WILLIMANTIC CELEBRATES THE FOURTH WITH A BOOM BOX PARADE

by David Hinchey, Willimantic Chronicle

July 5, 2005

WILLIMANTIC -- On the nation's 229th birthday, Alex Seretny, 24, of Hampton, and Kurt Palmer, 20, of Willington, members of Army Bravo 242nd Company, perfectly summed up what the Boom Box Parade was all about saying, "It's important to remember people who are fighting overseas so that we can have this parade."

Palmer and Seretny, who head off to Afghanistan within the year, said that the Boom Box Parade is just one of the memories they will take with them when they're overseas serving the country.

On July 4th, people came out in thousands to celebrate their freedom in downtown Willimantic at the 20th annual Willimantic Boom Box Parade.

Unlike other town parades, which only permit people to march if they are part of a civic group, the Boom Box Parade letes anybody march provided they have a boom box tuned to WILI 1400-AM and they sport some red, white, and blue.

Parade leader Wayne Norman, whose wacky costumes are something that people look forward to each year, was marching in his 20th parade. A lot has changed since his first, he says.

"The first parade was at Memorial Park, there was no one there at 9 a.m.  Since then it has grown," Norman says.  "We never thought it would be this big."

Norman's costume consisted of him wearing a Boston Red Sox jersey, which was given to him by the Red Sox, and a canoe which he sat in that promoted the Willimantic Whitewater Partnership.

"Hopefully others will follow my wacky ideas," said Norman who hopes his costumes inspire others to go all out and wear wacky costumes in future parades.

"It's a fantastic community event, everybody from the community was welcome," said State Sen. Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Killingly, who felt the parade was a great way for people to celebrate their freedom as community.

Float construction and preparation varies from float to float.

Some are just thrown together on the green at 9 a.m., while others are planned as far back as the family Christmas party.

The Haggerty family, whose "Camp Haggarosa" theme was a crowd favorite, begins planning for the event at the family Christmas party, throwing out five float possibilities in preparation for the parade that's more than six months away.

It's a total family effort, with the adults doing the building and kids doing some of the painting, with one member of the Haggerty family eating a few last minute brownies to contribute to the litter for the float.

Justin Haggerty, 8, of Mansfield, who has been in the parade all eight years of his life and drove the riding lawn mower to lead the Haggertys, says he enjoyed driving the mower and likes coming out to the parade every year.

Dan Haggerty of Willimantic, uses the annual parade as a family reunion, with relatives coming from as far as California and Jensen Beach, Fla.

Ellen Tambornini, one of the Haggerty clan from Jensen Beach, says that half the fun is building the float and that she enjoys seeing the 80 to 100 people from their family who march every year.

For the Traveling Fish Head Club of Northeastern Connecticut, not as much planning is put into place.

The Fish Head Club continued its tradition of starting to build its float the night before and continued its classic look of making the float look thrown together.

"We want people to think that it was hastily built in someone's garage the night before, because it is," said Jim Baber of Willimantic, who says that the group goes for that "thrown-together look" for their float.

The Fish Head club promoted Riverfest as well as the Third Thursday Street Festivals and the Boom Box Parade.  Riverfest is next May 16.

Scott Adams of North Windham and Adam Golden of Simsbury manned another float commemorating the Red Sox 2004 World Series victory.  The float, though, had a special meaning.

Adams dedicated his float to Jean and George Adams, his deceased grandparents, who watched the Red Sox win the series from heaven.

Adams and Golden had Babe Ruth's gravestone on a trailer, with Red Sox paraphernalia covering it.

John Fletcher of Manchester, who was attending his 15th parade, enjoyed all the floats, especially the Haggerty, Fish Heads, and the "Bush's lies" floats, which had a George W. Bush look-alike with a Pinocchio nose.

The parade lasted about an hour and a half, not quite as long as the one in 2002, which lasted an hour and 45 minutes.

The parade was dedicated to its founder Kathy Clark, one of the parade's founders, and the Willimantic Cupid in 1991, who passed away in October 2003.

The Boom Box Parade originated in 1986 and has grown ever since.

Many had fun on Monday, not bad for a parade that was started because there was no parade.

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