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A Gaston County group keeps tradition alive by busting their muskets 

Popping off

In last week's issue, we told stories of some different objects (both inanimate and living) that are dropped from poles in small towns around North Carolina to countdown the last seconds into the new year.

This week, Creative Loafing caught up with some folks residing a little closer to the Queen City who would rather point their guns to the sky and blast off on New Year's Eve.

The official Cherryville Shooters group has been stomping around the western Gaston County town of Cherryville shooting muskets in front of homes for 55 years, but the traditions goes back centuries.

The Philadelphia Mummurs was a group of folks who walked house to house on New Year's Eve singing songs, doing dances and firing guns to "shoot off the New Year."

The group arrived at neighbors' doorsteps (at a time when these so-called neighbors often lived many miles apart) and recited chants like "Here we stand before your door, as we stood the year before; give us whiskey, give us gin; open the door and let us in," while packing their muskets outside.

Out of context, that sounds horrifying, but the event is a chance for neighbors who may only cross paths once or twice a year, if that, to socialize and party together before the new year begins.

The Mummurs even entertained president George Washington while he was in office, as Philadelphia still served as the nation's capital at that time.

Over the years, people from Philadelphia settled in the Cherryville area and continued the tradition.

Marching miles, sometimes through snow, to bring good cheer to surrounding homes, they now recite a much longer chant passed down over generations that's a little more Christian-based than alcohol-based, but it gets the job done.

The official group formed in 1960, and this year about 450 people will be traveling around town for 18 hours blasting muskets so full of black powder (no bullets) that shooters can't fire from their shoulder, but rather hold the guns underhanded below the waist.

By the time the men reach Rudisill Stadium, where the event wraps up with a thunderous finale of mullet blasts, men are falling over on the field as they pull the trigger. It's unclear from the YouTube videos whether it's the gunpowder or the spirits that put them on their backs, but it looks like a good time either way.

Creative Loafing recently caught up with Rusty Wise, secretary with the Cherryville Shooters ("I do all the headache stuff"). He's been shooting with the group for 35 years, since he turned 16, and he talked about what the night of shooting means for his town.

Creative Loafing: What's the draw of this event for you and your fellow shooters?

Rusty Wise: That's the only time I see a lot of people in town. We say it's like an ancient Facebook in how you're socializing. It depends on the weather, but it's basically a New Year's party that goes from house to house for 18.5 hours. You can imagine a party lasting 18.5 hours just going house to house and celebrating and we do it with the muskets and entertaining the host. If you look at the old pictures, they used to have banjos and guitars, we don't do that anymore but we do the chant and then the musket blasts.

Are the same muskets used that were used in some of the first marches?

Some of them are still original guns, but the majority of 'em are reproductions of Civil War-type muskets. We raffle one off every year; a replica. The guns are getting harder and harder to find every year. How many people need a Civil War replica other than reenactors and us shooters?

Is it costly?

It's an expensive undertaking. If you go it's two-to-three hundred dollars that you'll spend just to go. You'll shoot five to 10 pounds of powder at $18 a pound.

Has anybody complained about the tradition?

In today's politically correct world what we do is seen as kind of dangerous, but we have safety in mind. It's a pretty unique tradition. Hopefully, we can keep it safe and keep it going because it's so unique, it's so different.

Everyone has their own unique traditions like the Polar Plunges and all kind of things around and I'm sure the Charlotte area has a lot of different events, but to my knowledge, we're about the only ones that do the shooting on as large of a scale as we do.

The original event was believed to scare off bad spirits and demons that could negatively affect crops in those agricultural times. Have those beliefs changed over time?

We say the chant, but nobody's really looking for witches and ghosts. But come to think of it, I've yet to see one of them on New Year's so it must be working.

Over your 35 years of shooting, what are some of your favorite memories?

When it snows. I always remember the snows that we have. The weather affects it, so when it snows that's always when it gets interesting because we still go rain, shine, sleet or snow.

If you really look at the videos and pictures we keep you can see the kids grow up shooting. They start out as young as 3 or 4 years old and next thing you know they're 18, then next thing you know they're 40 and 50.

It's really something to see the progression of generations that do it.

What's great about it is that all you need is gunpowder and a musket and you're still doing it the same way they were doing it 200 years ago.

It really hasn't changed at all in terms of what we do in 200 years.

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