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A throwback parade in New London

By Rick Koster

Publication: theday.com

Published May 31. 2014 5:07PM   Updated May 31. 2014 11:23PM
Dana Jensen/The Day
Members of the Flock Theatre portraying Jibboom Club members, men who sailed on at least one whaling expedition, walk down Bank Street in New London while participating in the first Jibboom Club Parade in almost six decades Saturday. From 1891 until the 1950s, members of the Jibboom Club Society held a parade on Washington's birthday.

Anything for a parade, right?

Including a jibboom!

“I didn’t actually know what a jibboom was until I’d done some homework,” said New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio Saturday morning at the city’s Parade Plaza, shortly before he commemorated several parading, ah, jibboomers, with a ceremonial proclamation.

“I’m familiar with a jibboom,” laughed Kristina Croteau, a New London resident who was awaiting the event with her dog, Murphy. “A friend of mine’s in the parade, so, yeah, I know what it’s all about.”

For landlubbers: a jibboom is a sailing term for a spar that lengthens the bowsprit — or pole — that extends from the prow of a vessel.

“It’s right here,” said Edward Baker, executive director of the New London County Historical Society. “This is the jibboom.” He pointed at the corresponding component of the Neversail, a boat constructed by members of the society along with members of the Mystic Seaport construction staff, to serve as a float in the Jibboom Club Parade.

In commemoration of the return of the whaling ship Charles W. Morgan to New London, actors from the Flock Theatre thespian troupe portrayed Jibboom Club members in the first Jibboom parade in almost six decades. Originally formed in 1891 by men who’d sailed on at least one whaling ship expedition, the Jibboom Club eventually expanded its constituency to include all manners of professional mariners. The social club became famous for its annual parade, held on Washington’s birthday. Including floats representing a whaling ship piloted by King Neptune, they’d proceed down State Street and arrive at City Hall, where the mayor would meet them with congratulatory cigars.

Membership in the club dwindled with the decline of the local fishing industry, and the parade stopped in the late 1950s.

“We loved the idea of the Jibboom Club parade coming back,” Baker said, “but the Washington’s birthday concept, in February, wasn’t what we had in mind. The return of the Morgan seemed a great opportunity to stage the parade and show off the Morgan.”

In addition to the historical society and Mystic Seaport, New London Landmarks, Flock Theatre, the Custom House Maritime Museum and New London Main Street all helped organize the parade.

A happy crowd turned out on a windy, cloud-tossed day. The parade started on Bank Street by the New London Fire Station, headed to the Parade, turned to Water Street and then back to the Custom House for that outfit’s annual Chowda Fest.

This year’s short but festive cavalcade was headed up by a color guard and a magnificent, 15-foot papier-mâché Moby Dick. The beast, literally surfaced with torn pages from numerous volumes of “Moby Dick,” was overseen by Krystal Kornegay Rose, a project manager at Mystic Seaport, and her husband, artist Caleb Rose.

“Caleb and I made the frame,” Kornegay Rose said, “and we came up the idea of using the ‘Moby Dick’ pages during the Seaport’s yearly marathon.” Folks gather each July on the Morgan and read aloud the entire Melville classic. “The marathon gets a bit tedious, so we thought if participants wanted to tear out the pages they’d read, or their favorite chapters, they could papier-mâché them on the whale.”

Moby —whose jaws did not, by the way, contain a papier-mâché Capt. Ahab leg — was followed by the Ancient Mariners Fife & Drum Corps. As they turned off Bank Street at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, they halted and performed a vigorous piece. In their rustic sea outfits and armed with several flutes, it was as though 15 Ian Andersons had shown up to honor the Jibboom Club.

At the conclusion of the music, actors in period dress stepped forward to hear laudatory comments from Finizio.

“Welcome, welcome, welcome!” the mayor said. “It’s my honor, on the great return of the Charles W. Morgan, to help bring back the Jibboom Club to New London.”

Instead of the ritual cigars — which he avoided for “various legal and health reasons” — Finizio handed out ceremonial trennels, which are wooden dowels used on ships to help secure rigging.

In appreciation, the Jibboom men called for the crowd to help in shouting out three cheers for New London — and actually used the time-honored “Hip, hip hooray!” exultation.

The largely female American Seamen’s Friend Society followed, and then the symbolic whaling ship, with trident-bearing King Neptune, brought up the rear.

“I love this goofy-ass town,” said John Oliva, who is in the process of moving permanently to the summer home he and his girlfriend have owned in New London for years. “I didn’t really know about jibbooms, but it’s clearly a good reason for a parade.”

Elizabeth and Joel LaRose, who were downtown as Mystic Seaport members to tour the Morgan, were glad their visit coincided with the parade.

“This was a lot of fun. And now that I know what a jibboom is, I can die happy,” Joel LaRose laughed.

r.koster@theday.com

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