wili-am Posted on 1:17 pm


WILLIMANTIC — South Windham resident Tillie Williams, 81, said Tuesday that she hasn’t missed a single July 4th Boom Box Parade.

And while every year she said the parade gets bigger, she said the parade remains “free spirited” where “people are allowed to express themselves,” regardless of political views, religious beliefs or sexual orientation.

This July 4th, people came out by the thousands to celebrate their freedom in downtown Willimantic during the 21st annual 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 lets anybody march provided they have a boom box–or radio–tuned to WILI and they sport some red, white, and blue.

This year, for example, political groups, nonprofit organizations and a Mardi Gras-theme float all had a moment in the spotlight marching down Main Street.

Among the political groups were supporters of many candidates as well as the candidates themselves.

Those included gubernatorial candidates John DeStefano, Jr. and Dan Malloy, two Democrats vying for the party nomination to oppose incumbent Republican Governor M. Jodi Rell.

The two Democrats will square off in a party primary next month.

State Senate President Pro Tempore Donald Williams, Jr, D-Brooklyn, who is seeking re-election, was also present.  He is challenged by Willimantic Republican David Lyon.

Also on hand were Democrats Joseph Lieberman and Ned Lamont, who are slated to square off in a Democratic primary next month for U. S. Senate.

Politics aside, many showed up to simply celebrate thier freedom.

Willimantic resident Christine Guarnieri, whos entire outfit was red, white, and blue, said she enjoys watching the parade and seeing the patriotism of everyone “turning out on a hot, muggy day.”

She wore her traditional red, white, and blue hat, complete with two patriotic pinwheels sticking out the top.

Guarnieri also said she enjoys the fact the town doesn’t have to spend any money on “big marching bands” and the parade encourages community participation.

Many parade-goers said the Boom Box Parade is unique because anyone can participate.

Scotland resident Megan Ryan, 8, rode on a brightly decorated red, white, and blue float driven by her father, Steve Ryan.

She was ready to throw various wrapped candies, including lollipops, Tootsie Rolls, Sprees and Sweet Tarts, and perhaps shoot a few spectators with water from squirt guns with the help of several other family members.

Steve Ryan said there were a few rules, such as not to shoot babies and no squirting in the eyes.  He told his family of the rules before the 11 a.m. parade, as his family waited near the Jillson Square parking lot.

Hundreds of children and adults rushed out into the street to retrieve wrapped candies, get beads thrown at them and get splashed with a water hose on a sweltering hot day.

One parade participant, David Knapp, 80, of Guilford, was there to express his anger and resentment that he was kicked out of the Boy Scouts for his sexual orientation.

He carried a small sign, “Boy Scout Leader kicked out for being gay,” and wore a Boy Scout uniform.

Knapp said he had been in the Scouts since he was 12 and was kicked out at age 67 for a sexual preference that he had kept “in the closet.”

He said he wasn’t kicked out until he was squealed on by his stepdaughter” to the Boy Scout council.

Knapp said he still believes Boy Scouts is the “best youth program” and children of all sexual orientations should be allowed to participate.

Meanwhile, Jeff Silver-Smith of Ashford, who works for the Connecticut Red Cross, was there to try to get the word out there is a dire need for blood in the state.

He said there was “wonderful patriotic spirit” in the “unstructured” parade.  He said participants walked in and filled in wherever they wanted.

There wasn’t any particular line-up like most conventional parades, with many marchers and floats taking on political overtones.

“The Bush administration is opposing and destroying everything we have learned to love about our country and the world,” said Willimantic resident John Schwenk, who was ready to ride his recumbent bicycle in the parde sporting the sign “Impeachment, a bright idea.”

He is a member of an ad-hoc group that believes Bush should be impeached for various reason, including oath of office, lies about Iraq and manipulating elections.

And while people may or may not agree with the war, Windham Community Memorial Hospital surgeon Dr. David Kloss held up his “Let’s Support Our Troops” sign.

“Remember that they’re there,” he said.  “Remember their families.”

The local No Freeze Shelter also wanted to get the word out about its non-profit organization’s commitment to make sure no one gets left out in the cold.

Several signs hung off the group’s float saying, “Camping is fun.  Living in the woods isn’t.”

Bicyclists also promoted bicycle advocacy.  Some of their signs said “smack down big oil with your bicycle kick.”

And for no reason, 22-year-old Joseph Trawick-Smith decorated his Toyota Corolla with maps from an atlas with the help of his friends.

He said he and his friends wrap the car in something different every year, like wrapping paper or paper bags.

But each year, the group includes a large penguin atop the car hood and they throw candy to spectators.  This is the group’s sixth year participating in the parade.

Willimantic residents Susan Oldershaw and Paul Ashton also carried a banner that one of the parade’s founders made for the 10th anniversary. 

“This Land Is Your Land.  This Land Is My Land,” the banner read.

Both Oldershaw and Ashton have carried the banner every year s