By Michael Lemanski, Norwich Bulletin

July 5, 2000

   WILLIMANTIC--You don't get more American than Willimantic's annual July Fourth Boom Box Parade.

   And for a little more than an hour Tuesday, downtown Willimantic was transformed into a microcosm of the nation thousands of participants and spectators were honoring.

   "It's great," remarked Don Protheroe, owner of Village Nursery in Ashford.  "The creativity here is magnificent.  You wouldn't find it anywhere else."

   Protheroe's parade float, "Teddy Bears on a White Cedar Table," was one of dozens that coasted along Main Street from Jillson Square and Veterans Memorial Park.

   For sheer creativity and fun, few extravaganzas rival this annual event--which features a mixture of tradition and spontaneity.

   And buoyed by music played by the local radio station over radios brought in by parade goers and participants, this event has been a downtown fixture since 1986.

   One tradition is parade grand marshal Wayne Norman's "secret" parade costume, which was the first sight spectators were priveleged to enjoy when festivities stepped off at 11 a.m. sharp.

   This year the longtime WILI radio personality paid tribute to past "Romantic Willimantic Cupids" (a designation serving as Willimantic's Citizen of the Year award).

   In honoring the "Cupid's" of yesteryear, the 1982 inaugural Cupid dressed as a patriotic Cupid, complete with a diaper, red, white and blue shirt, and a giant drum major hat.

   Behind Norman, however, were enough candy-throwing floats to keep area dentiss busy for months.

   Leading the guffaws was the ever-popular Haggerty family float.  Long a tradition, the float this y ear was of an alien theme, with tributes to Roswell, N.M., and their alien "bretheren."

   Since Christmas, the Haggerty posse--85-90 strong--plan their annual family reunion to coincide with the Boom Box Parade.

   The end result is usually one of the event's more memorable creations: in this case a pickup pulling three "flying saucers."

   With flourescent green T-shirts with aliens on them, along with some family members donning alien masks, this drew more than its share of laughs.

   "I'll tell you, its a great time being here," said Willimantic resident Dan Haggerty--the official spokesman of the clan, which featured family members from Illinois, Long Island, and even Florida.  "Half the fun is building the floats in your back yard."

   While laughs dominated the event, the Boom Box Parade also served as a springboard for several groups to promote their causes--an exercise in the most American of rights: free speech.

   From gay and lesbian rights to education to protesting U. S. test bombing of an island off Puerto Rico (home to many Willimantic residents), democracy flowered downtown.

   That, combined with the community spirit, enhanced the parade experience for many.

   "I've been coming here here for many years," said Willimantic resident Ruby Mitchell, who came with three other generations of her family. "I think it's beautiful."

   Mitchell's daughter, Mary Spruell, agreed.  "Everybody gets together.  It's like a big gathering and the kids enjoy it," Spruell said, looking on as her daughter and two grandchildren collected candy from the floats. "And us big kids enjoy it too."

   Two big kids who have enjoyed practically every parade are retirees Vicki Staab of Storrs, and her longtime pal Helen Federowicz of Coventry.

   "It just seems that everybody tries so hard to do a little better than last year," Staud said of the growing complexity of the floats.  Said Federowicz, "This is something we never miss."

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