wili-am Posted on 8:12 am


Boom Box Parade is unique experience
By Heather Lake
Chronicle Staff Writer
WILLIMANTIC—If there is one thing consistent about Willimantic’s annual Boom Box Parade, it’s that it’s never the same twice.

Thursday marked the 28th annual Fourth Of July event that shuts down Main Street from Jillson Square to Memorial Park – and it’s no local yokel affair.

Thousands turn out for the parade from around the city, the state, and the country, while others have been said to watch it on the news overseas.

It’s open to anyone who wants to participate, at no cost, and attracts everything from church groups to local businesses as well as community members who just want to get in on the action.

“You can be last minute and just on a whim say “I want to be in it,” said Sarah Keleher of Columbia.

But for most, there’s some planning and hard work involved.  Some just want to have fun, while others make no secret of their agenda.

The Alcanzando El Mismo Sueno (Embracing the Same Dream) came to plug immigration reform and documentation for undocumented residents around the state and country.

Organization president Elkin Espitia said those turning out from the Hispanic community don’t just come to watch, rather to give thanks.

“The Fourth of July is important to us…because this country has given us the opportunity to reach the American Dream,” he said.  “It tells them (Hispanics) their freedom is linked to the freedom of this country.”

Some parade watchers started claiming their spots even before 9 a.m. hoping for a shady spot to keep cool in the heat that was expected to reach the low 90’s by the time the parade began at 11 a.m.

Among them was Sandy Laferriere, who lives close by and said although she hasn’t been to the parade for years, she remembers when it all began.

At the time she was driving for the Willimantic Cab Co., which participated in the parade each year with cabs driven by “Daisy,” and “Big Mary.”

Laferriere said she thinks the event is a good thing for the city.

“It’s an old city and you’ve got to keep it alive somehow,” she said.

Resident John Clark, who works at the Willimantic Food Co-op, decided only Wednesday night that the store should be represented and was busily staining an old wooden sign.

He said he believes the 30-year old sign was the store’s first official signage.

The sign dates back to just before the parade tradition began.

The Boom Box Parade was born out of disappointment when, 28 years ago, it became evident band music was unlikely for a July 4 parade that year.

That’s when former Willimantic resident Kathy Clark, now deceased, teamed up with the voice of WILI Radio – Wayne Norman – to bring her idea to fruition.

At the time there were no speakers and folks just tuned into the radio station for the Fourth of July broadcast, beginning a tradition that remains today in conjunction with the modern technology.

From Jade Adams, whose body was painted with silver glitter, to a group of children from the Sagrado Corazon Church in Willimantic, who donned traditional clothing from various regions of Mexico, there was nothing if not variety.

And that’s what keeps some coming back.

“It’s a free show and unpredictable.  You never know what you’ll see,” said Daniel Adams of Willimantic.

Among the unpredictable is Norman who, since the parade’s inception, has sported a different costume each year.

Last year he was a frog and this year he wowed the crowd with a butterfly getup rigged by City Side Deli owner Ed Brown, who dreamed up the idea after hearing Norman talk about butterflies on the air.

“It all came together in my head and I MacGyver’d it,” said Brown, referencing the television show “MacGyver,” that ran from the late 1980’s through early 1990’s.

With a wing span pushing 10 feet, [boom] boxes on his feet and a green jumpsuit, which he was wrestled into by three people and a clown back at the radio station, Norman made his way down Main Street.

He was followed by U. S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., state Senate President Pro Tempore Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, who wowed the women in the crowd with very high red heels she chose to sport in the parade.

For many the event is one not to be missed.

Paul Ashton of Willimantic said he looks forward to participating each year.

“I wake up on the Fourth of July like kids wake up on Christmas,” said Ashton.

The Traveling Fish Head Club of Northeastern Connecticut was participating for the 27th year, marching with, of course, giant fish heads and promoting and end to gun violence.

“It’s time our nation addresses this issue,” said Jim Baber, club president.  “If it takes me marching up Main Street under a giant fish (to garner support for the cause), then I’ll do it.”

Eastern Connecticut State University, Domino’s Pizza, Poulin Electric and the Shriners were just a few of the many who joined the parade, each in their own unique way.

Resident Ken Folan was putting some finishing touches on a 1950 Buick Super and said, while the event brings a lot of fun to the masses who turn out, there’s more to it than just a good time.

“It’s Independence Day and that should be the most important thing on our minds,” said Folan, adding it’s also something special for the city.

“It’s unique and it’s open to everyone,” said Folan.  “That’s what Willimantic is all about.”