A Special Boom Box Parade
by Maura Casey

Published in the July 8, 2003 New London Day op-ed section

Willimantic's 'Boom Box Parade' July 4th sported signs saying such things as "You can't have this much fun in Hartford."

There's nothing like a July 4 parade, but the annual "Boom Box Parade" in Willimantic was really something this year.

The Boom Box Parade is in it's 18th year.  It started in 1986, when the city couldn't find a band to play in the Independence Day parade.  Rather than give up the Parade, the local radio station, WILI-AM, played marching band music beginning at 11 am, when the parade was scheduled to start.  People carried radios and Boom Boxes to march in time with John Philip Sousa, and thus a tradition was born.

Friday's event was especially noteworthy.  First of all, the parade lasted a record one hour, 45 minutes.  But more to the point, it was a reinforcement of what is good in the city.

Willimantic, the "Thread City" has gotten huge black eyes in the last year or so, beginning with a multi-day series published in The Hartford Courant entitled "Heroin Town" which detailed the heroin trade in the citiy and the number of addicts there.  That story was followed by a report on CBS on the same subject.

Willimantic has had its problems.  But like any city, it shouldn't be measured by its problems alone.

Willimantic has some of the loveliest Victorian homes around, echoes from the city's storied past.  It has the Frog Bridge, which sports four 11-foot frogs with great, golden eyes perched upon spools of thread - truly one of the most beautiful arches ever to grace a city, big or small.  It has the Third Thursday street festival, which occurs on the Third Thursday of the month.  Most of all, Willimantic has got people who believe in the city.

And, every July 4, it has the Boom Box Parade.  It's become a celebration of eccentricity and old-fashioned fun.

This year, hundreds of people lined Main Street.  It was a hot day but onlookers all had ample shade from maple trees planted every 10 feet or so.  Boom Boxes were common and floats were home-made, with those riding aboard tossing bags of candy to the scrambling children.  Others squirted the crowd with water, welcome in the humidity.

What was new were the signs, evidence of the city's bruised ego: "You can't have this much fun in Hartford."  And "Where's Dan Rather now?" in reference to the CBS story on the city.

The people of Willimantic can't be blamed for feeling defensive.  They have things to be proud of.  And the parade is spawning imitators:  Canterbury, which is also in range of WILI decided this year it would have its own Boom Box Parade.  The town started its parade at the same time as that of Willimantic.

Why not?  A good thing is worth doing twice.

Copyright The Day Publishing Co., 2003


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