Friday, March 28, 2014

 CHERRY TREES...
and two persistent women


In the Spring of 1885 Mrs. Eliza Scidmore returned to her home in Washington after visiting Japan. During her time there she had seen the cherry trees in full bloom and was smitten. She approached the U.S. Army Superintendent of the Office of Public Buildings and Grounds, with a proposal to plant cherry trees along the Potomac waterfront. Her request fell on deaf ears.

For the next twenty-four years she would petition every new superintendent but with no success.

What's better than one determined woman trying to make something good happen? Two women, one with a lot of clout!



Eliza finally decided to raise the money
herself, purchase the trees and gift them to the city.

Before doing so she outlined her plan and sent it to the new First Lady, Helen Taft.  Mrs. Taft who had lived in Japan and was familiar with the beauty of the cherry tree, immediately responded.
Dear Mrs. Scidmore,
"Thank you very much for your suggestion about the cheery trees. I have taken the matter up and am promised the trees, but I thought perhaps it would be best to make an avenue of them extending down to the turn in the road... the effect would be very lovely on the long avenue. 
                                               
Let me know what you think about this. "
Sincerely yours,
Helen Taft

The day after Mrs. Taft's letter the Japanese chemist, Dr.Jokitchi Takamine, who was visiting Washington, heard about the cherry trees. He asked if Mrs. Taft would accept a gift of an additional 2,000 trees and suggested they be given in the name of the city of Tokyo. Mrs. Taft graciously accepted.

There was great disappointment when the trees arrived and it was discovered that they were severely infested with bugs. To protect American growers it was determined that they should be burned.

Now the threat of a diplomatic disaster must be avoided. The Secretary of State personally expressed his deep regret to the Japanese Ambassador and there was great relief when the parties involved met the news with good will  Subsequently, the mayor of Tokyo offered a second donation.

3.020 cherry trees in 12 varieties arrived in the Spring of 1912 and the planting began. Years later there would be an additional gift of 3800 trees given in behalf of Lady Bird Johnson, First Lady to President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Each year Washington DC welcomes the arrival of spring with the National Cherry Blossom Festival, a three week event showcasing the magnificent blooming cherry trees along the Tidal Basin.


The Festival with its profusion of pink, its heady scent and the euphoric walk along the corridor would not be available except for the determination and persistence of  Helen Taft and Eliza Scidmore... two remarkable women in history!