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May 8, 2011


A weblog about the politics and affairs of the old and glorious City of Albany, New York, USA. Articles written and disseminated from Albany's beautiful and historic South End by Daniel Van Riper. If you wish to make a response, have anything to add or would like to make an empty threat, please contact me.

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May 8, 2011

Look At These Tulips

The whole world is being sent to hell but finally it’s Spring and the flowers are out

Saturday morning I checked out the tulips in Washington Park on the day of the Albany Tulip Festival. My goodness gracious they were the best I’ve ever seen them.

Tulips in Washington Park

Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera with me so I went back sunday morning to take pictures. The tulips were no longer perfect but they were still pretty good. Anyway, I have yet to see any pictures by anyone that sufficiently capture the the absolute delightfulness of this annual horticultural display.

Tulips in Washington Park

Not that people don’t try to take The Perfect Picture. Every family group walking around admiring the flowers has at least one camera, ranging from phones to serious equipment and everything in between. And every family with small children must squat and smile in front of the flowers while usually the alpha male carefully composes the shot for posterity.

Tulips in Washington Park

Who caused this damage to these healthy tulips (in the photo above?) Gangbangers from Colonie? Irresponsible vandals from Clifton Park? Well, sort of. This was caused by a succession of families with young children posing for Dad’s camera, so busy posing that they gave no thought to the pretty backdrop they were crushing. Today (Sunday) no one wants to pose here anymore.

Tulips in Washington Park

The designs made out of flowers were very precisely planted with great care. There was a whole set of what I would call medallions with very clean designs. It’s a shame I couldn’t seem to point my camera straight that morning, I keep cutting off the edges of the medallions. But you get the idea from the pictures.

Tulips in Washington Park

Not all of the medallions were round. I guess this one (above) is probably the Liberty Bell, that symbol of our great liberal traditions upon which our nation lives or dies.

Tulips in Washington Park

Some of the medallions were composed entirely of tulips, like in the photo above. Don’t ask me what are the names of the tulip varieties because I don’t give a rat’s patootie. But there were other species of flowers that work well with the tulips.

Tulips in Washington Park

The gardeners like these purple flowers that resemble blue lupine from the Pine Bush, which is ironic because Washington Park was once Pine Bush covered with blue lupine and swarming with clouds of karner blue butterflies. I thought the little signs poked into the soil next to the flowers called these purple flowers muscaria. But I must be mistaken because muscaria is a mushroom, the kind that poisons you a little bit.

Tulips in Washington Park

The Tulip Festival is a cleaned up version of the dark and lowborn Pinxter Festival, which was sort of social outlet for the black slaves that dates back to the Dutch occupation of the Hudson Valley. Pinxter was an alternate name for Whitsuntide or the Day of the Ascension. This marks the day in early May when Jesus of Nazareth is said to have ascended to heaven.

But pinxter (or pinkster) is also a kind of pink azalea which blooms all at once at whitsuntide throughout the northeast US, Back in the day it covered open fields and hilltops on the edge of town. Like all azaleas it’s poisonous, but only in large quantities. I have heard that the slaves celebrating Whitsuntide would add the leaves of the pinxter plant to their celebratory hootch to give it extra kick. If that is true, then surely the slaves looked at the blooming of the pinxter flowers with joy and anticipation.

Tulips in Washington Park

While underclass whites participated in large numbers, the old time Pinxter Festival was clearly an affair run and created by the black slaves. Check out this description based on a written newspaper report from 1803:

In the week preceding Pinkster there was a gradual buildup to the festival "during which, the negroes patrol the streets in the evening more than usual, and begin to practice a little upon the Guinea drum." The slaves also set up an encampment on Pinkster Hill which was to become the "theater of action [emphasis in original]." A series of arbors were constructed by setting stakes in the ground and then weaving through them branches rom a shrub growing on the adjoining plain to create a series of "airy cottages" that were "impervious to solar rays." These shelters, arranged to form an amphitheater in front of the royal arbor, were filled with fruit, cakes, beer, and liquor.

Tulips in Washington Park

For the next three or four days and nights a variety of sports and activities occurred. The most important of these, indeed the apparent highlight of the festival, was Toto, or the Guinea dance. This took place in the amphitheater in front of the royal arbor. There sat the "chief musician dressed in a horrid manner -- rolling his eyes and tossing his head with an air of savage wildness; grunting and mumbling out certain inarticulate but hideous sounds" as he beat upon a Guinea drum. On either side of this character were two imps, "decorated with feathers and cow tails," performing similar "uncouth and terrifying grimaces" while playing on smaller drums and initiating "his sounds of frightful dissonance."

Tulips in Washington Park

Goodness gracious, doesn’t that sound like fun? It sounds to me like some of the West African traditions of the slaves survived into the 1800s. I wonder if back in the 1700s or in the 1600s the Pinxter Festival was extremely African, perhaps even a clandestine religious ceremony from the old country. Perhaps this time of year was more than an excuse to party, perhaps the story of the Ascension coincided with outlawed pagan ideas imported from Africa.

Tulips in Washington Park

As I left the park I passed by the monument to Henry Johnson, a true hero by any patriotic standard. He was also a victim of outrageous blatant racism. I was glad to see a plot of tulips planted before him in his honor.

Then I noticed a family of foreigners alternately gazing at the monument and snapping pictures of the flowers. so I snuck up behind Henry and snapped their picture before going home. It’s good to see people care about such things, that’s what monuments are for.

Tulips in Washington Park

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If you are having difficulties posting a comment, please email Daniel Van Riper. We are experimenting with our spam filters, and we do not want to exclude any legitimate commenters, just spammers!

Posted by:Joyce Snipp
Posted on:11/15/2015
Lovely designs.. The common name for the Purple Flower "Muscaria" is "Grape Hyacinth"

Posted by:Deanna
Posted on:04/26/2016
Thank you for the beautiful pictures!

Posted by:Dan Van Riper
Posted on:04/29/2016
Thank you Deanna! One of the photos in this article was used by Deanna in an article about upcoming festivals in Albany that she wrote for the SUNY Polytechnic Institute, which is located near Utica NY. Check out the link in her comment above.

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