STEVE BARNES Staff writer
Section: LIFE & LEISURE,  Page: D1

Date: Friday, May 7, 1999

Correction: ***** CORRECTION PUBLISHED MAY 8, 1999 ***** A caption in Friday's editions incorrectly identified the 1949 Tulip Queen. Her name is Jeanne Coakley.

The new Tulip Festival wasn't the largest outdoor event in a city park when it opened the weekend of May 14, 1949.

That honor went to a 25,000-strong gathering called ``I Am An American'' Day, held simultaneously in Lincoln Park. At the time, the Soviets were blockading Berlin and pro-American/anti-Communist fervor was at fever pitch. Three or four front-page stories about Communists, ``Reds,'' Russian spies and embattled Berlin appeared daily in the Times Union in the days before the Tulip Festival.

And so, while the tulip queen and king (the only year there have been floral monarchs of both genders) were receiving their crowns amid the blooms of Washington Park, a few blocks away the tone was decidedly different.

In Lincoln Park, anti-Russian sentiments alternated with recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance as the gathered crowds worried more about an international menace (Commies) than an international plant (Dutch tulips).

Celebrity guests at the ``I Am An American'' rally included former heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey and Harold Russell, a World War II paratrooper who had lost both hands and won an Oscar for his performance in the beloved 1946 picture ``The Best Years of Our Lives.''

A half-century later, the population of Washington Park for the 51st annual Albany Tulip Festival this weekend will exceed 100,000 at any given moment, provided you count humans and tulips. With at least 50,000 flowers and, if the weather's nice, at least that many people but nary a scary Communist, the Tulip Festival will continue its prominence among Albany events.

Reigning over today's ritual street scrubbing and farewell luncheon will be the outgoing tulip queen, Katie O'Malley. At noon Saturday, she will hand over her crown to the new queen, who was chosen from five finalists:

Carra Quinn Chovan, 18, of Albany, a senior at Catholic Central High School.

Angela Franze, 19, of Latham, a sophomore at the College of Saint Rose.

Andrea Nowick, 18, of Loudonville, a freshman at the College of Saint Rose.

Nicole Marie Stack, 20, of Albany, a third-year student at the Albany College of Pharmacy.

Kristen Lee Vanderwarker, 17, of Altamont, a senior at Voorheesville High School.

The tulip queen's crown, now 7 or 8 years old, is a sterling silver tiara sporting three gold tulips. It was designed by Drue Sanders of Drue Sanders Jewelers. It is at least the fourth crown, judging by historic photos.

The original crowns, one each for king and queen, were designed by an artist from Castleton named Hajo Christoph, who created them from copper and brass. Christoph was principally a designer of packages for a paper company.