QUIRKS OF WILLIMANTIC BOOM BOX PARADE FUEL FUN
Odd event has grown into town tradition
By Deborah Straszheim
July 4, 2010
Willimantic, Conn — Thousands lined the streets of downtown Sunday for the 25th annual Boom Box Parade, an event that had politicians marching in the same lineup as unicycle-driving, pink-haired clowns, and people walking under giant, oil-covered cloth fish to protest off-shore drilling.
The parade began in the mid-1980’s, after Windham’s Memorial Day parade couldn’t find a marching band to provide music. Five weeks later, a radio station, 1400 WILI-AM, played band music, and thousands of people wore red, white, and blue and marched to the beat, playing the radio station on their boom boxes.
The parade gained notoriety at first because of its collection of marchers, outfits, and creative floats, and quickly grew, drew a broad audience, and became a tradition attracting thousands.
“It collects everybody in town and the surrounding areas,” Gail Gebhardt of Willimantic said. “It’s a magnet.”
Sunday’s parade began at Jillson Square, traveled along Main Street and ended at Memorial Park. There was no pre-registration required.
“I like the inclusiveness of it and particularly how kids get involved,” said Steve Diamond, who lived in Willimantic for 19 years and moved to Storrs. “In the beginning, I liked the quirkiness of it, and now it’s so well established it doesn’t seem like it’s going against the grain anymore.”
Children on both sides of Main Street chased candy scattered from the floats, and someone tossed water balloons into the crowd. Men rode by wearing Viking hats, a group of gymnasts turned cartwheels behind another float and a woman walked by dressed as a traffic light to promote car safety.
Boom boxes played Yankee Doodle, and about a dozen candidates running for various offices marched in the parade with their respective entourages, waving and greeting people in the crowd.
Some marchers made political statements. One group created a group of oil-stained fish out of cloth and wire, then wore it over their heads with the sign “Stop off-shore drilling.”
“It’s like a people’s parade,” said Debra Swett of Lebanon. “You have some patriotism, some advertising… The kids love it. That’s what it’s about. It’s about family and kids.”
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To see Norwich Bulletin parade photos, click here.