Tuesday 27 March 2012

Washington's Cherry Blossom Festival

Photo of photographers and painters on Tidal Basin circa 1920 courtesy http://upload.wikimedia.org.

This year Washington DC residents celebrate the 100th year of the Cherry Blossom Festival.  The roots of the cherry tree orchard that lines the city's Tidal Basin at Potomac Park go back to American Eliza Scidmore.  She had visited Japan back in 1885 and suggested that Washington DC plant some cherry trees along the Tidal Basin, but her idea was rejected for 25 years straight.  Finally, Mrs. Scidmore raised the funds to donate the cherry trees herself, writing a letter to Mrs Taft in 1909 stating her intentions.  A visiting Japanese chemist named Jokichi Takamine happened to be visiting Washington DC and heard about Mrs. Scidmore's plan and offered to donate an extra 2000 trees in the name of the city of Tokyo.

The cherry trees arrived in January 1910, but they were infested with insects and subsequently were burned.  Not to be deterred, the city of Tokyo sent an addtional 3020 cherry trees, of a different variety, shipping them to Seattle on the Awa Maru and then by railcar to Washington DC.  On March 27, 1912, First Lady Helen Taft stood side by side with the wife of the Japanese Ambassador to plant two of these cherry trees in West Potomac Park.  From 1913 to 1920, 1800 of these donated trees were planted along Washington DC's Tidal Basin.  The remaining trees were planted in East Potomac Park.  In 1935 the first Cherry Blossom Festival was held. 

Four days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, four of the cherry trees were chopped down by an unknown person, probably as a statement against the attack.  The Cherry Blossom Festival was suspended during World War II not to be resumed until 1947.  The city of Tokyo donated an additional 3800 cherry trees, of the Yoshimo variety in 1965 and Lady Bird Johnson planted one in a ceremony at the White House.  By 1994, the Cherry Blossom Festival was extended to two weeks in length.  When tourists flock to Washington DC to view the flowering trees this year, they will be part of a five-week celebration and a 100-year-old tradition.

Photo courtesy http://upload.wikimedia.org.  

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