A Blossoming Friendship
Hello, and welcome to the Blossoming Friendship Tour. This walk will guide you along the Tidal Basin and among the famous cherry blossom trees located here in Washington, DC. My name is Phillip Montague and I will be your guide. I am a licensed tour guide for the District of Columbia. I've resided in DC for the last few years, but am originally from North Carolina.
The 8 foot tall stone Japanese lantern you can see is a gift from the governor of Tokyo in 1954 to commemorate the first Treaty of Peace, Amity, and Commerce between Japan and the United States in 1854. Go over and take a look at it.
The lantern dates from 1651 and is part of a pair placed at a temple in Japan to mark the death of a Japanese military commander. Each of the lanterns weighs around two tons. The other lantern still remains at the temple today.
Every year the lantern is lit in March. The lighting of the lantern marks the official start of the annual Cherry Blossom Festival here in Washington, DC.
So, let's get going. We're going to walk counter-clockwise around the Tidal Basin. Head away from the bridge onto the side walk, and start making your way along the water's edge. Watch for low hanging branches as you go.
For those of you new to VoiceMap, the app uses location-aware audio, meaning the next track will begin playing when you reach your destination. Stretches of silence are normal. You can just keep walking unless I ask you to stop, and I'll give you directions to keep you on track. If you get lost you can refer to the map on your screen, but otherwise you can put the phone in your pocket and enjoy the tour.
First Cherry Trees
You're probably wondering, "How did all these cherry trees come to Washington, DC?"
The planting of the cherry trees was the culmination of a 24 year effort by Eliza Scidmore. She first proposed planting cherry trees along the Potomac river after seeing them during her first trip to Japan. Her proposals fell on deaf ears for many years.
In 1907, Dr. David Fairchild, an official with the Department of Agriculture, joined Eliza Scidmore's effort after testing cherry trees for their hardiness by planting them on his property in Chevy Chase, MD.
Ms. Scidmore developed a plan to plant cherry trees in the Tidal Basin area and informed First Lady Helen Taft of her efforts. Mrs. Taft had lived in Japan for some time, and was familiar with their beauty.
A Japanese chemist, Jockichi Takamine, was in town during this time and heard of the plan to plant cherry trees in Washington. He offered Mrs. Taft a donation of 2,000 cherry trees. She agreed to accept the donation given on behalf of the city of Tokyo.
But there was trouble when the cherry trees arrived in 1910. The Department of Agriculture found the trees were bug infested. President Taft allowed the trees to be burned when told of the infestation.
The United States received a second gift of 3,000 cherry trees of 12 different varieties in 1912. In March of that year, First Lady Helen Taft and Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador, planted the first cherry trees in this area. In appreciation of the gift from the Japanese, Mrs. Taft gave Viscountess Chinda a bouquet of American Beauty roses, the official flower of the District of Columbia. It is out of this ceremony the annual Cherry Blossom Festival started years later.
For those of you wondering, the the trees planted around the Tidal Basin are the Yoshino variety.
As a reminder, please do not climb the trees or pick the flowers if they are in bloom. The trees are a national treasure and are here for everyone's enjoyment. Park rangers have difficulty enforcing this rule, but there are many local Washingtonians who have no problem politely reminding you to leave the trees alone.
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
Welcome to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, the most recent addition to the National Mall. Take a look around the memorial while I tell you about it.
This memorial opened in 2011. The centerpiece is a 30 foot bas-relief of Martin Luther King Jr. looking off into the horizon. Some say he’s looking off into the “promised land” mentioned in his speeches.
He is facing south. Why south? Most of the Civil Rights Movement and protests took place in locations across the south, where "Jim Crow" racial segregation laws were heavily enforced. Some say he's looking home to Atlanta, Georgia where he was born in 1929.
If you look closely at King you may notice the stone has a slight pink tone to it. The color of the stone resembles the color of the cherry blossoms and reminds us they bloom every year around the time of his assassination, April 4, 1968.
If you're looking at King and step to the left, you will see the words, "Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope" engraved into the stone. This quote is from his famous "I Have A Dream" speech, delivered at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963 during the March On Washington. You'll see that King's statue appears to have come out of the mountain behind him. King represents the "Stone of Hope", mentioned in the speech, and the mountain behind him represents the "Mountain of Despair."
If you walk into the opening in the mountain, you may feel a slight discomfort or a little claustrophobic. This feeling is meant to represent the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement.
On both sides of the "Mountain of Despair", you'll see 14 of King's quotes. They start with the Montgomery, Alabama Bus Boycott in 1955, and end with his final Sunday sermon, preached here in Washington, DC at the National Cathedral in 1968, four days before his assassination.
A couple of the quotes come from his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Oslo, Norway. Others reflect his opposition to the Vietnam War. The quotes are in no particular order.
The address of the memorial is 1964 Independence Avenue SW, referencing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The act outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. The law also required equal access to public places and employment, and enforced desegregation of schools and the right to vote. King played a leading role to get the law passed through Congress.
When you’re ready, just continue to follow the path in the direction you were going. I'll leave you to walk on a while in peace, and you'll hear my voice again once you reach the next destination.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
The President Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, which you see just to your right, is the largest Presidential memorial in Washington, DC. It takes up a full 7.5 acres! We'll be walking through it, so head towards the right, along one of the sidewalks leading into the memorial from the water's edge. Walk to the right to get to the memorial's entrance. Turn left into the area where you'll see a statue of President Roosevelt sitting in a wheel chair. Wait there for a minute while I tell you about it.
The effects of Polio confined FDR to a wheelchair. To reflect this aspect of his life, the memorial is flat and is the first presidential memorial in Washington to be wheelchair accessible.
The original design of the memorial did not portray FDR's disability. The statue of FDR sitting in his wheelchair at the memorial's entrance only arrived after disability groups were vocally upset about the original design. You'll see the quote engraved behind the wheelchair is also written in Braille, allowing the visually impaired to experience the memorial. Braille writing can be found throughout the memorial.
The memorial is broken down into “4 rooms”, each one representing one term of office Roosevelt served from 1932 until his death in 1945. I'll talk you through them all as we go.
We're going to walk through it now, Walk to the right around the wall where you see Franklin Delano Roosevelt engraved into the wall.
Make your way into the first room. Here, you'll see quotes from FDR's first inauguration. The quotes engraved here represent his promise to Americans to get the nation out of the Great Depression which occured shortly before his election.
His famous "You have nothing to fear, but fear itself" is engraved in the stone along with a bas-relief of FDR riding in his inaugural parade.
Once you've had a look around, please continue straight ahead past the bas-relief to the next room.
As you make your way to the second room, you'll find a series of three sculptures. The sculpture to the right depicts a man sitting by a radio. He is most likely listening to one of FDR's fireside chats which were delivered weekly from the White House. The tradition FDR started then is now known as the President's Weekly Radio Address.
The sculpture to the left by the wall is called Hunger. In this sculpture you'll see business men who lost everything during the stock market crash in 1929 waiting in a bread line to get food handed out by the government for their families.
To the left of Hunger is a sculpture called Despair. Here you'll see an elderly couple representing the despair of the American people during the Depression.
Around the wall there are panels containing representations of the 54 social programs FDR started. You'll see columns which are the negatives of the panels hanging on the wall.
The waterfall in this room represents the Tennessee Valley Authority, one of FDR's New Deal programs.
Please continue straight past the waterfall to the next room.
The third room, known as the War Room, marks the start of America's involvement in World War II.
The rocks are spread out and the waterfall is really loud in this room to represent the chaos of the war.
You will see FDR sitting with his cape draped over him and his dog Fala, a Scottish Terrier, sitting next to him. FDR is said to be overseeing the American war effort. If you step behind the statue and look down you'll see little wheels on the chair. This was the only original reference to a wheelchair in the memorial's design.
Please continue straight to the next room.
The fourth and final room is small because FDR died shortly after taking the oath of office for his fourth term. You'll see a bas-relief of his funeral procession above a calm pool of water, which represents death.
Finally you'll see a statue of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, the only statue of a First Lady in Washington, DC. This statue salutes her work as the first United States Ambassador to the United Nations.
Throughout the memorial you saw several waterfalls. Water played a major role in FDR's personal, professional, and political lives. He contracted Polio while swimming and swam in warm springs to help with treatment. He also installed the swimming pool in the White House. He served as Secretary of the Navy before becoming President and met with dignitaries on war ships.
When you're ready to continue, rejoin the route by taking the black paved path through the trees, near FDR's Four Freedoms quote at the memorial's end. It will take you right to the next stop.
The stone Japanese pagoda you see to your left is another gift from Japan.
The pagoda is traditional and contains portions representing the sky, wind, fire, water, and earth going from top to bottom. If you look closely around the bottom you can see an engraving of Buddha sitting on a lotus flower.
Please continue walking along the route, keeping the water to your left. Remember to watch for low hanging limbs as you go.
Like the lantern you saw at the start of the tour, the Pagoda is a gift from Japan, commemorating the Treaty of Peace, Amity, and Commerce. It weighs around two tons, and dates from the 17th century.
When the pagoda arrived in the Washington, DC, in 1958, there were no assembly instructions and staff members from the Library of Congress helped figure it out.
Just a word of caution, this next portion of the walk sometimes floods. Just walk above the side walk through the trees to get around if there is water on the path.
People tend to ask me if anyone ever falls into the water because of the lack of guardrails. On occasion someone does, and normally they're drunk.
Now let me tell you about the body of water we're walking around. It's called the Tidal Basin. It covers about 107 acres and is around 10 feet deep. Originally the Tidal Basin was known as Twining Lake. It was named in honor of Major William Twining, a member of the Army Corps of Engineers, who thought of the idea in the late 1800s.
The Tidal Basin as you see it today was completed after World War 2 in 1949 by the engineering firm of Alexander and Repass. This was a black and white owned business, a rare arrangement for its time. Their business focused on constructing roads and bridges. Other projects they completed in the Washington, DC area are the Whitehurst Freeway and a part of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.
The basin is designed to release 250 million gallons of water at high tide twice a day. Just how much water is that? Enough water to fill 379 Olympic size swimming pools. Water enters the basin from the Potomac River and exits into the Washington Channel.
Visitors always ask if there are fish in the Tidal Basin. Yes, there are, and you'll see people fishing from time to time. Some with great success.
Now do those fishing eat the fish they catch? That's a good question. Many locals say they wouldn't trust eating fish caught out of the Potomac around this area because of pollution. If you see someone fishing, ask them. I'm sure they can tell you if they're edible or not.
Tidal Basin Inlet Bridge
You'll notice that the path veers up a little hill and to the left, to cross a bridge. Keep following it along.
This is the Tidal Basin Inlet Bridge. It allows water to enter the Tidal Basin from the Potomac River at high tide. The gates of the inlet and outlet bridges are maintained by Army Corps of Engineers.
Please make sure to take in the phenomenal view of the Washington Monument from this vantage point.
In 2015, a new measurement of the Washington Monument found it's 10 inches shorter than originally thought since its completion in 1884.
What caused the monument to shrink 10 inches? Technology. Engineers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration used today's equipment to measure the monument and found it shorter than previously measured in 1884.
Instead of being 555 ft 5 1/8 inches tall, the monument now officially stands at 554 ft 7 11/32 inches tall.
George Mason Memorial
Cross over the road to your right at the pedestrian crossing. Walk towards the paved, circular memorial, and have a look around while I tell you about it. This is the George Mason Memorial. It is dedicated to the founding father who served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and inspired what came to be known as the Bill of Rights.
He's sitting over there with his legs crossed, his hat and cane on one side of him and a small stack of books on the other side. He's reading Cicero, one of the great philosophers.
Mason had a reputation for being a thinker and you can see he appears to be in deep thought.
Although he attended the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Mason did not sign the Constitution because it did not abolish the slave trade. He also felt the Constitution lacked adequate protection of individuals from the government.
George Mason's contributions to the founding of the United States is widely unknown to many Americans. In 2006, George Mason University's Men's Basketball team couldn't answer press questions about the man the university is named after during their run for a national championship. Unfortunately, his memorial is treated much the same way. Many people walk this path and never notice him sitting over here.
George Mason is a local himself. His home, Gunston Hall, is located about 20 miles south of this memorial in Lorton, VA. His home is open to the public for tours. If you ever have a chance to visit Gunston Hall, make sure to check out his famous neighbor's home. Mount Vernon, the home of President George Washington.
When you're ready to proceed, go back the way you came and follow the path along the water's edge.
Cherry Tree Symbolism
The path forks just ahead. Take the right fork. This path should carry you just above the water's edge. At the next fork, go to the left. This path will carry you towards the front of the Jefferson Memorial.
You may be wondering if the cherry trees have any deeper meaning besides just being pretty to look at in the early days of spring. In Japanese culture, the trees represent how beautiful life can be, but at the same time, they symbolize mortality and the brevity of life. Although the blossoms are beautiful to look at each year, they only last for a couple of weeks. If it's windy, they may only be around a couple of days.
The cherry trees symbolize friendship between Japan and the United States. Over the years, exchanges between the countries promoted the cultivation of the cherry trees.
After World War II, the grove where the original trees came from fell into decline, and Japan requested seedlings from the original trees to restore it.
In 1965, Japan gave 3,800 more trees to the United States. The First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson, accepted the trees to aid in her beautification efforts. A lot of these trees can be found around the Washington Monument.
In 1982, trees were again sent to Japan when the Arakawa River changed course and destroyed some of the cherry trees.
Thomas Jefferson Memorial
The memorial on your right is dedicated to Thomas Jefferson. He was the first Secretary of State, second Vice President, third President, and writer of the Declaration of Independence.
Take your time to explore the memorial as I tell you about its history.
The memorial, dedicated in 1943, didn't contain the 19 foot bronze statue of Jefferson you see today. A plaster replica, painted bronze, stood there until 1947. While involved in World War II in 1943, the nation decided to not to cast the bronze statue until it was sure the bronze would not be needed for the war effort.
If you look up above the entrance you will see a relief called Drafting the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson is the man in the center standing behind the table. He is surrounded by Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston. These five men were known as the Committee of Five and were tasked with drafting the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
Inside the memorial, you will see various quotes from Jefferson and a passage from the Declaration of Independence engraved in the walls.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt led the effort to erect a memorial to Jefferson, someone he admired a great deal.
The architect, John Russell Pope, not only designed the memorial for the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence, but also designed the National Archives building where the Declaration of Independence is on public display here in Washington, DC.
In 1938, during the memorial’s construction phase, a group of women chained themselves together in protest against President Franklin Roosevelt because many cherry trees had to be removed to make way for the memorial. After negotiations, they reached a compromise to plant cherry trees around the memorial upon its completion.
When you're done exploring, make your way back to the basin and proceed along the path.
The friendship between the United States and Japan hit a rough patch on December 7, 1941 when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The following day, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proclaimed the day as "a date which will live in infamy."
FDR's Infamy Speech is one of the most famous speeches given in American history. It appealed to America's sense of patriotism and called on the nation to unite and fight back against our enemies in World War II.
You're probably trying to figure out if you saw FDR's famous "date which will live in infamy" line at his memorial. You didn't see it there. For some reason it was not included in the design of the memorial. But the line is inscribed at the World War II Memorial which opened several years later.
Three days after FDR's famous speech, on December 11th, four of the cherry trees were cut down. No one knows who cut them down, or the exact reason. One could imagine they were possibly trying to send a message to the Japanese. We will never know.
To prevent future acts of vandalism, the cherry trees became known as Oriental Cherry Trees. No other trees were cut down. Did the name change prevent further damage or did the public decide to put its energy, time, and resources towards the war effort instead? Probably the latter. Cutting down trees doesn't really help when it comes to winning a war.
Tidal Basin Outlet Bridge
The bridge you are now crossing is the Tidal Basin Outlet Bridge which releases water into the Washington Channel. The pressure of the water against the gate helps to clean up any sediment build up in the channel.
To your left you'll see the Tidal Basin paddle boats. The paddle boats are another way to take in this scenic area. Imagine all the photo opportunities you have while you're floating on the water.
Sometimes its fun to sit back and watch people struggle to paddle the boat. Its quite the leg workout. The paddle boats are a fun activity for families, friends, and dates.
Cherry Tree Care
How is it we are able to enjoy the beauty and splendor of the cherry trees year after year during the first few weeks of spring? Well, there is a dedicated team of professionals whose job is to care for and maintain not only the cherry trees, but also other trees located on the National Mall.
The trees are pruned once or twice a year, normally between January and March. Pruning helps control the trees' growth pattern, improves their appearance, and helps to prevent disease and pest infestations.
It's also nice they take the time to prune the trees so the taller people among us aren't always bumping our heads on a low hanging tree limb when we walk around here. Though who doesn't enjoy doing the limbo during a leisurely stroll from time to time?
Although some of the original trees are still alive over 100 years later, they will eventually die. When this happens they are replaced with cherry trees from nurseries. So there is no need to worry about the cherry trees going anywhere any time soon. They are under the best of care and should continue to bloom for many years to come.
Cherry Blossom Festival
The first cherry blossom celebration started in 1934 with a three day event sponsored by the District of Columbia.
The following year, in 1935, the first Cherry Blossom Festival sponsored by civic groups took place and evolved into an annual 3 week event in Washington, DC.
Today, there are events for everyone. There is an opening ceremony, parade, walks, runs, fireworks, art exhibits, concerts, performances, and the list goes on and on.
You'll see Washington, DC painted pink for the festival and souvenirs in every building and on every street corner.
What festival wouldn't be complete without a queen? In 1940 a Cherry Blossom pageant was introduced to the festival. However, it was short-lived because of the festival's suspension during World War II. The festival resumed in 1947 and in 1948 the first queen was selected. A tradition that continues to this day.
The Cherry Blossom Queen is organized by the National Conference of State Societies. A Cherry Blossom Princess is selected to represent each state and territory. The Princesses participate in various community outreach initiatives and social functions throughout the year.
When the Cherry Blossom Festival takes place, a Queen is selected during the Grand Ball. Becoming Cherry Blossom Queen takes nothing but pure luck. The Japanese Ambassador spins a wheel containing the names of every state and territory Wheel of Fortune style. The state or territory the wheel lands on is crowned Queen.
In 1957, the President of Mikimoto Pearls, Mr. Mikimoto himself, donated a crown for the Queen's Coronation ceremony. The crown contains 2 pounds of gold and 1,585 pearls, making it too heavy for anyone to wear for a long period of time. The crown is ceremonial and the new Queen wears it a few minutes before she is given a miniature gold crown with a pearl topping each point to keep as her own.
The Queen participates in the Cherry Blossom Festival Parade and other events. She is also invited by the Japan Cherry Blossom Association to visit Japan each year in May. Not a bad payout for winning the spin of a wheel.
One of the more popular events is the Kite Festival which takes place around the grounds of the Washington Monument. Kite fliers from across the country and world showcase their skills and stunts. They also compete for awards. It is a very colorful event with kites of all shapes and sizes on display.
Trust me, there is something for everyone to participate in to celebrate and commemorate this gift of friendship which attracts thousands of people to the Tidal Basin each year. Just give yourself time to deal with the crowds and traffic.
This is where our walk ends. Before I go, I want to point out the Floral Library located across the street on your right. It was opened in 1969, and it showcases 100 varieties of tulips. 10,000 tulip bulbs are imported each year from the Netherlands and planted. After the tulips bloom, the bulbs are removed and other flowering plants are planted throughout the year.
This concludes the Blossoming Friendship tour. I hope you have enjoyed your walk around the Tidal Basin among the cherry trees and memorials. Please visit my profile in the VoiceMap app, to see my other tours. You'll also find my website address there, if you'd like to get in touch.
Thanks for coming.