[Broadcast from the Rochester, NY, Lilac Festival]
I know we've just arrived here in Highland Park, but now I'm going to whisk
us away to Europe. Europe in 1563.
In our sister city of Rennes, France, parlement left the city to escape
an outbreak of the plague. Britain saw the birth of the C of E - the Church
of England - while in London, John Foxe published his "Book of Martyrs".
Spain's Philip II began construction on the San Lorenzo de Real monastery,
outside of Madrid. It would later become the foundation of the Escorial
Further to the east Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I waited for the return
of his ambassador - Ogier Ghiseline de Busbecq, who was returning to Vienna
from the court of Turkish Sultan Sulieman the Magnificent, after a seven-year
Like any good ambassador De Busbecq brought back samples of native products,
such as the Angora goat. Obviously a man of horticultural bent, he also
carried some flower bulbs back to Austria. The Turks, having noted the flowers'
resemblence to their own turbans, named the plant after their headgear -
tulipam. The plants were actually native to central Asia and had made their
way to Constantinople by way of the overland trade routes during the Middle
The bulb began circulating among connoisseurs, eventually ending up in the
gardens of Holland's University of Leyden. Suddenly, in 1634, tulips were
hotter than beanie babies.
As the number of varieties mushroomed, the newest became the Microsoft shares
of their age. Tulipomania - the official name - reigned. The price of unusual
blooms, usually the result of a plant virus by the way, rivaled that of
precious gems. One bulb went for 13,000 guilders, which at that time would
buy 36 bags of corn, 72 bags of rice, 4 bullocks, 12 sheep, 8 pigs, 2 tuns
(T-U-N-S) of butter, 2 tuns of cheese - and a silver beaker.
The market collapsed in 1637, but by then tulips were on their way to America.
As you look around the park today, you can see they're doing quite nicely,
thank you very much.
The Vienese ambassador brought one other plant back from the wilds of Turkey.
The Syringia vulgaris - Latin for "belonging to the masses" -
more commonly known as - you guessed it - the lilac, also worked its way
westward, eventually reaching our own shores. And in Rochester in 1892,
Scots-born city horticulturist John Dunbar planted fifty of the shrubs here
in Highland Park. Six years later the first Lilac Sunday was celebrated;
it expanded to ten days in the 1930s, and became an permanent event in 1948.
So here we are. And there, on the hillside, they are - the lilacs.
Thank you, Mr. Ambassador.
For Classical ninety-one five, this is David Minor.
NOTE (April 2000)
For the whole known story of tuilipomania, I highly recommend Mike Dash's
(New York, Crown, 1999, ISBN 0-609-60439-2)
© 1997 David Minor / Eagles Byte
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