixieland All-Stars performed at Scranton Fire Department on Mulberry Street, AFA Gallery presented Elaine Woodall Marionettes and Vicky Town Storytelling, and Ballet Theater of Scranton and the Alliance String Quartet performed at Diversified Information Technologies on Wyoming Avenue.
To attend the First Night indoor events, people had to buy a button for a $5 early-bird price and for $7 after Dec. 25. Outdoor events, such as the People’s Procession of Self Expression and the fireworks display at midnight, were free.
Churches in the city also joined in on the celebration. Elm Park United Methodist Church started the night with a potluck supper followed by games and conversation that lead to an 11 p.m. service. The church offered hot chocolate and cookies during the fireworks display.
St. Peter’s Cathedral kept the church’s doors open all night for the exposition of the blessed sacrament, and a millennium Mass occurred Jan. 1 at 12:30 a.m.
Bethel AME and Shiloh Baptist churches held a joint Watch Night Service at Bethel on North Washington Avenue at 11 p.m.
First Night was a hit with the thousands of people who filled downtown. Alita Soulsby of Blakely attended with her three children.
“It’s really been wonderful, and the kids are having a great time,” she told a Scranton Times reporter.
“I am so proud to live in Scranton,” Anna Romanisky said at the time. “In all my years, I have never been to something as wonderful as this, and I am just so glad that they put this all together.”
First Night Scranton continued annually until Dec. 31, 2015.
In 2017, Lackawanna County and several sponsors put on a new, family-friendly New Year’s Eve event at the former Ritz Theater Building on Wyoming Avenue. It did not continue in 2018.
Brian Fulton has been the librarian at The Times-Tribune for the past 15 years. On his blog, Historically Hip, he writes about the great concerts, plays/musicals and celebrity happenings that have taken place throughout NEPA. He is also the co-host of the local history podcast, Historically Hip. He competed and was crowned grand champion on an episode of NPR quiz show “Ask Me Another.” Contact: email@example.com; 570-348-9140; or @TTPagesPast