PATRIOTIC, WHIMSICAL, AND SILLY

BY Roger Snow, Chronicle Staff Writer 

July 5, 2002

WILLIMANTIC -- Joseph Trawick-Smith covered his mother's Toyota Tercel in brown paper bags and affixed a large plastic penguin to the hood of the car, with a sign that read "Float" and drove it proudly in the 17th annual Boom Box Parade with several friends along for the ride Thursday.

Last year, Smith, of Mansfield, and his friends Alex Baber, Jake Benjamin, and Chris Giroir, who also live in the area, wanted to be in the parade, but couldn't come up with an idea.  This year they developed the penguin float idea and knew instantly that they would enter the esoteric parade.

Smith's float was characteristic of the Boom Box Parade, a free-form, open-participation parade that is Willimantic's way of celebrating the Fourth of July.  The only rule governing the parade is that its participants carry portable radios set to WILI 1400-AM, which provided patriotic music for the parade.

The parade drew participants who marched down Main Street on foot, in classic cars, motorcycles, and monster trucks, as well as homemade floats with a variety of themes.

Wayne Norman, the parade's grand marshal and a WILI deejay, led the parade down Main Street, wearing cardboard boom boxes on his feet and a homemade paper hat with "WILI" printed on it.

The parade was the longest in the history of the event, lasting about an hour and a half.

The First Baptist Church of Willimantic, which is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year, gave out free lemonade to anyone needing refreshment.

The Rev. Canon Robert J. Brooks of St. Paul's Episcopal Church said he was excited that he would be participating in the parade this year.  A native Texan, Brooks donned a cowboy hat with his short-sleeved black shirt and priestly collar and said he was in his familiar element.

"I'm part of the pro-sun and warmth lobby--I love this weather," he said.  "I've got my 'Texas' hat on--I finally got to bring it out."

Some who participated in the parade had a political agenda, while others were out to promote their business, church or other community organization.  The rest of the parade's participants ran the gamut from patriotic to whimsical and just plain silly.

Among the more serious participants were the Coventry chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).  They held signs promoting gay rights--including one elderly man dressed in a Boy Scouts of America uniform with a sign that read, "75-year old scout leader kicked out for being gay."

The Willimantic Waste Paper Co. Inc. made a lighthearted entry into the parade with it's "junkmobile"--a 1980's Lincoln Town Car with part of its roof removed, it's body painted with cartoons and adorned with American flags.  On what remained of the roof was a huge metal loudspeaker that had been painted olive drab and had apparently come from a military base.

"This is the greatest participatory parade ever," said Tom DeVivo, whose family owns Willimantic Waste.  "You shouldn't be watching it--you should be in it."

DeVivo has participated in all 17 Boom Box Parades, since the first one on July 4, 1986.  He said the car was an example of what can be done with recycling.  The car itself had been rescued from the trash heap and was rolling on used tires.  The junkmobile has been in two previous Boom Box Parades.

Other participants showing their patriotism included children on bicycles adorned with red, white, and blue, a dog wearing the American flag as a cape, and a star-spangled clown with red, white, and blue hair.

The Haggerty family, relatives of former Selectman Dan Haggerty, marched in the parade as the "Haggerosa Hillbillies," with a series of floats that included an outhouse and a moonshine distillery.  Dan Haggerty marched in a red union suit, droopy felt hat, and a set of false crooked teeth.

The Haggertys have marched in the parade since 1998, bringing 75 to 100 family members each year from around the country.

A fleet of classic cars, ranging from prewar antiques to 1960's muscle cars, joined in the parade as well.  Among them was a replica of a 1967 Shelby Cobra built and driven by Jerry Mailhiot, who is the lead mechanic for the Mansfield Department of Public Works.  His girlfriend, Kristin Guglielmo, said that Mailhiot had built the car himself.

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