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Published: Friday, 12/30/2005

Waterville to go 'Mad' to herald the new year

BY STEVE MURPHY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Jim Wendt knows there are a lot of fish stories about Capt. Wylie Walleye, but Port Clinton's taxidermist doesn't take the bait: He knows that Wylie, the famous fiberglass fish that is lowered 120 feet each New Year's Eve at midnight, is 17 feet, 6 inches. The Port Clinton tradition began in 1996, and Mr. Wendt fashioned a replacement for the original papier-mache one. Jim Wendt knows there are a lot of fish stories about Capt. Wylie Walleye, but Port Clinton's taxidermist doesn't take the bait: He knows that Wylie, the famous fiberglass fish that is lowered 120 feet each New Year's Eve at midnight, is 17 feet, 6 inches. The Port Clinton tradition began in 1996, and Mr. Wendt fashioned a replacement for the original papier-mache one.
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After watching thousands of people visit Port Clinton each New Year's Eve to watch a giant fiber-glass walleye drop from the sky at midnight, some folks in Waterville decided to try the same thing with their town's unofficial mascot.

So tomorrow night, a life-size, blow-up dummy of Gen. "Mad" Anthony Wayne will be lowered by rope and pulley from the roof of a two-story historic tavern on Third Street as the last seconds of 2005 tick away.

Owner Kim Crawford hopes the celebration at Mad Anthony's Tavern will turn into an annual event that showcases a piece of Waterville's heritage, just like Capt. Wylie Walleye promotes Port Clinton's claim to be "The Walleye Capital of the World."

"New York City drops its crystal ball, Port Clinton drops its fish - I mean, there's towns all over that drop things," Ms. Crawford said. "It's Waterville, and we're so proud of 'Mad' Anthony, so why don't we drop him?"

General Wayne is remembered mostly for leading U.S. troops to victory over a force of Native Americans during the Battle of Fallen Timbers, fought near present-day Maumee in 1794.

His "mad" nickname stems from his penchant for training and disciplining his troops to the point of mutiny and his single-minded focus on his military duties. When General Wayne's wife, Polly, died in the early 1790s, he refused to take a leave from his duties to attend her funeral.

The general enjoys a starring role in Waterville's Roche de Boeuf Festival each September, when he parades through town in uniform.

Ms. Crawford is unsure how many people will turn out for the general's descent. "We've put flyers out all over. We hope people will bring their kids out for something different," she said.

In Port Clinton, Capt. Wylie Walleye will make his 10th straight New Year's Eve appearance as he descends 120 feet from the top of a crane at Perry and Madison streets downtown.

The Lake Erie city's annual "Walleye Madness at Midnight" festival is a local fixture, but the wacky holiday tradition might have stalled after its first two years if not for Jim Wendt.

Mr. Wendt, who owns Jim's Taxidermy in Port Clinton, was asked seven years ago to produce a replacement mascot for the celebration because the original papier-mache fish that debuted on New Year's Eve nine years ago was crumbling.

Mr. Wendt, who mounts such wildlife as lions and leopards, designed the wood-framed fish that has been the star of the year-ending show ever since.

He's as surprised as anyone that his creation is still drawing crowds. "When we built it, I didn't know how long it was going to last," Mr. Wendt said.

One thing he does know is that Wylie's reported size has grown in true fish-story fashion. The event's official Web site lists him at 20 feet long and 600 pounds.

"I don't know if anybody's ever weighed him," he said. "And the length varies, up to about 3 feet. ... Actually, Wylie is 17 feet, 6 inches. I know that for sure. I'm the one who laid out all the plywood in the back of the shop."

Whatever Wylie's true dimensions, no one doubts he's become a big economic generator for Port Clinton's downtown businesses. Each New Year's Eve, several thousand visitors fill downtown motel rooms, shops, and restaurants, spending money during what otherwise is the tourist city's off-season.

"We fill up every year," said Don Clemons, who owns the Lakeland Motel on Perry Street, a block from the drop site at Perry and Madison streets.

Mr. Clemons hosts a cocktail party for guests in the motel's 41 rooms, then closes the office at 11:30 p.m. so visitors and employees can watch the fish fall. "It's a nice little getaway in the middle of winter," he said.

Contact Steve Murphy at:

smurphy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6078.



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