Cherry Blossom Time in Washington, DC

by Evelyn J. Mocbeichel

I cannot believe how many years it took until we visited our nation’s Capitol, Washington, D.C.  Only five hours away from New York, we began to make trips there when our daughter moved to Northern Virginia years ago.  Now when we visit her and her husband, they always have wonderful activities planned during our stay that include trips into the D.C. area.  She will ask for input on what we want to do and adds things she has found to be enjoyable.  At the top of my request list was something I thought about for my New Year’s resolution of things I planned on doing.  I wanted to see the cherry blossom trees in Washington, D.C.  A gift from Japan, over 3,700 of these Yoshino cherry trees bloom each spring and are the center of an organized Cherry Blossom Festival that attracts tourists from around the world.  The first year we saw them, we were fortunate that Easter coincided with the blooming of these magnificent trees and we were there for the holiday.  The trees line a walkway around what is called the “Tidal Basin”.  There are massively built memorials to both Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson situated on grassy knolls overlooking this basin.  In the background stands the Washington Monument, off into the distance. Temperatures were in the upper sixties and tourists were everywhere snapping photographs standing under these delicate, pink trees or taking close ups of the blossoms themselves.  Since the blooming time is short, sometimes only six days, being there at the right time to catch this breathtaking, spectacular floral display is critical.  It was everything I read or thought it would be!

Peak Blooming Period: Peak blooming is described when 70% of the trees are flowering, with the date varying each year depending on the weather. The blooming period starts several days before the peak bloom date and can last as long as 14 days. However, frost or high temperatures combined with wind or rain can shorten this period. It is not always possible to drive down to see these gorgeous trees, so a Live Cam is available for viewing from the comfort of your computer or laptop!  By the end of March you can start checking in to viewing to see the cherry blossoms blooming and the surrounding area.

Museums: If you enjoy visiting museums, then you will eventually want to visit the grandest museum that our great country has to offer.  I am speaking about the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.  This is the world’s largest museum and research complex, with 16 museums and galleries, plus the National Zoo.  The Smithsonian’s collections, containing 142 million objects, are staggering in their scope and meaning to the public.  The Star Spangled Banner, meteors, moon rocks, the Hope Diamond, Morse’s telegraph, Edison’s light bulb, 5,000 musical instruments, the first Apple computer, the Wright Brother’s first airplane, the Apollo 11 Command Module, Columbia, art, ancient and modern, from American and all over the world are only a sampling of what you can find housed in their huge complexes.

On our last visit, my husband selected which museum he wanted to visit out of the entire complex and he picked the National Air and Space Museum.   Now it was my turn and I picked one I knew my daughter and I would like, the National Museum of American History.  Since it is impossible to see the whole museum in one day, we decided to cover only the main exhibits we came to visit.  We headed straight for the Ceremonial Court that housed the gowns worn by first ladies to the inaugural balls.  We saw gowns from colonial days through the gown worn by Laura Bush. Heavy brocades, ornate beads, crystals and sequins, complimented the gowns worn by these famous ladies on their husbands’ special nights. Fitted on life-sized mannequins, it was easy to see the size and height of the original first lady and to note how tall or tiny their waistline actually was when the gown was worn.  On display in date order, it was easy to see how styles changed, fabrics relaxed and color schemes varied as the decades moved forward. Included in this section were mini biographical displays highlighting the personal accomplishments each of these ladies made during their husbands’ terms in office.

A slice of Americana would not be complete without covering television.  Surely most baby boomers grew up watching that freckled-faced puppet, Howdy Doody, created in 1947, and following the adventures of Davey Crockett on the weekly Walt Disney show. On display were the original Howdy Doody puppet and the raccoon skin cap worn by Fess Parker in the television series named after this famed Tennessee frontiersman, Crockett.  One of the most popular display cases in this section contained the ruby red slippers worn by Judy Garland in the classic film, The Wizard of Oz.  Everyone wanted to be photographed next to “Dorothy’s” dazzling red shoes and visitors politely took turns.  Worn by 17-year-old Garland in the 1939 production, both young and old guests lined up to take a turn taking a closer look.  Thanks to annual presentations on network television, the L. Frank Baum story lives on.  According to historical records, the original shoes in the story were silver, but changed to ruby red in the movie to capitalize on Technicolor film process. The bottom of these shoes had felt on the soles so it would be quieter in the scenes where Dorothy danced down the Yellow Brick Road. How did the shoes end up in the Smithsonian? An anonymous buyer purchased them during the 18-day auction of MGM studio properties in 1970 and then donated them to the Smithsonian in 1979.  The hand-sequined slippers are one of several pairs designed by the Hollywood costume designer, Adrian.  Hats off to this anonymous donor who has brought such pleasure to millions of guests to the museum by donating these shoes!

There is not enough space to cover even a tiny portion of each Smithsonian Museum and describe its wonders.  You just have to see it for yourself!  Their doors are open 364 days a year and anytime is a perfect time to visit!  Washington is an easy drive from New York and a wonderful vacation for both adults traveling alone or with children in tow.  Many of the museums have hands-on exhibits for young children.

One of the walking maps we picked up describes Washington the best when it wrote, it is “a place created and planned as the seat of government, a young city that powerfully evokes the past, and is a treasury of a nation’s heritage, home to hundreds of thousand of people”.  Besides the museums there are the war memorials, moving and a heart wrenching part of our history, wonderful displays of Ancient architectural design paying homage to our early presidents and the early growth of a budding nation.  Washington, D.C. is one of the most popular tourist attractions of guests from around the world.  Quite naturally, it should also be part of every American’s itinerary at least once in a lifetime.