life in cape may

Cape May Spring Festival's Roots

Posted 4/21/08
By Jane Kashlak

Cape May, NJ - This weekend kicks off a two week series of house tours, special restaurant meals and even more trolley tours than usual - all in the name of Spring.
(Click for complete list of events.)

But for old timers, this isn't the Spring Festival weekend, it's the Tulip Festival weekend. It's the time of year when Cape May has tulips peeking out from every nook and cranny.

Some are grand displays - like the florescent pink tulips in front of Congress Hall. Others are more modest - a few red or yellow tulips here or there along a sidewalk or by a front door.

What do tulips have to do with Cape May? Oh we're so glad you asked. You see, a Dutch sea captain named Cornelius Mey stumbled upon this little piece of the Jersey shore back in the 1600's. He quickly named the spot for himself - Cape Mey.

Fast forward 450 years or so to a local innkeeper named Millie, determined to try to increase visitors during the slow season. She hit on the idea of capitalizing on Cape May's "Dutch" heritage by planting and selling tulips in April. Everyone was encouraged to grow tulips.

Sue De Rosa, the longtime innkeeper of the Cliveden Inn, says the Tulip Festival included dancers doing Dutch dances in wooden shoes, Bavarian food and music, and hundreds of tulips for sale.

They were simpler times and folks didn't need much of an excuse to take the drive to shore.

At the same time, the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts, noticing the crowds in town for the Tulip Festival, decided it would be a great time to showcase some of their tours.

So they started the Spring Festival on the same weekend.

For several years, both the Spring Festival and the Tulip Festival happily coexisted. But, as with all cohabitations, eventually one stays and the other goes. In this case, the Tulip Festival quietly faded away.

Even so, the tulips, both the old and the new, come back same time every year.

Of course, there's no guarantee that they'll be in peak bloom on the last weekend of April and the first weekend of May. A heavy rain could destroy the blooms, or a cold snap could slow the growth.

Which makes this year, when all the tulips great and small are blooming their hearts out, that much more special.

Millie would be happy.

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