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New London - Despite the lingering cold, festive observers lined Bank and State streets Sunday afternoon to watch the seventh annual New London St. Patrick's Day Parade.
By 1 p.m., they had turned the base of the Soldiers & Sailors Monument at Parade Plaza various shades of green. Children ran around the plaza, blowing bubbles and showing off green Mardi Gras beads, while boisterous teenage girls clambered to the top step of the monument to search for friends as they marched by. Seagulls circled above the crowd, as though sensing the excitement.
One of the calmer parade-goers, New London resident Grace Panko, rested on one of the lower monument steps with a scarf wrapped around her head to defend against the chilly wind.
Panko has lived in southeastern Connecticut for 42 years, but she's a New Orleans native. She couldn't go home for Mardi Gras, so the St. Patrick's Day Parade is "the next best thing," said Panko.
The first sound of the parade to reach the plaza was the intermittent wailing of a police car's siren, but it was soon secondary to the music of bagpipes played by the New London Firefighters Pipes and Drums band.
Bubbles - perhaps blown by small children hopeful for candy - were shimmering above the marchers as they progressed from the starting location at the corner of Bank and Tilley streets toward Parade Plaza.
Many of the groups stopped at the intersection of Bank and State streets to put on little displays for the plaza crowd. A marching band marched in place and played a melody, motorcyclists revved their engines and a handful of people on Segways rode in circles.
Several facets of the region's community were represented in the parade: a group from the Navy marched early on, several firetrucks rolled through, proud pet owners displayed their Irish wolfhounds and supporters of outCT, a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender advocacy group based in New London, walked under a rainbow of multicolored balloons. And parade viewers, bundled in their coats, were reminded of the upcoming spring when they noticed marchers carrying a banner advertising the food stroll in May.
The teenage girls watching from the monument called out in interest when a roller derby group skated by and contemplated joining a small group of people chasing the Rolling Tomato truck, hungry for pizza. And they cheered loudly when they saw outCT's rainbow.
"(The parade) was nice," said Nylah Greaves, 16, a New London High School student. She comes to the parade with friends every year. They enjoy spotting people they know among the marchers, she said.
Panko also knew several participants in the parade, possibly including one of the horses pulling a cart for Roxy 100.9 FM, and said she liked sense of community that accompanied the parade.
And although she didn't know anyone in the music groups, she and Greaves agreed that they were the best part of the event.
"I love to hear the drums and the music," said Panko.