April 26, 2017


Today, the wayback machine travels back in time to the Tudor City Tulip Festival, an annual rite of spring held in the parks from 1936-1940. Dreamed up by the French Company as a promotional gimmick, the event boasted a heck of a lot of tulips ‒ 50,000 at its peak ‒ along with opera singers, fashion shows, and lots of costumed kiddies.
Bruce Arnold and Barbara Ireton, students at Miss Traver's School in Tudor City, tiptoeing through the tulips in the North Park, 1936.

The inaugural edition, on May 12, 1936, showcases 20,000 tulips donated by the Holland Bulb Growers Association. Neighborhood kids in Dutch costumes sing songs, and there's an outdoor fashion show. The advertised guest of honor is the first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, there to inspect a new tulip named in her honor. She doesn't show, and Walter Winchell is appalled.
Always one to keep a story going, Winchell follows up with a similar item several months later.
In 1937, there are 50,000 tulips. Opera baritone Reinald Werrenrath performs and a ballet entitled "La Tulip Noire" is staged by Calliope Charise. In 1940, its final year, 50,000 tulips are abloom in the North Park. There's a dance exhibition sponsored by the Arthur Murray School. Students at Miss Traver's School sing a song of their own composition, "Welcome, Tudor Tulips."

By the spring of 1941, fast-moving events abroad make the event seem inappropriate given the perilous mood in the air. There no free tulips from the Holland Bulb Growers Association anyway; in May, 1940, the Netherlands surrender to Nazi Germany.

The tulip festival never returns, but it does have a moment of glory in 1954, when a 1936 wirephoto turns up showing an 8-year-old boy in Dutch costume at the festival (at left). It's Roy Cohn, a big name in 1954 given his role in the televised Army-McCarthy hearings. Cohn is Senator Joseph McCarthy's counsel.

The photo runs in syndication across the country, with the following caption:

"GUESS WHO? ‒ Even if you are a faithful TV viewer, it's doubtful if you recognize the cute little "Dutch Boy" in this photo. It's none other than Roy M. Cohn, costar in the McCarthy-Army TV serial. The picture, taken 18 years ago, shows Cohn waltzing through the tulips with Barbara Lechtig at the Tudor City Tulip Festival in New York."

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