Frothy Fourth in Southeast Connecticut
At precisely 10:24 a.m. Friday, the skies over Hamburg indeed opened and the promised rain began to fall.
Too bad, Mother Nature.
The Lyme Fourth of July Parade, which started at 10 a.m. on the dot with musket volleys, was already over. Participants and attendees were munching hot dogs and hamburgers, provided by the town's Parks and Recreation department, under a tent by the community's iconic Grange Hall.
"We thought we could get it in before the weather," said committee member Heidi Meyer. "We're pretty sure it's one of the shortest - but best - parades in the world."
Organizers here pulled off what many others across the region were unable to do Friday: carry on with their Independence Day events in the face of heavy rain, and worse.
In Stonington, the annual celebration in which large crowds of people walk down Water Street in their red, white and blue best and then gather on Wadawanuck Square for the reading of the Declaration of Independence before calling for a "Pox on King George" was canceled because of thunder and lighting. The Groton Fourth of July parade also slated for Friday morning was scrubbed.
The Ledyard Historical Society canceled its 50th anniversary celebration on Friday afternoon and said it won't be rescheduled.
"We're all pretty disappointed here," said Dan Weaver, the caretaker of Nathan Lester House.
In Norwich, organizers of the fireworks festival had made a preemptive move on Thursday by moving all of the Friday's festival events to tonight from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Howard T. Brown Memorial Park and at the Marina at American Wharf.
And in a highly unusual move, Ocean Beach Park in New London announced on its Facebook page before noon Friday that the park would be closing its gates due to lightning, strong currents and "nothing but bad stuff ahead."
"So we will be locking the park to keep everyone, including our employees, safe," added the posting.
Park Manager David Sugrue emphasized that the "Don't come" announcement was a first for the park but suggested that today and Sunday would offer good weather and a better opportunity to enjoy the beach.
But in Lyme, with bruise-colored clouds rolling overhead amidst low rumbles of thunder, residents, neighbors and dogs - many dogs - lined both sides of quaint Cove Road in front of New England cottages to watch a small but decidedly blue, white and ready procession make its quarter-mile trek from Camp Claire to the iconic Grange Hall.
Sharon Tracy and her husband, John Adams Tracy, and their American Water Spaniel, Abigail, stood in their front yard as the parade approached.
"It's not Central Park West for the Macy's Parade, and I wish I had that address, but we're pretty happy here," said Tracy Adams, waving a small American flag. "We've got a front-row view for a fine parade."
And, yes, her spouse's name isn't a coincidence. He is, the Tracys said, related to founding father, the John Adams. Does that mean that John Adams Tracy is, by virtue of genetics, more patriotic on the Fourth of July than his wife?
"Oh, I don't know about that," Sharon said, smiling as she anchored Old Glory by placing the staff down the top of her blouse. "I hold this all close to my bosom."
As if in punctuation, a volley of musket fire sounded from a Colonially costumed three-man honor guard - and the parade was officially rolling.
A vintage automobile carried two Grand Marshals, Lucius Stark and Charlotte Barringer, and they peppered the throngs with a trick-or-treat styled barrage of lollipops, Tootsie Rolls and various small candies. They were followed by members of the Lyme Garden Club and, next, a collective of young men in a pulled cart. Though it wasn't immediately apparent what they represented, they seemed to have prepared for their appearance through expansive access to plenty of aluminum foil and, perhaps, an aggressive paintball battle.
Following was the biggest assemblage of paraders, comprised present and past members of Camp Claire, a kids' summer camp located on Hamburg Cove. Dressed in Uncle Sam attire, they spontaneously broke ranks as, one by one, they spied a solitary young man standing on the side of the road, watching and smiling in front of an elongated wooden shed festooned with eight different replicas of colonial-era American flags.
His name was Adam Shea and the campers, shouting with joy and recognition, veered off course to give him hugs.
"I worked at Camp Claire from the time I was 14 until 24," Shea said. "A few years ago, I moved to New York City and haven't been back. I decided to take the day off and come back to see the parade and, of course, the campers. I guess it was a surprise, but it's definitely a good feeling to see everyone. I've missed this."
Onward! Remaining participants included a tractor that pulled a string band playing "You're a Grand Old Flag"; a series of classic MG sports cars, including one driven by WFSB Channel 3's Kevin Hogan; and contingencies from the Lyme Cub Scout troop, the Lyme Library, and the Lyme Fire Department.
As participants and citizens marched the final yards up Route 156, they loosely gathered around the Parks and Recreation folks' burgers-and-dogs tent, talking and laughing.
Co-Grand Marshals Barringer and Stark said they were each humbled to serve, though neither was entirely certain they deserved the honor.
"I have no idea why," Stark laughed. "But they asked if I wanted to ride in this nice car, and it's pretty nice to be asked."
Barringer nodded. "I've no idea, either. I had to move across the river to Essex for health reasons, so I'm not even a resident anymore, though it's certainly my spiritual home."
"It's because Charlotte is one of the grand ladies of this town," announced George Willauer, a resident and retired English professor at Connecticut College. Willauer chauffered the marshals in his own vehicle - and was similarly modest about heading up the parade. "I just happen to have an old car and I've been doing it for years," he said. "The first selectman asked me, and I'm happy to serve."
Then, with just a few warning spatters, the rain began.
Lyme town clerk Linda Winzer was one of the last revelers on the route. She had trailed behind, picking up strewn pieces of parade candy. She was quick to respond when the question was put forth: Does Lyme have one of the coolest Fourth of July parades in the world?
"It's not one of the coolest parades in the world," she smiled. "It's the coolest. Just don't blink or you might miss it!"
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