by Michael Lemanski

Norwich Bulletin

July 5, 2001, page 1

   WILLIMANTIC -- There aren't too many places where men in hula skirts, people dressed like frogs and tuxedo-wearing Harley riders fit in.

But at the annual July 4 Boom Box Parade in Willimantic, everything goes.

In fact, the rules clearly state, there are no rules.

"We've seen it on TV, but I had to do it," said 9-year old Windham Center resident Casten Wayme Wednesday, who whizzewd through the floats and revelers on his red, white, and blue-decorated bike.

For his mom and aunt, the mid-week holiday allowed for an opportunity to partake for the first time in perhaps Willimantic's largest extravaganza.

"We like it better than a parade with a band.  We like our 'band'" said his mother, Kye Paradise of Windham Center, who was enjoying the parade with her sister, Kemmie Paradise, and daugher Kally Wayme, 6.


The story of the annual Boom Box Parade, sponsored by WILI radio and various town organizations, is simple:  no bands.

Instead, revelers must bring radios so the local radio station can blast patriotic music to march to.

What the parade lacks in the form of live music, it more than makes up for in wacky, eclectic floats that pleast thousands along Main Street downtown.

And Wednesday was no different.

As usual, the Haggerty clan--led by Windham resident/first selectman candidate Dan Haggerty--stole the show.

For the 70 family members, the Boom Box Parade doubles as a family reunion, with planning beginning the previous Christmas. 

This year, the Haggerty's created the "Haggerosa Patrol," a keystone cops-like unit of family members chasing down Dan Haggerty, dressed in striped prison garb.

Haggerty said the history of this year's float--which was a series of wooden paddy wagons linked together like a train--comes from the family's Irish heritage, which includes both police officers and those who like "a pint or two."

"There's always got to be a good side of the Haggerty family to keep the other side under control," Dan Haggerty said, laughing.


Also laughing were parade-goers watching Mansfield resident Neil Lewis, and his wife, Julia Chapel.

Donning homemade frog costumes covering their bodies in green from head to toe, the duo brought guffaws as each had an end of a model Thread City Crossing attached to their posteriors.

Both paid tribute to the new bridge, and its famous frogs, which opened last September.

"The minute we saw the new bridge, we had the idea," Lewis said.  "We thought two frogs with a bridge stuck on our butts was perfect."

Adding perfection was their "tadpole" Sadie, the couple's German sheperd, also in frog garb.

"This is just a really good community thing to participate in," Chapel said.

Community is probably the optimum word to describe this parade, with local businesses, non-profit groups, and political activist organizations using the parade to exercise the democracy celebrated by the holiday.

Notable attractions were the Chronicle Printing Company's bear-theme brigade of marchers, WILI radio personality Wayne Norman's traditionally patriotic duds, and the Windham Theater Guild's re-creation of the frog bridge.

All of the activity, which took an hour to complete, had long time Willimantic resident Tracie Williams, 41, smiling on the sidelines.

"It's great to see the families come together like this," she said.  "Everybody is friendly."

And it gave her son, Raymond Lopez, 10, and niece, Daytona Bass, 8, the opportunity to stock up on candy in a Halloween-like confection heist--courtesy of parade participants tossing treats into the crowd.

For First Selectman Lohn Lescoe, this year's Boom Box Parade is his last as Windham's leader.  He's retiring after nearly three decades in public service.

Slightly perpiring from his jaunt--part of Democratic first selectman candidate Michael Paulhus' posse--Lescoe said this year's parade may have been the biggest.

"It's one of the nicest turnouts we've had," Lescoe said.  "You name it, it was in the parade."


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