BOOM BOX BONANZA

By Michael Goodin, staff writer, Willimantic Chronicle

July 5, 2001

WILLIMANTIC -- Thousands lined each side of Main Street on Wednesday to see what might be the wackiest Independence Day parade in the country.

The 16th annual Boom Box Parade was a hit, generating a tremendous turnout and a fantastic variety of floats and costumes as participants marched from Jillson Square to Memorial Park.

Almost every aspect of the Willimantic community was visible in some capacity at the the event, while WILI pumped out all the patriotic music the parade needed.

In its 16-year history, the parade has attracted people from all over the world and has received national media attention.  This year, the variety Willimantic residents have learned to expect from their beloved parade was evident as ever.

Thread City Crossing, with its four bronze frogs and cement thread spools, seemed to inspire many of this year's parade entries.  Indeed, frogs seemed to be the unofficial theme.  At least 12 people donned green suits and frog heads.  They were often greeted with loud cheers from the crowd.  The Windham Theater Guild created a float with four actors in frog costumes on spools around a small bridge while two frog-crazy citizens dressed as frogs attached a bridge between them.

Children loved the parade for all the free candy and elaborate floats.  Almost every float that went by tossed a handful of treats to eager kids sitting curbside.  At small breaks in between floats, chidren would drag their parents into the street and collect as much candy as they could before the  next float arrived.  One child on a bike figured out how to panhandle for candy on his bike, riding up and down the parade route from float to float filling a plastic cup.

The Traveling Fish Head Club of Northeast Connecticut made its 13th appearance at the parade. Members of the club had written the phrase "nice bridge" on a side of one of their fish.  The compliment was well received by the crowds along the parade route.

Local politicians battling for the upcoming election for first selectman were out in force on the parade route, waving to crowds and rallying for support.  Several Michael Paulhus supporters marched with him, while three blocks down, Susan Johnson and her supporters wore T-shirts reading "Go Sue Go."

Perhaps the most active group in the parade since it started has been the Haggerty family.  Each year the family takes on a theme for their attire during the parade.  In past years they have been cowboys from the Old West, a circus gang, and last year, aliens.  This year, the family paraded as police officers with some comical prisoners in tow.

The unique parade got its start in 1986.  Before then, Willimantic had a traditional parade with marching bands and simple floats.  In the spring of 1986, parade planners were unable to find a marching band that hadn't already been booked in another town.  As a result, Kathy Clark, a resident and Willimantic Housing Authority employee, came up with an inventive way to bring the marching music to Willimantic--boom boxes.

Indeed, marching bands were out of sight and out of mind at the parade on Wednesday.  Despite some concerning forecasts, the weather turned out to be perfect--not too hot, and not too cold.

It's a funky parade every year, it's an all-inclusive event," said Willimantic resident Andrew Nilsson.

Michelle Madsen-Bibeau, interim minister at the First Baptist Church on Main Street, helped serve free lemonade to parade goers.

"I enjoy the frogs, people are very creative, but those are my favorite," she said.

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