HAPPY NEW YEAR!

By Samantha Gross and Virginia Byrne/The Associated Press

NEW YORK — Hundreds of thousands of revelers in chilly weather in Times Square cheered when an 11,875-pound crystal ball covered with more than 32,000 bulbs dropped at midnight, ushering in the new decade and ending 10 years marred by war, recession, terrorism and threats of environmental catastrophe.

“Much happiness and for the world, much peace,” said Joao Lacerda of Brazil, 58, one of many who came from around the world to celebrate in midtown Manhattan.

Many people wore conical party hats and 2010 glasses that blinked colorfully, and some were jumping up and down to keep warm as a cold rain fell Thursday night.

Cell phones were brought out to document the last few hours of a decade many wanted to leave behind.

Gail Guay of Raymond, N.H., came to New York City with two friends to celebrate her 50th birthday. The trio carried a huge white hotel towel with “Happy New Year New Hampshire 2010″ printed on it.

Reflecting on the past decade when she had buried her mother, Guay had this advice: “Don’t look back.”

But a sense of starting fresh remains elusive for many, who wonder what sort of legacy begins on Jan. 1, 2010.

David Fraley, 56, of Las Vegas, attended a party in Sin City’s downtown where 35,000 were expected.

“This decade’s over. Let’s get a better one going,” said Fraley, who said he lost his job as a supermarket liquor clerk in March.

“The meaning of the new decade is going to be diminished by the hangover of the last decade,” says Bob Batchelor, professor of mass communications at Kent State University and author of “The 2000s,” published before the decade was even done. “That makes it tough to be as optimistic as Americans usually are.”

But New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was more tempered in his assessment.

“If you put it in the context of what people are suffering around the world, we’re in very good shape,” he said from Times Square.

Ramona Vlada of Romania, 28, echoed that sentiment. “I have many wishes for 2010!” she said. “I wish to be healthy, love and to be loved at the same time.”

Celebrations took many forms, with concerts, fireworks, and the timed drop of favorite local symbols.

In the Tennessee cities of Memphis and Nashville, organizers dropped a 10-foot red guitar. In Atlanta, an 800-pound fiberglass peach took a 138-foot plunge. In North Carolina, Brasstown, near the Georgia border, planned its annual opossum drop, a 3-foot glowing pickle dropped in Mount Olive and the capital city of Raleigh lowered a 1,200-pound steel and copper acorn. In Eastport, Maine, an 8-foot wooden sardine was to be dropped.

In Boston, more than 1,000 artists and performers participated in the “First Night” celebrations. Artists were to display six ice sculptures, including a replica of one of the Boston Museum of Fine Art’s 4,000-year-old Egyptian sculptures.

And in Chicago, the city’s Transit Authority offered rides for a penny to help residents and visitors get in place for fireworks displays planned during the evening and at midnight. Bus and light rail service was free in Denver, where two fireworks displays were planned.

And around the world, from fireworks in Sydney to balloons sent aloft in Tokyo, revelers at least temporarily shelved worries about the future to bid farewell to the first decade of the century.

The partygoers in New York City brought out heightened police security, displayed a day earlier when police evacuated several blocks around Times Square to investigate a parked van without license plates. Only clothing and clothes racks were found inside.

New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, speaking from Times Square on a Webcast, said the department had “many, many” police officers in the crowd, both uniformed and plainclothes.

“This is something we do every year,” he said. “We change it somewhat so it’s not that predictable.”

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Associated Press writer Oskar Garcia in Las Vegas contributed to this report.

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