Published December 10. 2012 4:00AM
East Lyme - It was raining everywhere in southeastern Connecticut Sunday night except in Niantic - where it snowed.
When hundreds of people, who lined the streets of downtown Niantic during the East Lyme WinterFest and Light Parade, clicked their heels together three times and yelled "There's no place like Niantic," it started to snow.
The Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz, aka John Wilson on the Sign Craft's "Winter in Oz'' float, pressed a button and soap bubbles floated down from his hot air balloon tethered to a cherry picker.
The crowd was amazed.
"Winter in Oz" was one of more than 40 floats that made their way down Main Street Sunday night as part of the 24th annual light parade.
Thousands trekked toward the lights in downtown Niantic, pushing baby carriages, holding their children's hands, crowding under umbrellas and walking their dogs. All eyes looked skyward when fireworks burst through the air just after 5 p.m. A short time later, the parade of lights began with 21 commercial floats, seven fire departments, five dance companies, eight nonprofits and four family/neighborhood exhibits traveling down Main Street.
In addition to the extravagant Oz float, which included Julie Wilson dressed as Glinda the Good Witch and her daughter Jillian Wilson as Dorothy, there was probably the smallest float in the parade, a red wagon piled with a rocking horse and presents put together by Marilyn Burnette and her coworkers from Connecticut College.
Burnette, the college's events planner, has for the past few years rallied her coworkers to participate in the parade. Last year they won first place in the family/neighborhood category for "Gary's Rocking Elves." This year, they dressed as a baby doll, Raggedy Ann and Andy, a tin soldier, a dancing bear and a jack-in-the Box for "Santa's Toys." Burnette made all the costumes.
"We love it. We do it every year,'' she said.
The parade also included the East Lyme Marching Band and about 30 kids from the Southeastern Connecticut Youth Hockey Club racing around the streets on inline skates with lighted sticks, and about 45 dancers ages 4 to 20, from Alyson's School of Dance in Colchester.
"It really gets you in the holiday spirit,'' said Alyson Ayer, owner and artistic director, as she put the final touches on the "Night Before Christmas" float that featured dancers dressed as dolls and toys. "And the kids love it."
Leeanne and Scott Engels took in the spectacle of the night for the very first time. They moved to Columbus Avenue last year but didn't attend the parade. When they heard what they had missed, they made a point of walking up the street despite the rain, to the head of the parade.
"The town does such a nice job getting this together,'' Scott Engels said.
"After the hurricane and everything, it's nice to have the parade. It's such a nice sense of normalcy,'' his wife added.
Their 5-year-old son, Gavin, was just happy to watch the lights and fill a red solo cup with candy, and a toothbrush, tossed from passing floats.