The national Cherry Blossom Festival has been occurring annually since 1912. It celebrates the 1912 gift of 3,000 cherry trees that Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo gave to the city of Washington. The trees were a gift to honor the friendship between the two countries and to celebrate a continued close relationship with the two cultures.
On March 27, 1912, the First Lady Helen Herron Taft and Viscountess Chinda, the wife of the Japanese ambassador planted the first two cherry blossom trees from Japan on the north bank of the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park. West Potomac Park is a US National park. It is adjacent to the National Mall and runs south past many of the beautiful monuments at the National Mall. The Tidal Basin of the Potomac River is surrounded by the Jefferson Memorial and the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. The United States of America returned the favor in 1915 when a gift of flowering dogwood trees was sent to the people of Japan.
The route to the Cherry Blossom Festival was a long one. A woman named Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore thought that the cherry trees would be beautiful in Washington after she returned from a trip to Japan. She spoke to the superintendent of Public Building and Ground, Colonel Spencer Cosby, about her idea. He rejected the idea. Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore didn’t give up, every superintendent after Colonel Cosby heard about her cherry tree idea. Regardless of all the rejections she received she continued to pursue her dream of having the cherry trees in Washington for the next 24 years.
In 1906 Dr. David Fairchild, a botanist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, imported 75 flowering cherry trees and 25 single-flowered weeping types from the Yokahoma Nursery Company in Japan. He planted them on his property to see how well the soil would nourish and enrich the trees. By 1907 he was pleased with its success and began to promote these trees as perfect for Washington Avenues. Fairchild’s friends and family naturally became interested in the beautiful tree and wanted to have a part of it. On September 26, 1907 Dr. Fairchild ordered 300 Oriental cherry trees to meet the demand.
In 1908 Dr. Fairchild gave saplings to young boys in the district schools to plant for Arbor Day. Dr. Fairchild delivered an Arbor Day speech and described his vision of a “Field of Cherries.” Eliza Scidmore was also at the Arbor Day festivities and Dr. Fairchild pointed her out as a Japanese authority. In 1909 Scidmore began to try and raise money to purchase the cherry trees that she could then donate to the city. She sent the First Lady, Helen Herron Taft, who had once lived in Japan among the beautiful cherry trees, a letter describing her plan. The First Lady responded to Scidmore favorably two days after receiving her letter. The First Lady believed it would be “best to make an avenue of them, extending down to the turn in the road, as the other part is still too rough to do any planning. Of course, they could not reflect in the water, but the effect would be very lovely of the long avenue. Let me know what you think about this.” Finally Scidmore was closing in on achieving her dream.
In 1927 American school children reenacted the planting of the trees. The first ‘cherry blossom festival’ was in 1935 and was sponsored by various civic groups in the Nation’s Capital. The festival continued and in 1965 Lady Bird Johnson accepted 3,800 trees. In 1981 the USA gave Japan cuttings from the trees that had been given to us to replace some of Japan’s trees which had been destroyed in a flood.
In 1994 the festival expanded to two weeks to hold all the activity’s that are scheduled while the trees are blooming. Present day more than a million people visit Washington, DC each year to admire the cherry trees and attend events that welcome the beginning of spring in the Nation’s Capital. The centennial anniversary arrives in 2012 and plans are already under way to make that festival especially memorable.