BY PAUL LEIGHTON
---- — BEVERLY — Midnight came five hours early in downtown Beverly last night, which was just fine with the more than 2,000 people who attended Beverly’s New Year 2013.
Volunteers tossed hundreds of beach balls out of the second-story window of People’s United Bank on Cabot Street at 7 p.m. to the waiting crowd below, capping off the family-oriented event well before 2013 actually arrived.
“It’s good because they feel like they can experience New Year’s Eve,” said Meaghan Cassidy of Beverly, pointing to her 8-year-old son, Connor, and 2-year-old daughter, Ryleigh. “They can go to bed at a reasonable time and let the adults stay up until midnight.”
That’s the theory, anyway. As Cassidy was talking, Connor tugged on her winter coat and reminded her that he stayed up until midnight last year, too.
The early ending has been a big success for Beverly’s New Year, which years ago had trouble sustaining crowds when it lasted all the way to midnight. Beverly Main Streets, which runs the annual celebration, shifted the schedule to 3 to 7 p.m. several years ago to focus on young families.
Last night, organizers nearly sold out of the 2,000 buttons that cost $5 and are required for admission to some of the events. Main Streets Executive Director Gin Wallace estimated the overall crowd at around 2,300.
“We thought we were going to have to print stickers because we were running out of buttons,” Wallace said. “This is probably the biggest crowd we’ve had in the last few years.”
The night featured several events at various indoor locations along Cabot Street, which was closed to traffic, as well as several outdoor performances, including fire-spinning acts by Spiral Glyphics and Eternal Lotus Fire Collective.
About 100 people joined in the Grand Procession down Cabot Street, many of them wearing the inspired costumes sewn by retired Beverly arts teacher Margo Jones. This year, the procession included the Super Bowl champion Beverly High football team, with one of its captains, Marc Babcock, proudly carrying the Super Bowl trophy.
After the procession, honorary grand marshal Peter Frates spoke to the crowd as his fiance, Julie Kowalik, stood at his side. Frates, a 28-year-old Beverly resident and former Boston College baseball captain, was diagnosed in March with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Frates wished everyone a Happy New Year and encouraged people to support the cause of finding a cure for ALS.
For the Ricciuti family — parents James and Alexandra and kids Inez, 9, and Nathaniel, 6 — the Beverly’s New Year celebration has become a regular part of their holiday celebration.
“It’s a lot of fun,” James Ricciuti said as Nathaniel danced to the music blaring from speakers in front of the YMCA. “It’s really fun for the kids.”
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or email@example.com.