Tulip Tree Poem

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The Tulip Tree of old Inwood in painting titled "Summer Afternoon," circa 1908, by Ernest Lawson.
The Tulip Tree of old Inwood in painting titled “Summer Afternoon,” circa 1908, by Ernest Lawson.

In 1933 a bizarre trinity of adventure, history and poetry converged in Inwood Hill Park to celebrate the majesty of Inwood’s fabled tulip tree. Under the auspices of “Indian Day,” an ode to the mighty tulip was commissioned in the form of a “tone poem“set to the music of German composers Carl Dienstbach and Jareslav Cajhami.

The Inwood Tulip, Source: NYC Parks Department 1930 Annual Report. (Today the site is marked by a bronze plaque on a boulder called "Shorakkopoch Rock.")
The Inwood Tulip, Source: NYC Parks Department 1930 Annual Report. (Today the site is marked by a bronze plaque on a boulder called “Shorakkopoch Rock.”)

As the poem, titled “The Great Tulip Tree,” was read to a tune played by a small symphony, American Indians dressed in “buck-skin shirts and feathered head-dress” mingled among the crowd as they geared up for a traditional feast accompanied by “tribal dances.”

But, here is where things get weird….

The poet, Augustus Post, while widely published, was first and foremost a dare devil–taking to the skies in a variety of flying contraptions in a lifetime of outlandish stunts that garnered him an international Evil Knievel-like following.

Augustus Post and Alan Hawley at the start of the 1910 International Balloon Races.
Augustus Post and Alan Hawley at the start of the 1910 International Balloon Races.

In one incident in October of 1910 Post and fellow adventurer Alan Hawley vanished while participating in the Gordon Bennett Balloon Race. Presumed dead, Post and Hawley shocked the world when they marched out of the Canadian wilderness more than a week after they disappeared.  In another death defying feat later that year Post walked away bruised, but otherwise unharmed, surviving a sixty foot fall after his biplane crashed into a tree in New Orleans’ City Park.

So, there’s the set up. The venue was Inwood Hill Park. Without further introduction I bring you…

The Great Tulip Tree

By Augustus Post

O Tulip Tree, O Tulip Tree

What changes time hath wrought!

What scenes have passed beneath thy bough,

That fleeting age hath brought.

When first you shaded virgin shore,

Then dusky tribes sat round,

The Indian brave with log canoe,

And squaw that tilled the ground.

The rocky cave and bark wigwam

Rang loud with laugh and shout,

The startled deer and beaver shy,

Sped off in frighted rout.

When great bird appeared one day

With crew from o’er the sea,

And Hendrick Hudson passed that way

And anchored in your lea.

There in the bay the “Halve Maen” lay

And sheltered rode the tide,

While Indian warriors, from afar,

Swore treaties to abide.

When sailing ship and puffing boat,

That stemmed the Hudson’s flow,

And Balbo’s birds, in speedy flight,

Past your retreats did go.

The hunter only then you knew,

This nook the braves forsook,

When came the pale-face pushing through,

With stern, foreboding look.

The changing steam, the engine’s scream,

The ever onward cry,

The march of men, the helmet’s gleam,

Your towering tops defy.

Glenn Curtis too, sought shelter here,

Wing born on Hudson’s air;

He spied your welcome, open glade

And landed in your care.

Though towers of man may rear their heads,

And tunnels pierce the rock,

Thou’lt stand erect, nor bend thy bough,

Nor fear the thunder’s shock.

O “Sentinel for Centuries”!

Many more pass by!

Ere thou shalt design to seek thy bed,

And earth-borne prostrate lie.

O son of man who buildest well

Your Empire Towers high,

Look up and see what can still be

In earth and sea and sky.

This tree, whose life may fully span

The cycles of thy day,

May yet outlive thy pigmy age,

Herald of Nature’s sway.

O Tulip Tree! O Tulip Tree!

What changes time hath wrought!

What scenes have passed beneath thy bough!

What fleeting age hath brought!

-Augustus Post

June 3rd, 1933

Author’s note: This poem can be found in the main branch of the New York Public Library. It was originally published in the form of a pamphlet printed by The Association of Greater Citizenship, Inc.

For more on the Tulip Tree of old Inwood, click here.

4 COMMENTS

  1. That was interesting.

    I’ve often wondered about the old ginko tree in Isham Park above Broadway. Any ideas on how old it is? I know you’ve posted some old photos from early 20th century that have the tree, and it looks quite large in them. It’s a stunning tree, especially in the fall when its leaves have turned golden.

      • Inwood neighbor and retired Wave Hill gardening guru John Emmanuel tells me the tree is at least 150 years old and may date to Colonial times. Since the ginkgo is not indigenous to these shores, it cannot have arrived before European settlement. Someone planted and cared for this tree at some time. Drawing from his landscaping background, John imagines the tree was planted around the time to wall was built to create a striking visual effect. That of course is just a guess.

  2. Hello – I said I would visit your web site and indeed I did !
    The entire site is so well done I am in total awe, very impressed.
    Wonderful stories about Inwoods History, great pics too.
    I really liked the Tulip Tree Poem as it told a historical story,
    Post & Hawley`s adventure was very interesting too!
    Hope the Inwwod Bowl will bring out another historical story.
    Let me know, I`ll be looking forward to seeing it pictured with
    the informative story. I`m sure all who visit your bloggs leave with
    appreciation of your work.
    Sincerely, Correna Anderson

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