[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 museums.

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 absence.

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 Ages.

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 Tulipomania
(New York, Crown, 1999, ISBN 0-609-60439-2)

© 1997 David Minor / Eagles Byte