Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) A century and three years ago today, March 27, 1912, the First Lady of the United States, Helen Taft and the wife of the Japanese ambassador to the United States, Viscountess Chinda, planted two Japanese cherry trees on the North bank of the Potomac River.
The trees can be seen today several hundred yards west of the John Paul Jones Memorial at the terminus of 17th Street SW, 125 feet South of what is now Independence Avenue, SW. A commemorate plaque marks the event.
The idea originated with Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore who, after her first visit to Japan in 1905, suggested it to government officials. Mrs. Scidmore's idea was turned down, but, undeterred, she continued to make the proposal to every new Superintendent of the Office of Public Buildings and Grounds for the next 24 years.
Mrs. Scidmore wrote a letter to Helen Taft detailing her proposal to raise money to purchase the cherry trees and then donate them to the city of Washington. The First Lady responded on April 7, 1909 thanking her for the suggestion and saying that she had "taken the matter up.....and am promised the trees..."
Unfortunately, the 2000 cherry trees that arrived in the Nation's Capital on January 6, 1910 were found to be diseased and had to be destroyed. 3020 replacements were dispatched from Japan.
Following the planting of the first two Japanese cherry trees, more plantings continued between 1913 and 1920.
The National Cherry Tree Festival began in 1935 and continues to this day. In 1965, Japan gave 3800 more Yoshino trees to the United States which were accepted by Lady Bird Johnson.
The Japanese Cherry Tree, known as "Sakura" in the Japanese language, is described as "an exalted flowering plant," the blossoms of which are "a potent symbol equated with evanescence of human life and epitomizes the transformation of Japanese culture throughout the ages."
"Cherry Blossom Festival: Cherry Tree History," National Park Service, www.nps.gov/