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Hundreds flock to West Babylon Tulip Parade

A float is featured in the Tulip Parade

A float is featured in the Tulip Parade in West Babylon. (April 28, 2012) Credit: Ed Betz

Among the hundreds Saturday in West Babylon watching vintage Corvettes and Oldsmobiles, an old trolley and marchers carrying bouquets of yellow tulips was 76-year-old Marie Rizzi.

Rizzi has been there from the beginning. When Our Lady of Grace Roman Catholic Church was founded in 1962, she was one of its original parishioners.

And Saturday, she and about a dozen others who have attended the church since its beginning watched the Tulip Parade, which was organized to commemorate the church's 50th anniversary.

"I remember we had our first Mass in a warehouse," said Rizzi, who moved to West Babylon from Brooklyn in 1960, in search of more space with one child and another on the way. "I used to teach religious classes in my basement," she said.

The parade, which organizers created to replicate the 1947-1952 Babylon tulip parade, was reminiscent of a different time.

"There were tulips on both sides of Main Street," said Connie Stevens, 90, who in 1951 came to West Babylon from Brooklyn.

Many in the parade, which went from West Babylon Junior High School on Old Farmingdale Road to the church at 666 Albin Ave., honored the community's Dutch roots and the farmlands that once dominated the area.

Many women wore traditional hats and dresses and carried bouquets of tulips. And evoking the era when the church began, classic cars, a 1950s fire engine and police car drove slowly bringing cheers along the route.

"I remember seeing a lot of those cars when I was younger," Rizzi said.

After the parade, Babylon Town Historical Society president Tom Smith presided over a ribbon cutting to mark the opening next Sunday of the Van Bourgondien Farm House Museum next door to the church. The Van Bourgondiens had been one of seven main farming families that grew Dutch bulbs that were a staple of the local economy in the '20s and '30s, he said. The historical society acquired the farmhouse in 2006.

The period when the church was opening and the farm was closing was an important time, Smith said. "Farmland was being plowed under. Developments were booming. People were putting up new schools, new churches. Communities were springing up left and right. The whole place was changing."

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