Sue Grant insists she is not much for throwing parties. Nor is she particularly fond of the movie "Titanic." And as for New Year's Eve, she's usually in bed by midnight.
Yet here she is at her rural Anne Arundel County home, awaiting the arrival today of a lifeboat, an antique car, a case of White Star champagne, 100 costumed guests and a towering ice sculpture of -- what else? -- an iceberg.
Even for the end of a millennium, this will be some kind of party.
"I wanted it to be an extraordinary event, one I could share with all of those who are important to my life," said Grant, a mortgage banker. "It's a gathering of goodness."
For thousands like her, home is where the party is this New Year's Eve. Even as some of the big, public parties are canceled -- notably the MCI Center concert and Ronald Reagan Building gala here and Seattle's countdown celebration -- the smaller, private affairs go on, from edgy hipster gatherings in Dupont Circle to quiet neighborhood potlucks in the suburbs.
In Grant's case, it's not that she's afraid of terrorists or computer problems or any of the other predicted menaces that are scaring some revelers. Those things never crossed her mind, she said. Rather, her elaborately themed soiree has been a happy accident of sorts, a wispy idea that quickly became a passion.
Along the way, she and friends said, the event also became a way to revive a life left empty by the loss of her husband. Jerry Grant died last year at 59, after a four-year battle with bone-marrow cancer.
"She's had a lot of changes in her life recently, difficult things," said Edlu Thom, a close friend and neighbor who will attend tonight's party with her husband and friends from San Diego. "I think she's finally gotten back on her feet, and this has really given her something to focus on. . . . She's been excited about it since day one."
The notion got its start, oddly enough, poolside during an Aruba vacation in April, when friends informed Grant it was up to her to host the group's millennial celebration. Shortly thereafter, she happened to catch James Cameron's epic film "Titanic" on television in her time-share condominium -- and a party was born.
Eight months later, the replica boarding passes, luggage tags and stateroom assignments have been handed out, and guests are starting to arrive. More than a dozen will stay overnight at the homes of generous neighbors. The White Star Line "tickets" include first class and steerage, although all will partake of the party. Fifty friends and relatives were invited, each of whom can bring a "best friend" to share the dawn of the new year.
Grant, a high-spirited 47-year-old who is followed around her house by a sibling pair of four-pound Yorkshire terriers, said the scope of the party just kept growing as planning proceeded. Friends aren't surprised.
"She's the kind of person that, once she gets an idea, she does it to the Nth degree," said Wally Cheever, a close friend from New Hampshire who, with his wife, Jan, was with Grant at the party's inception. "She's very focused and energetic."
Guests will dress in period costumes, with several in the guise of real-life or Hollywood characters. At least three plan to portray the doomed Capt. Edward J. Smith, while another will stand in for the "unsinkable" Margaret "Molly" Brown, played in the film by Kathy Bates.
In addition to the lifeboat and the iceberg sculpture, guests will be met with fake dock pilings in the yard, a loading ramp leading to the front door and, once inside, ship furnishings and a painstaking re-creation of the famed liner's final menu: oysters Rockefeller, poached salmon, leg of lamb and Waldorf pudding, to name a few of the offerings from that last supper.
One room in Grant's home will be set up for gentlemen to gather in, smoke cigars and sip cognac. An elaborate Titanic trivia game has been set up for some friendly competition. And Grant's caterer happens to be acquainted with a special guest: explorer Tom Dettweiler, who helped discover the sunken Titanic wreckage 400 miles south of Newfoundland in 1985 and will give party guests a slide show of his adventures.
The British luxury liner Titanic had its fateful collision with an iceberg a few minutes before midnight on April 14, 1912, on its maiden voyage from Southampton, England, en route to New York. By the time the clock struck 12, the great ship was beginning to flood, and its orchestra famously began playing upbeat tunes to calm the passengers. About 1,500 lives were lost when the vessel went down some two hours later.
"The timing is almost too perfect; it's spooky," said Anna Chaney, who is catering Grant's party. "It is ironic that she picked this theme and date and time."
Grant, who estimated she will spend $10,000 on the event, said she never focused on the tragic side of the Titanic story, nor on any connection to apocalyptic views of the new millennium.
Instead, she said, she's throwing her party to bring together close friends in a fun environment "because people are much more important to me now." Her late husband, she said, would have wanted it that way.
"I lay in bed looking up at the ceiling and tell him, `I'm so sorry you're not going to be here in person to see this. You would get a kick out of this,' " Grant said. "He would have loved this so much."