Parade's whale tail finally goes with the flow

Elisa Kane, 11, left, of Groton, Mercedes Vona, 10, center, of Mystic and Lili Kane, 7, right, of Groton run under the whale tail fountain during the Saturday dedication ceremony for the fountain at the Parade Plaza in New London.

New London - The voice rang out. "Where's the water at?!"

It was the "Moby Dick" equivalent of a beer-fueled jester screaming "Free Bird!" at a concert - any concert.

But the timing of the shout - emerging Saturday morning from a sizeable crowd gathered on the Parade to witness the official start of water flow from the whale tail fountain - was hardly fair. After all, it had been only a moment since a 3-2-1 countdown before a trio of students hit symbolic ON switches to engage the fountain.

Simultaneously in action with the kiddos, city electrician Jim Brodaski, perched to the side of the Parade, halfway down a subterranean chute housing the fountain control apparatus, hit the actual "on" switch.

Sure enough, in the brief time it took the water to travel through the plumbing, before echoes of the "where's the water" taunt had even died out, aqua began to burble magnificently from the whale tail - and substantial applause and cries of glee filled the foggy air.

"Boy, am I glad it started up," Brodaski laughed. He said he wasn't actually worried, though. "I absolutely came down here earlier to make sure everything was working properly. This is a great turnout, and the kids (who turned on the symbolic buttons) seem fascinated."

Adeliz Cordero, a fifth-grader at Jennings, Malik Faulkner a fourth-grader at Nathan Hale and Lashya Lapoint, a first-grader at Winthrop, were the ceremonial button-pushers selected by their respective principals. A fourth, Tian Richardson, a pre-K student at Harbor School, was unable to attend.

The honor had originally been bestowed through a fundraiser for the Custom House Maritime Museum. Former City Planning Director Bruce Hyde, who was instrumental in getting the $10 million Parade renovation project in motion, was selected randomly and asked that school kids be designated in his place.

Looking at the crowd shortly before the ceremony started, Mayor Martin Olsen smiled. "This represents the absolute best of everything New London stands for and has to offer," he said. "Critical mass is downtown today, and that's as it should be. We have different folks, different nationalities and different neighborhoods represented here today, and that makes me proud for all of us."

The functional fountain puts a symbolic exclamation point to the long renovation of the Parade Plaza, just in time for the warm tourist season.

"I'm looking forward to seeing it flow all summer long. It's been a while," said Adam Sprecace, one of several city council members at the ceremony.

The crowd assembled at the whale tail at the conclusion of the Hope Week Parade that cruised from Williams Park to downtown. And folks stayed around after the water came on, enjoying a succession of routines hard by the tail by several youth performance groups.

The air was celebratory; there were vendors with souvenir carts, free hotdogs and cartons of milk from a Salvation Army booth, kiddos galloping happily around in front of an array of pleasant dogs on leashes and their owners - all enjoying the camaraderie, the performers, and, of course, the whale tail itself. Many moved closer to observe the fountain in action.

The designated flow is such that water streams off the tips of the flukes of the bipartite tail. The point in the center where the flukes split is, in fact, dry - meaning that it's possible for young folks to stand beneath the arch of the tail and then dash through the aperture into the shallow drain pool without getting wet - a design bonus that was happily utilized throughout the event - at times under the supervision and guidance of New London police officers.

"I think the fountain is so cool," said Richard Sanchez, a student at Norwich Tech who was there to participate in the activities as a member of Writers Block, Ink, one of the student groups. "It was a great honor just to be able to perform in front of the fountain."

Other groups on hand were the New London High School and Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School marching bands; the New London Public Schools Semi Students Sea Shanty Choir featuring Geoff Kaufman; the Regional Multicultural Magnet School Choir; the New London Mega Stars, Juventud Magicam and Yawar Llajita dance groups; Epic Dance Crew, NULIFE Gospel Choir of the Oasis Resurrection Church; and the New London High School Dance Team.

Taylin Santiago, a student at Jennings and a member of the Sea Shanty Choir, described the fountain as "actually amazing." She smiled. "I'm kind of shy, but this is really cool."

Shortly before 1 o'clock, the sun blasted through the fog and the gray clouds, eliciting even more cheers and happiness. It was as though Springtime itself had selected a dramatic moment to show up and perform a vernal benediction upon the Tail and its coursing flow of water.

r.koster@theday.com

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