New parade inspires pride

New London - Instead of a parade to celebrate the city's $10 million Parade project, Saturday's rededication events unfolded more like a community convergence.

After an afternoon of historic-themed events, the celebration took on a more upbeat tone in the early evening. Two brass and percussion bands and a bagpipe ensemble took turns blasting out tunes that echoed off the old buildings that line the downtown streets, each group starting from Water, State or Bank street, then coming together around the Parade plaza.

A trumpet trio played from atop the Water Street Parking Garage and the Coast Guard Brass Ensemble performed two Sousa marches from the center of the plaza.

By nightfall, fireworks were bursting overhead.

"This is a new chapter in downtown New London," Mayor Rob Pero said shortly before getting into a cherry-picker with his young daughter to cut a ribbon strung high over the Parade. "You should all feel proud of living in the city of New London. We have a rich history, and everyone else has been trying to tell our story. It's time for us to tell our own story.

"Please tell your friends that the city of New London is a safe, vibrant place to come."

The event drew a diverse crowd that filled the plaza and surrounding intersection comfortably. Those in attendance clapped readily at various speakers' words of congratulations and thanks to those who made the Parade and the celebration possible.

Many of those on hand had spent the first part of the day at Williams Park at the third annual New London Community Festival, which was planned before the Parade rededication. The city gave away pizza, hot dogs and water, while children frolicked under trees, played on a moonwalk and scaled an inflatable wall. Local acts performed on a stage.

The Parade celebration brought out current and former city officials to mingle with residents, many of whom came with young children in tow. Bruce Hyde, the former director of planning and development who had long worked to see the Parade project become a reality, said seeing the nearly completed plaza now felt very rewarding.

When Hyde took his turn at the microphone, he thanked several historic-preservation and downtown groups that had also pushed for the project.

"It makes me proud to be from New London," he said.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, said he was attending "as a fan, an admirer and supporter" of how a "great public space" has been redone.

"This is a great historic achievement," he said.

During the daytime events, festivities included historical re-enactments on the Parade, which dates back to Colonial times and was once used as a gathering place for soldiers going off to war.

Muskets were fired, prayers were offered at the site of an Episcopal church that once stood on the site, and the U.S. Coast Guard Band Brass Quintet kept the mood patriotic.

During a "libation ceremony'' held by members of Sheldon's Horse Second Continental Light Dragoons, a nonprofit educational organization that carries on the traditions of the 18th-century cavalry, veterans were called on to join them in line and sip wine from the same cup.

"A beverage was given to a warrior to commemorate those who have died,'' said Salvatore F. Tarantino, commander of the Dragoons, who then asked veterans to come forward and be recognized.

"It's your time to be remembered and respected,'' he said. After the last sip, Tarantino poured the remaining wine on the ground to remember those who have died. The gesture symbolizes the deceased having one last toast with his regiment.

About 35 veterans stood before the crowd, which clapped appreciatively when the solemn ritual was done.

Early in the events schedule, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument that has stood on the Parade for nearly 115 years was rededicated. It was first dedicated in 1896 by the sons of Joseph Lawrence to city residents who fought in defense of the country.

"I think it's really nice,'' said Betty Lee, who attended the festivities with Todd Butler. The two friends, who are natives of the city and wheelchair bound, said that enjoying the space is much easier for them now because of the handicapped-accessible improvements.

"Maybe it needs a couple of flower pots,'' said Butler. "But it's cleaned up and it's nice."

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said the public gathering space, which Mayor Pero said will be busy with events throughout the summer, symbolizes the city's promise.

"This new Parade is all about the future,'' said Courtney, standing in front of the historic Nathan Hale School House.


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