Dancing in the Streets under a Giant Mushroom: Life Returns to Normal in Kennett Square

As the hopeful fresh chapter of a new year begins, Kennett Squareans will be able to welcome 2022 with a celebration that feels like a return to normalcy. The beloved Midnight in the Square and 9th annual Mushroom Drop will be back in the center of town on December 31st.

The excitement has been palpable at the return of events like the Mushroom Festival, the Kennett Brewfest, Tinsel on the Town, and the Kennett Square Holiday Village Market this year. There’s a renewed and deeper appreciation for the traditions and festivals that make our community unique and the shared experiences that also strengthen our connections to one another. “There’s finally a sense of the community getting out and coming together again, and we’re super excited to see Midnight in the Square come back,” says Joe D’Amico, vice-president of To-Jo Mushrooms and one of the event’s original sponsors.

“We need it,” says Mushroom Cap owner, longtime Mushroom Festival coordinator, and Midnight in the Square organizer Kathi Lafferty, “to welcome in a new year after all that’s gone on this year.” Lafferty built on the success of the Mushroom Festival to organize Midnight in the Square, which is hosted by the Mushroom Festival and the Kennett Area Restaurant & Merchant Association.

A Mushroom Is Born

It all began in September 2013, when State Representative John Lawrence asked Lafferty about dropping a giant mushroom on New Year’s Eve. Lafferty went to D’Amico with her idea for building a giant mushroom and, through a series of local collaborations, the idea mushroomed and took shape. In an extraordinarily short period of time, this community-wide New Year’s Eve party designed to bring people together for a unique celebration that honored the area’s heritage and most important industry came together.

D’Amico particularly loves the fact that local vendors came together to support and bring the idea to fruition. To-Jo Mushrooms funded the construction of the eight-foot, 700-pound stainless steel mushroom, which was built by M&P Custom Design with lighting by V.P. Electrical Contracting.

But when Lafferty learned that it wouldn’t be possible to use a fire truck to hoist the mushroom, she thought it was all over. She knew it would be too expensive to hire a crane, but she asked Rich Nichols, of Bob’s Crane Service, how much it would cost. “For you,” he said, “there’s no cost. I’m a part of this community.” Lafferty knew she couldn’t turn that down. “It’s the reason I went ahead,” she says. Bob’s Crane Service has hoisted and lowered the giant mushroom every year since, and Nichols, along with Price Stevenson and Kathi and Tommy Lafferty, serve as the Midnight in the Square committee.

Nine years later, the Mushroom Drop is a well-established and well-loved tradition that draws thousands of locals as well as revelers from further afield looking to cross a New Year’s mushroom drop off their bucket list. While they might come for the bragging rights of witnessing such a spectacle, they’re invariably struck by the community spirit that’s tangible in town even on the frostiest of New Year’s Eves.

The giant lighted mushroom has an aura about it, says Lafferty. “People love it—they want to touch it, they can’t wait to get their pictures under it.” She smiles. “I think the community likes it.” D’Amico agrees. “The community has grown to love both the event and the mushroom, which has become a symbol of something bigger.”

Locating the celebration in the center of town, with the mushroom at the intersection of State and Union Streets, is important symbolically as well as logistically, says Lafferty. Even in the midst of a global pandemic, Lafferty and her team did not drop the ball on New Year’s Eve celebrations in Kennett Square. Last year’s pivot to dropping the mushroom in the parking lot at 600 South Broad Street and livestreaming the event was a testament to an indomitable community spirit, and Lafferty was amazed and touched by how many people parked in the Kennett High School lot to watch the event. But she’s delighted to have the celebration return, in person, to State Street this year. And, she adds, there will be shuttles to bring people to participate in the party at the center of town.

This Year’s Festivities

The streets will close at 5pm on December 31, and the mushroom will take its traditional route around town before arriving at the intersection of State and Union Streets. Midnight in the Square attractions and entertainment, which begin at 7:30pm, include a laser light show that will continue throughout the festivities. Also performing “in the circle” (under the mushroom at State and Union) will be popular local DJ Kevin Pierce, dancers from KMC, and beloved Kennett Square musician Jack Marshall. On the Roll food truck will be set up on State Street as well.

Anyone, young or old, who turns into a pumpkin before midnight will still be able to enjoy the raising of the mushroom, which takes place at 8:55pm. After the mushroom is raised, the Funsters, a ten-piece band with a topnotch sound system and enough onstage energy and camaraderie to warm even the coldest night, will be on stage until 12:30am.

The event will also be livestreamed on Facebook and Instagram, Lafferty says, and the committee suggests that people use their best judgment concerning COVID precautions.

A Gift to the Community from the Mushroom Industry

Building, transporting, raising, and lowering the mushroom require not only the expertise and heavy machinery owned by local mushroom growers and the companies that support the industry, but also the kind of teamwork, support, and cooperation that are at the heart of the industry.

“It’s a tough time for the industry,” Lafferty says, “with production issues in addition to labor shortages.” While the challenging effects of the pandemic continue to be felt, the mushroom industry is deeply rooted in the community and has given generously to make this event, a gift to the community, happen. Every year, Lafferty brings these faithful sponsors together to create a celebration of epic proportions that’s far greater than any one entity could pull together on its own.

“The Mushroom Festival created a buzz and has become so popular,” says D’Amico, “but Midnight in the Square has been talked about nationally and is probably equally as popular. To-Jo Mushrooms is happy to be involved with Midnight in the Square and we appreciate everyone who helps make the event happen. As an industry, we’re excited to come together to offer something fun for the whole community to enjoy.”

“We can’t solve the problems in the rest of the world,” says Tommy Lafferty, “but we can have some fun here in Kennett Square.”