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He gazed at the famous fox chase scene on the mantle of the Griswold House's dining room in Old Lyme, took in a rehearsal on the tree-shaded grounds of the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford and checked out the menu at the newly reopened Old Lyme Inn, but the highlight of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's tour of attractions in southeastern Connecticut Wednesday turned out to be at Abbott's Lobster in the Rough in Noank, where he performed an impromptu pardon of a 15-pound lobster before dropping the creature into the Mystic River.
Randy Fiveash, director of the state's Office of Tourism, later turned to the governor and said, "The president can pardon a turkey, but only you can pardon a lobster."
Malloy, who spent much of the day visiting tourism-related sites in the region, moved quickly about in white sneakers, off-white shorts and a white shirt that read "Still Revolutionary," Connecticut's newly unveiled tourism slogan.
Other sites he visited included Odetah Campground in Bozrah and Inn at Harbor Hill Marina in Niantic.
Tourism officials said the trip to southeastern Connecticut is one of many Malloy plans to make as he visits various sites around the state this summer. Sites were chosen to show off the diversity of businesses affected by tourism, officials said.
"We are promoting Connecticut," Malloy said. "It's a great place to visit."
In Old Lyme, Malloy bantered easily with Jeffrey Andersen, director of the Florence Griswold Museum, as he got a lesson about some of the characters who once comprised the Lyme Art Colony, which revolved around the boarding house run by Florence Griswold, granddaughter of a previous Connecticut governor.
Keeping on the political theme, Andersen noted that President Woodrow Wilson's first wife, Ellen Axson Wilson, was an artist who spent time at the Griswold House (as did Wilson himself), and that the museum plans a retrospective of her work later this year.
Malloy also spent time at the renovated Old Lyme Inn, run by Ken and Chris Kitchings. He toured a back room where the two plan to open a jazz club in January, sneaked into the kitchen to say hello to the staff and even took a quick ride on an elevator for handicapped access set up in the main dining room.
"It's great to see this place come back," Malloy said. "It's great to see everything so beautifully restored."
Malloy said the people he spoke with during his stops were appreciative of the state's new efforts to promote tourism. He cited the Inn at Harbor Hill Marina, a small bed-and-breakfast that is reporting a rise in sales of 30 percent so far this year.
Malloy launched a two-year, $27 million campaign earlier this year to rebrand Connecticut and promote statewide tourism. His predecessor, M. Jodi Rell, had reduced tourism promotion funding to $1.
According to statistics compiled by the state, Connecticut's hospitality and tourism industry accounts for $11.5 billion in spending and employs an estimated 110,000 people, and tax revenues from tourism-related businesses amount to $1.15 billion annually.
"Tourism has always been a good investment for the state," Malloy said in a statement released to coincide with his tour. "This summer is an excellent opportunity to build on our earlier work and strengthen the state's competitive edge."