Boombox Parade sparkles on Fourth
By MICHAEL LEMANSKI
Norwich Bulletin Friday, July 5, 2002

 

WILLIMANTIC -- The temperature was in excess of 92 degrees, but it felt closer to 100.
Still, 18-year-old Peter Mitchell of Willimantic had no regrets about his garb for the 2002 Willimantic Boombox Parade, which went off without a hitch Thursday.

Donning his heavy, brown U.S. Army dress uniform, the 2002 Windham High School graduate had no problem dealing with the heat. He is proud to serve his country.

Mitchell wanted to join so badly, he doubled up on his workload and graduated in January. When he's back on duty, he'll fire rockets from tanks.

Nancy Albert of Lebanon and her grandson, Max Hiatt, 18 months, of Willimantic applaud the marchers in the Boombox Parade on Main St. in Willimantic Thursday

With Sept. 11 still on everyone's minds, the 17th annual parade -- sponsored by the Windham recreation department and WILI radio -- had a different tone this year.

"It means a lot, because I'm in the Army," Mitchell, who was home for July 4 awaiting his assignment, said. "I know that my fellow people have died for this country."

This year, it appeared that the parade had a record number of marchers. Because anyone and everyone can march, organizers generally measure the size by how long it takes.

According to WILI radio personality Wayne Norman, the event's annual grand marshal, the parade took 1 hour, 31 minutes, "by far" the longest parade.

In fact, one of the final floats -- courtesy of the Eastern Connecticut Railroad Museum in Willimantic -- got under way more than an hour after the 11 a.m. event started.

Thousands, meanwhile, lined the 0.7-mile parade route with radios that played patriotic from the local radio station.

While there were visibly fewer spectators, it may have been because many were marching for the first time.

"It's a great turnout. I'm very pleased," Windham First Selectman Michael Paulhus said, before marching off on his own. "It's a people parade and, every year, it seems to get bigger. People enjoy it and we like to get a good turnout."

Kaye Chamberland, a senior citizen from Chaplin, was one parade newcomer who experienced a bout of inspiration.

Marchers dressed as the Statue of Liberty walk up Main St. in the parade.

Patriotic spirit

Seven years ago, illness nearly claimed the Chamberland's life. Now, with Sept. 11 patriotism buoying a new-found enthusiasm for life, she and friends, along with a trucker friend, staffed a flatbed, held up signs and threw candy to the crowd.

She said she and her friends are not senior citizens, but "recycled teens."

"I think we're all getting a little more involved," Chamberland said. "The parade is not just for kids. It's for all ages. I've always wanted to do it. I got sick in '95 and almost died twice. I'm feeling very good."

Always a patriotic display, the events of September swayed this usually zany parade into a more traditional affair.

Some groups had pro-peace slogan signs, others had signs saying "Remember Sept. 11." Windham Regional Vocational-Technical School staffers pulled a float depicting a 3-D New York City skyline ... with the World Trade Center.

An oasis

This year, First Baptist Church of Willimantic, on Main Street at Jillson Square, was more than just a spiritual oasis. It was a haven for the weary and thirsty as free lemonade was given out.

"It's just so good it's on Independence Day. View this parade. Everybody can make a statement," said Pastor Fred Wright. "It's really a family type of thing."

No Boombox Parade, however, is complete without Windham resident Dan Haggerty's crazy clan, which uses the July 4 holiday as the centerpiece for its annual family reunion.

As a result, nearly 100 of Haggerty's family members staffed four floats for what was called "Haggerosa's Hillbillies."

Led by Haggerty, who wore red long underwear, fake hillbilly teeth and had a corncob pipe, the clan trudged along Main Street.

The posse was manning a hillbilly shack float, an outhouse, a moonshine distillery float and, of course, an antique fire engine bringing up the rear.

Haggerty explained why, with tongue firmly implanted in cheek.

"We brought the family ranch and we brought the family toilet facility," he said, laughing. "Of course, being a hot day, we had to bring liquid refreshment for us. But when you run stills in the woods, you've got to have a firetruck.

"The family recipe sometimes gets out of control."

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