FREEDOM FETED

By Gail Ellen Daly, Chronicle Staff Writer

July 5, 2000

   WILLIMANTIC--No one does the Fourth of July better than Willimantic.

   At least that was how the estimated 5,000 people lining Main Street viewed the 15th annual Boom Box Parade.

   "The parade has put this town on the map," said resident Tammy Gerds as she waited for the signal to start marching.  "It's fun, it draws a crowd and it got Willimantic noticed."

   Dressed in red, white, and blue, Gerds and Gabriel Foreman were about to march for the first time.

   Red, white, and blue was almost everywhere, but the Fresh Air Fund marchers preferred a "back to nature" green.

   However, Travis, a white standard poodle, wore the color of the day.  "We used a vegetable dye," owner Susan Brown of Storrs explained.  "If we can it it, it won't hurt him."

   As an uncounted number of floats and walkers stepped off at exactly 11 a.m. from Jillson Square, familiar marching tunes blared from and untold number of radios.  Grand Marshal Wayne Norman of WILI once again led the line of marchers.

   Using a borrowed landscape trailer, youngsters from Windham Youth Wrestling were filling large squirt guns from a portable swimming pool.  "We want to promote youth wrestling and would like other youth to get involved," said co-director and coach James Poulin.

   The weather cooperated as the hot sun was often hidden by clouds.  A slight breeze kept the marchers relatively comfortable.

   Nevertheless, members of the First Baptist Church were handing out cups of free lemonade.  As the parade began, they had gone through 300 paper cups.

   The ladies from Table 12, sitting on the Moose Club float, traveled in style.  "We're the last oen to leave every club function," Gail Morin said.

   Once again, the Haggerty family, which centers its annual family reunion around the parade, came up with a creative idea -- a collection of "aliens" from Planet Haggerosa walked or rode down Main Street.

   Local businesses, political parties and several of Windham's elementary schools were well represented.

   On a more serious note, a move for the town to purchase a parcel of lane on Hosmer Mountain as an open space prompted two separate efforts.  The Coalition to Save Hosmer Mountain float featured a large three-dimensional papier-mache mountain.

   A group of residents wearing fish heads carried a sign reading "Save Hosmer Mountain."

   "There is no organized coalition," said Selectman Tom DeVivo, who had suggested to the full board of selectmen that the town purchase the property before any developers come along.  "'The coalition' is a tongue-in-cheek play on the Coalition to Save Horsebarn Hill in Storrs."

   However, DeVivo said he has had numerous positive phone calls from residents anxious for the town to purchase the 77-acre parcel.

   Karen Drazen, marching with the fish people, pointed at Hosmer Mountain in the distance.  "It's one of our greatest assets," she said.

   All along the parade route, on this most American of holidays, no one talked about serious matters.  Spectators waved at the marchers as children ran into the road to gather candy being thrown by those marching or riding in it.

   Johnny Boyd, a visitor from Salisbury Center, N. Y., called the candy the best part of the parade.

   Another long-distance visitor, Brittany Labbe of Oklahoma, said the parade was "cool."  Autumn Whitney of Lebanon said it was great to see such a large turnout.

   Willimantic Police Chief Milton King said the crowd was the largest in several years.

   "I live in Norwich," said spectator Robert Hatcher, "but this is a great town and a great parade and that's because anyone can walk."

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