By Theresa Braine
July 5, 1994

(Copyright @ The Hartford Courant 1994)

It was a day of snazzy tuxes worn with goofy shoes, of fish swishing down Main Street alongside gorillas, vegetables and psychedelic cars.
It was the day residents of northeastern Connecticut celebrated U.S. independence by flaunting just what it was about: the freedom to be as silly as they want.

At the ninth annual Fourth of July Boom-Box Parade, hosted by WILI- AM radio Monday, anything went, and went for nearly an hour. Marchers -- that is, anyone who wanted to wear red, white and blue and carry a radio tuned to 1400 AM -- gathered in the parking lot of Jillson Square Cinemas beginning at 9:30 a.m. At 11, they marched toward Memorial Park, keeping time to the patriotic tunes blasting over their radios courtesy of WILI.

They strapped boom-boxes to strollers, hung them from the winches of tow trucks and just carried them. Heading the line, as usual, was Wayne Norman, the WILI morning personality who has served as grand marshal since the parade began in 1986.

Every year it's a different get-up, and every year it's a surprise, even to Norman. Clad in a white satin tuxedo with red cummerbund and bow tie, he clomped down the street in rectangular shoes fashioned into boom-boxes by station intern Ann Blanchard. Atop his head sat a tall, furry soldier hat.
"No one officially knows who's going to be in the parade until the day of the parade," Norman said, adding that his get-up, like that of many others, was spontaneous. "Honestly, three days ago this wasn't part of the plan."

The rest of Norman's ensemble exemplified the parade's goal, he said, of eliciting "just a lot of individual expression," gesturing at the blue pickup truck that carried a giant American flag nailed to a wooden frame.

Thousands of spectators lined the half-mile parade route, cramming 30 and 40 deep in front of city hall. And what Fourth of July celebration would be complete without the folks who make it all possible? Politicians attended in droves. Willimantic's main drag was the place to be Monday if you were running for governor, Congress or just about any other elected office connected with the Nutmeg State.

Elsewhere in northeastern Connecticut, people picnicked on the church grounds at Woodstock and paraded -- sans boom-boxes -- through Columbia.
"I think it was good, because everybody does their own thing," Willimantic resident Nancy Phillips said after the Boom-Box Parade. "That's what's good about it, because everyone's themselves."

Pete and Ruth Tilley of Columbia persuaded friends from Maine to participate. Their friend, Bill Stevenson, happens to own a 1958 2CV Citroen covered, on one side, with drawings of jungle animals, foliage and fruit done in a style similar to that of artist Peter Max in the 1970s. On the other side are sunflowers. They had made hats to match the car. Then somehow the Covenant Soup Kitchen got involved with their car, with Ruth Tilley and fellow volunteers dressed just as colorfully as tomatoes, peas and potatoes.

Elsewhere in the line was Jim Baber, his "fish wife" and his "school" of "fish." Each year he and his partner, Kent Allyn, make a new fish just before the parade, Baber said, in order to maintain the spontaneity and to avoid taking the event too seriously.
Baber's "fish {and real-life} wife," Karen Drazen, chuckled as she watched her children and some of their friends, who had been part of the school of fish.

The parade began in 1986, when no marching band was available for Willimantic's Memorial Day Parade.


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