Did you know that famous cherry blossom festivities of Washington D.C. are a result of one woman traveler’s dream to bring the trees to America? During her visits to Japan, she became so fascinated with blossom celebrations that she developed a plan of creating similar tradition in Washington D.C. Her vision realized into one of the biggest springtime festivals in the USA attracting thousands of visitors from all over the world.
I visited Washington D.C. many times before but never during the cherry blossom season. It was a trip long overdue. Normally I plan my travels well in advance, but with this one I wanted a perfect weather so it was a last minute decision. I took off from work, made a hotel reservation, and next day early in the morning jumped into my car and headed for an overnight solo adventure to Washington D.C.
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Before I left, I did my homework. I wanted to know more about the story behind the trees and what a fascinating story I found.
Eliza Scidmore – Woman behind Washington D.C.’s Cherry Trees
Eliza Scidmore was born to a family of adventurers on October of 1856 in Madison, Wisconsin. Since her early age, traveling became a major focus in her life. She attended Oberlin College for a short time and then moved to Washington D.C. At the age of 19 she was already a journalist working for a Washington newspaper. The money she earned from the job allowed her to explore the world.
In 1886, she traveled to Japan to visit her diplomat brother. That visit became a turning point in her life. She fell in love with the country and its culture. In particular, she became fascinated with cherry blossoms and traditional festivities called hanami. She loved the idea of people gathering under the trees to celebrate arrival of spring. For Japanese, cherry blossoming is a metaphor for life. It is a reminder how beautiful and fragile life is and how little time we have to enjoy it.
History of Washington D.C Cherry Trees
Fascinated with the tradition, Eliza developed a dream of bringing cherry trees to Washington DC. Soon after her return from Japan, she started to petition to plant the trees along the Potomac River. It took almost 30 years for her vision to become a reality. Her initiative was finally recognized in 1909 by the incoming first lady, Helen Taft. It was incorporated in city’s plan to create Potomac Park.
The plantings of cherry trees took place in 1912 when 3000 trees arrived from Japan as a gift of friendship to the people of the United States. Since then, Eliza’s dream comes alive annually with National Cherry Blossom Festival – the U.S.A.’s greatest springtime celebration.
The festival features a parade with colorful balloons, beautifully decorated floats, and marching bands. Other events include a sushi and sake celebration, various art exhibits, fashion shows and live performances.
Day One – Sunday
For my stay, I chose Willard Intercontinental Washington – a classic and elegant historic hotel. As soon as walked in, I knew made the right choice. The grand lobby welcomed me with beautiful architecture and splendid flower decorations reflecting cherry blossom atmosphere of the city.
(To pay for this expensive hotel I used Chase IHG Rewards Credit Card anniversary night. Also learn why using credit cards is the right choice especially for travel)
I did not get to enjoy the hotel for long. I quickly headed to Tidal Basin – the most picturesque Washington’s location for cherry blossom. I knew it would be crowded there but what I saw was rather shocking. There were thousands of people there! It was too crowded for my liking but I quickly shifted my initial disappointment into positive thought. It was exactly was Liza Scidmore imagined, people coming in numbers to celebrate the arrival of spring!
Then came another surprise. I was expecting the trees to be pink but majority of them were not, at least at the stage I witnessed. They looked mostly white with just a delicate tint of pink. They were beautiful nevertheless. Grouped close to each other, they created almost heavenly atmosphere. With wind, their petals were gently floating in the air looking like a snow fall.
For those who preferred intensely pink trees, there were some, but they gathered the most crowds. I circled the basin at least three times and found beauty everywhere. My favorite spot was around Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial where almost every tree had its own unique dramatic shape.
Day Two – Monday
I was very proud of myself for getting up on time to catch the sunrise. I left the hotel at 4:30 a.m. and marched rather quickly toward to the basin. I have to admit, it was scary walking at this hour. The streets were empty, but I kept convincing myself that being so close to the White House, they must be under close surveillance.
When I arrived at my targeted area people were already there, mostly serious photographers with their heavy equipment. Despite other people around me, I found my own spot to experience a perfect solitude. Watching the sun rising over Washington’s famous monuments while standing under the canopy of beautiful cherry trees became an unforgettable experience.
Learn about another great spring celebration in the Northeast, St. Patrick’s Parade in Scranton, PA
This is where to go for Cherry Blossom in Philadelphia