Yesterday marked the beginning of the 2013 National Cherry Blossom Festival, an annual event in Washington, D.C., celebrating the gift of more than 3,000 Japanese cherry blossom trees from the city of Tokyo, Japan. This year the festival runs from March 20 through April 14.
In a modest ceremony at the Tidal Basin on March 27, 1912, First Lady Helen Herron “Nellie” Taft and Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador, planted the first two trees. The remaining trees were placed around the Tidal Basin and elsewhere in Washington.
After the trees were planted, Colonel Spencer Cosby of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who supervised the project, wrote prophetically about them to Mayor Ozaki in Tokyo:
The trees completely surround the Tidal Basin and, when in bloom in the spring, will make a magnificent display. . . . In a few years this will undoubtedly be one of the famous sights of Washington, and a constant reminder to our citizens of the kindly feeling of your City and Country.
One of the great legacies of Nellie Taft’s years as First Lady was the beautification of what is today known as Potomac Park. Mrs. Taft visualized the area embellished with Japanese cherry trees that would bloom profusely with white and pink flowers every spring.
In 1927, local citizens held a pageant, including a reenactment of the original planting ceremony, to celebrate the gift of the stunning trees. During the 1930s, similar celebrations became annual events. Revived after a hiatus during World War II, the National Cherry Blossom Festival today encompasses myriad events such as a parade, concerts, galas, and a variety of cultural events, drawing more than a million visitors to the nation’s capital each year.
The 2012 Cherry Blossom Centennial Forever® stamps (and many related philatelic products) are still available from The Postal Store. (Forever® stamps are always equal in value to the current First-Class Mail® one-ounce rate.)