A Pause to Enjoy the Cherry Blossoms

By Al Perrotta Published on April 11, 2015

Poor Washington, D.C. Not a day goes by without some politician vowing to “clean up Washington” or some citizen — okay, millions of citizens — grumbling about the ugliness in Washington. Meanwhile, history books can’t help but remind us the Federal City arose from a mosquito-infested swamp.

However, for a brief time each year, this time of year, our nation’s capital magically transforms into one of the most beautiful, breathtaking cities in the world.

So for just a moment, let’s put aside the Democrats and bureaucrats, Republicans and regulators, Presidents and would-be Presidents. The cherry blossoms are in bloom!

cherry blossoms washington tourists 300

Tourists and locals enjoying the cherry blossoms along the Tidal Basin last year.

The Washington Post has a spectacular gallery of photos showing off this year’s blossoms in their full splendor. The pink-tinted white blooms framing the Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Monument and the under-renovation Capitol Dome; capturing tourists strolling the Tidal Basin; watching over a little girl doing cartwheels; seemingly standing guard at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial; hosting a tiny bird.

Enjoy the 18 images here: Cherry Blossom Gallery 

Thanks to the harsh winter, the blossoms took their time arriving this year. But they have peaked just in time for Saturday’s National Cherry Blossom Parade and Sunday’s end of the annual  National Cherry Blossom Festival.

2014-Parade-Finale[1]

The finale of 2014’s National Cherry Blossom Parade in Washington, D.C.

The cherry blossom trees that ring Washington’s Tidal Basin were first planted in 1912, a gift from the People of Japan to the People of the United States. But the story goes back farther than that, and speaks to the power a single, passionate voice can have in Washington.

Meet Eliza Ruhama Scidmore.

Eliza Ruhama Scidmore

Eliza Ruhama Scidmore

In 1885, after a visit to Japan, Mrs. Scidmore approached the U.S. Army Superintendent of the Office of Public Buildings and Grounds with an idea: Planting cherry trees along the reclaimed Potomac River waterfront. The answer was no. For 24 years, Eliza went to each new superintendent with her proposal. Each one said no.

Finally, in 1909, she was ready to try again. A Department of Agriculture official and cherry-tree enthusiast Dr. David Fairchild had also determined that lining Washington’s avenues and waterfronts with Oriental cherry trees would greatly beautify the city. He said 300 trees would transform the area into a “Field of Cherries.”

Eliza teamed with Fairchild, and set out to raise the money to buy the trees and donate them to the District. But this time, she wasn’t going to mess with some Army superintendent. She was going straight to the top. Or at least the woman married to the guy at the top. She wrote America’s new first lady Helen Herron Taft.

As it turns out, Mrs. Taft had lived in Japan and knew full well the beauty of the blossoming cherry trees. The first lady wrote Eliza back within two days, saying, “I have taken the matter up and am promised the trees.” Specifically, she went to the latest Superintendent of the Office of Public Buildings and Grounds, one Colonel Spencer Cosby. This time, Col. Cosby listened and ordered 90 Fugenzo Cherry Trees. (Unfortunately, the trees he purchased ended up not being Fugenzo’s and quickly disappeared.)

Meanwhile, the Japanese consul in Washington had gotten wind of Taft’s wishes and immediately offered to donate 2,000 trees in the name of the City of Tokyo.

Eliza Scidmore’s quarter-century effort was nearly complete.

The trees arrived in Washington January 6, 1910. Unfortunately, a Department of Agriculture inspection determined the trees were diseased and infested. President Taft agreed they had to be destroyed.

Fortunately, neither the U.S. nor Japanese governments were going to be deterred by anything as small as insects and nematodes. And on Valentine’s Day 1912 3,020 cherry trees — 12 varieties taken from the banks of Tokyo’s Arakawa River — arrived in America.

Cherry Blossoms with Washington Monument - 300On March 27, first lady Helen Herron Taft and Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador, planted two Yoshino cherry trees on the northern bank of the Tidal Basin. Those two trees still stand.

Along with the thousands of other cherry trees that have turned Washington D.C. this week into an explosion of blossoms, they express the true beauty of our nation’s capital: The hope of peace among nations and the power of a single voice.

 

 

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