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.
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.
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!
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.