STARS, STRIPES, AND BOOM BOX FOREVER

By Christina Hall, Chronicle Staff Writer

July 5, 2003

WILLIMANTIC--The creative minds of Willimantic and the surrounding community came out in force Friday, the Fourth of July, to make statements from the absurd to the political in this year's Boom Box Parade.

The reason for marching in the parade is simple, according to Ellen Tambornini, a member of the Haggerty family, who travels from Florida each year to march in the eccentric parade.  "We love Willimantic," she explained.

More than 100 Haggertys marched in this year's parade, as they have done for the past nine years.   The family, which always chooses a different theme during their Christmas reunion, all wore T-shirts sporting "Haggerosa Rock N' Roll."  The family's display included a Mel's Diner float complete with a juke box as well as a golf car converted into a mini car.

As has been the tradition for the past 17 years, hundreds of community residents began their holiday celebration in the heart of Willimantic, with as many participants in the do-it-yourself extravaganza as viewers.

The entire parade, which stretched more than a half-mile from Jillson Square to Memorial Park down Main Street, lasted 104 minutes, according to Wayne Norman, parade marshal and morning deejay for WILI.

As the patriotic music blared from boom boxes and car stereos, Norman rode in a miniature car donning flag inspired clothing as well as a sign asking "Where's Dan Rather Now?" The reference was to the recent CBS "60 Minutes II" television investigation, based on the Hartford Courant's series characterizing Willimantic as a heroin-ridden town.

Hosmer Beverages of Willimantic provided the crowd of watchers welcome relief to the sweltering 90-plus degree heat with a high-powered water cannon which shot a gallon of cool spring water periodically at the crowd.

Chuck Potvin, one of the four brothers who owns the soda company, said they brought 170 gallons of water for the parade.

The Willimantic Brewing Co. also found a way to keep spectators cool. Their western saloon float came complete with a frog playing a piano as well as a working tap, pouring out cool lemonade. Several members of the restaurant's staff handed out cups of the refreshing liquid to folks lining the parade route.

While many marchers were just out to have fun and make people laugh, some had a political message.

The Northeast Coalition for Peace and Justice brought a large group together to warn of what they perceived as the dangerous implications of the Patriot Act, passed shortly after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

The group's float included people representing the statue of liberty, justice, freedom of the press and freedom of speech captured in a jail cell atop a flatbed truck.

The purpose of the float was to show parade watchers "what happen to different aspects of our community" because of the Patriot Act, according to coalition member Chris Demorit.

First Selectman Michael Paulhus had his own political message, hoping to get the word out regarding his announcement to run for reelection.

However his goal wasn't only to raise awareness about his campaign but to celebrate "the creative spirit of Willimantic" and "the best parade in Connecticut," he said.

As the parade wound down, Windham Area Interfaith Ministries collected bags donated by Liberty Bank of people's trash.

"People have been just great," said Virginia Fulton, WAIM's executive director, of the number of parade watcheres who were careful with garbage this year.

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