How Chinese Is Chinatown DC?

Chinatown DC Chinese New Year

When Chinatown is at its most Chinese — Chinese New Year, January 2012 (Photo By: heydayjoe)

What’s in a place name anyway? If you’ve ever been to Germantown, Md., you’ve probably noticed that it’s not all beer halls, lederhosen and St. Pauli girls. But when you think of Chinatown DC, you expect something authentically Chinese, right? Shiny arches. Red lanterns. Dim sum. Lychee nuts. A Buddhist temple or a dragon-infested arch. DC’s Chinatown has some of these—Chinese restaurants, a handful of souvenir shops and even a traditional Chinese gate—but it also has a major-league sports arena, a Hooters, an Ann Taylor Loft and a Bed Bath and Beyond. And despite the inclusion of Chinese names on all the shop signs, Chinatown still falls short on one key measure of authenticity—Chinese residents. It wasn’t always that way though.

The first Chinese immigrant arrived in Washington City in 1851. Many Chinese had moved east to escape the violence perpetrated against them in the West, but upon arriving in our nation’s capital, they found they weren’t exactly welcomed here either. Racism was rampant, and its power coalesced here in DC.

Chinatown-Chinese-Exclusion-Poster-DCIn 1877, a joint special committee of the Senate and House of Representatives released a report on the “character, extent and effect of Chinese immigration.” It contained the following testimonial:

“The burden of our accusation against them is that they come in conflict with our labor interests; that they can never assimilate with us; that they are a perpetual, unchanging, and unchangeable alien element that can never become homogeneous; that their civilization is demoralizing and degrading to our people; that they degrade and dishonor labor; that they can never become citizens, and that an alien, degraded labor class, without any desire of citizenship, without education, and without interest in the country it inhabits, is an element both demoralizing and dangerous to the community within which it exists.”

Soapine ad

A late 1800s ad for Soapine, produced by the Kendall Manufacturing Company of Providence, R.I.

White folks must have been easily demoralized back then, although they certainly had no problem with using Chinese laundrymen or eating Chinese food. As still happens today, fear of the “other” and concerns about “racial purity” ruled the day. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, restricting any new immigration from China and barring the Chinese who were already here from ever becoming U.S. citizens. This marked the first time in American history that the U.S. restricted immigration based explicitly on race. (The Chinese remained ineligible for citizenship until the Exclusion Act was finally repealed in 1943!)

Chinatowns in America were extreme forms of racial segregation created in response to congressionally mandated racism. So it was that Chinatowns came into existence not out of collective pride in Chinese heritage, but for group safety. As they had on the West Coast, the Chinese congregated in part to repel anti-Chinese attacks.

Washington, DC’s original Chinatown took shape in the 1880s on Pennsylvania Avenue, between 3rd and 7th streets NW. Pennsylvania Avenue was a major commercial hub at the time, catering to Congress members and other VIPs. Greeks and Italians ran most of the nearby businesses, hotels and restaurants, but the Chinese did have some shops in the area, mostly laundries.

Excluded from not only neighborhoods, but also many trades, the Chinese had turned to the service industry, taking on work that was deemed undesirable by whites and that required little training and capital. In DC, this work included groceries, restaurants and laundries. In 1881, the DC Directory listed four Chinese laundries. A decade later, this number had grown to about 40.

Chinatown DC Pennsylvania Ave

Commercial buildings along the south side of Pennsylvania Ave., including the Nam Kee and Hop Sing laundries, circa 1890 (Courtesy of Washingtonia Division, DC Public Library – Photo By: L.C. Handy)

The Chinese were seen mostly as quiet and law-abiding, but their rights were still limited. In 1929, the feds kicked out the entire population of Chinatown to build the cultural and government buildings known as Federal Triangle.

The displaced Chinese residents and businesses were resilient though. In 1931, nearly 400 of the Pennsylvania Avenue Chinese moved several blocks north to H Street NW, between 5th and 7th streets. The area’s white residents and businesses opposed the mass relocation and launched a petition to prevent the migration. It failed, and DC’s Chinese had a new Chinatown.

Germans had originally populated the H Street NW site (it’s still home to the Washington branch of the Goethe-Institut), but the name Germantown never really caught on, and the Germans had left well before the Chinese arrived on the scene. By 1936, 800 Chinese lived in the new Chinatown.

Chinatown DC pagoda phone

Bring back the pagoda phones! In 1981, there were two pagoda telephone booths in Chinatown on the northeast corner of 7th & H streets NW. (Courtesy of the Washington Post – Photo By: Tim Dillon)

For a few decades, the re-established Chinatown developed a thriving cultural community. Then came the 1968 race riots. Although many of the businesses north of Chinatown were torched and looted, Chinatown was untouched. The neighborhood, however, suffered from its proximity to the rioting, and businesses suffered along with it. Most of Chinatown’s Chinese followed their German predecessors out to the suburbs.

By the mid-1970s, Chinatown had so little Chinese flavor that when the city opened a Metro station in the heart of the neighborhood, it was called Gallery Place (for its proximity to the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery), with no mention of Chinatown. By the late ’80s, only a quarter of all Chinatown businesses were Chinese owned.

So how do you reinvigorate a disappearing Chinatown when all the Chinese have left? You make it look like a Chinatown.

Foreseeing the threat of a complete disappearance of Chinatown in our nation’s capital, the remaining local Chinese community took action. With some funding from the feds, they built the Wah Luck House, an affordable housing complex for low-income Chinese residents. It was a good start but not much of a tourist destination. So the community pushed for the creation of some sort of visible attraction, like an archway, that would draw visitors to Chinatown. Mayor Marion Barry sprang into action. In 1984, he helped establish Beijing and DC as sister cities, and the Friendship Arch, a traditional Chinese gate, was dedicated by Barry and the mayor of Beijing in 1986. This dazzling $1 million work of public art includes seven roofs up to 60 feet high, 7,000 glazed tiles and 272 painted dragons.

Chinatown DC arch construction

Looking east at construction of the Chinatown Friendship Archway in 1989. To the right of the arch is a parking lot that today is the site of Gallery Place. (Courtesy of Zinnia “DC Changes” Photograph Collection)

With its 35,000 separate wooden pieces decorated with 23-karat gold, the Friendship Arch was a gleaming beacon of hope for a new Chinese presence. But the rest of Chinatown was rundown and falling apart, and soon the arch was falling apart, too. In June 1990, one of the 100-pound dragons fell off and landed on a passing soda truck. By Chinese standards, this was an ominous sign, usually portending the fall of a great emperor. Sure enough, that same night, “Mayor for Life” Marion Barry announced that he would be stepping down from office at the end of his term, following his recent arrest for possession of crack. Eight years later, the mayor of Beijing would be found guilty of corruption and forced to resign. Both mayors went to jail. And Chinatown still struggled to remain Chinese.

Chinatown Friendship Arch

There be dragons! (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Even though Chinatown now had the largest single-span Chinese archway outside of China, the neighborhood still needed a little more Chinese flavor. To preserve what was left of the character of Chinatown, local ordinances required that all signs appear in English and Chinese. A $200 million renovation in the 1990s brought in more restaurants, stores and entertainment but, ironically, most of the new businesses were national chain restaurants and stores. This created some interesting juxtapositions. Places like Hertz Rental Cars and Starbucks attempted literal translations. But the jokey racism of English names like the restaurant Wok n’ Roll transformed into “Hall of Precious Flavor.” And Chinatown Gifts became something completely different in translation: “Service Center for People Leaving the Country.”

Today, less than 15 percent of Chinatown residents are ethnic Chinese. Only a few hundred residents live in their ethnically named enclave, and most of them live at Wah Luck House. The superficial homage to Chinatown’s Chinese past lives on though, in the Chinese-character signs that grace Fuddruckers, Legal Seafoods and Urban Outfitters. Transforming a neighborhood and translating the names of its shops can be a tricky business, but even if it doesn’t promote authenticity, it adds character. For all we know, the Chinese characters on the Friendship Arch may actually say “Welcome to Germantown.”

Temperance Fountain: Nobody Knows How Dry It Was

Temperance Fountain DC

Located near the southeast corner of Indiana and 7th NW, the Cogswell Temperance Fountain is the only intact fountain of its kind. (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Dr. Henry Cogswell often wondered why anyone would choose an alcoholic beverage over a nice cool drink of water. In his mind, the solution was simple: Build water fountains across America.

Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.” – Ogden Nash

While most dentists rail against the harmfulness of sweets and candy, Doc Cogswell warned about the evils of distilled liquor. It makes sense if you consider that most alcohol is the adult version of candy – fermented sugar. But that wasn’t the real issue for Cogswell. A devout Christian, he felt that the ungodly temptations of alcohol were destroying not only the family, but also man’s connection to God.

To Cogswell, the choice of what to drink was simply a matter of easy access: Offer a man in search of a saloon a drink of water instead of whiskey, and he will rightly choose the healthful, thirst-quenching water. Needless to say, Cogswell was not a drinker.

Henry Cogswell

Henry Cogswell, c. 1850-52

Born in New England, Henry Daniel Cogswell began his first dentistry practice at age 26 in Providence, Rhode Island. When gold was discovered in California, he went, spending five months aboard a clipper ship before landing in San Francisco on October 12, 1849. No 49er himself, he immediately set up shop to become the first practicing dentist in San Francisco. As a teetotaling tooth-puller, he made a mint from the gold miners, often decorating their terrible teeth with gold dental fillings made from their own finds. He also pioneered the use of anesthetic chloroform in dental operations in California. (Chloroform has since been shown to be carcinogenic – it’s like laughing gas without the laughs.)

I do not believe in people being compelled, whether they wish it or not, to go into a saloon to slake their thirst.” – Dr. Henry Cogswell

Cogswell got the last laugh though. He wisely invested his dental earnings in stocks and real estate, becoming one of the first millionaires in San Francisco. He retired from dentistry and put his money to good use, founding the Cogswell Polytechnic Institute, the first school of its kind west of the Mississippi. His real passion, though, was for curing the working classes of their drinking problem. His plan: to provide free drinking fountains in American cities, one for every 100 saloons. What the great unwashed really needed was cool clean water.

A strident supporter of Prohibition, Dr. Cogswell built his first fountains in San Francisco and then set his sights on the sinfully thirsty in the rest of the country.

His fountain at the junction of California and Market Streets [in San Francisco] was crowned by a full-length statue of the fountain-giver philanthropist until the close of the last year. On the first of the new year certain citizens found no better way of relieving the exuberance of their spirits, or of attesting their dislike of the statue as a work lacking art, than to hitch a rope about the neck of the good doctor’s image and pull it to the ground.” The New York Times, January 14, 1894

Cogswell designed his donated fountains himself, often incorporating a giant statue of himself in a frock coat, holding a cup and dispensing water to the parched masses. The recipients of Cogswell’s magnanimous gifts, however, often quenched themselves by other means and didn’t hesitate to express their true feelings about his monuments to temperance. One “silent gang of hoodlum miscreants” in San Francisco (as the San Francisco Morning Call put it) hitched a rope around the neck of the dentist’s bronze doppelganger and toppled the statue in 1894.

The residents of DC weren’t too keen on Cogswell’s monuments either, but as often happens in our nation’s capital, Congress overruled them and passed a bill in 1882 granting the dentist permission to donate the unwanted fountain. His original design for the DC fountain was, like the San Francisco monuments, topped with a statue of a man eerily similar to himself. But in DC, where statues of great men abound, that design didn’t sit well with the powers that be. Instead, the DC monument – located only blocks from the U.S. Capitol – is topped with a life-sized heron with a single reed growing next to it. (Although the heron appeared on a few cities’ fountains, others were adorned with gargoyles, frogs, pigeons, horses and sea serpents.)

Temperance Fountain heron

The bronze heron atop DC’s Temperance Fountain (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Installed in June 1884, DC’s Cogswell Temperance Fountain is located near the southeast corner of Indiana and 7th NW. Cogswell built about 15 of these anti-alcohol monuments nationwide – in Boston, Buffalo, Rochester, San Francisco – but DC’s is the last remaining intact Cogswell fountain (although restored and reconstructed fountains exist in New York City, Pawtucket, R.I., and Rockville, Conn.). For years, the monument stood squarely on the corner of 7th and Pennsylvania NW, across from the Apex Liquor Store, before it was moved a half-block north. Now it stands across from a Starbucks.

Apex Liquor Store DC

Apex Liquor Store, with Temperance Fountain in front

Made of granite and bronze, the fountain was chiseled at a Connecticut foundry, with the words “Faith,” “Hope,” “Charity” and “Temperance” cut under the stone canopy. Cogswell had patented a device to produce cool water and air from ice. Blocks of ice were placed in a sort of well around the central column, and the city pipes flowed through tube coils under the ice. In the fountain’s heyday, this ice water flowed from the mouths of two intertwined scaly dolphins, which look more like Chinese carp. A brass mug dangled by a chain, encouraging those passing by to scoop up a cup of the cool water. Below, a trough caught the runoff for thirsty horses.

Temperance Fountain fish

The fish mouth from which the cool water of the Temperance Fountain would flow (Photo By: heydayjoe)

It was probably pretty nice to have a cold cup of water during a hot DC summer in 1884, but it’s uncertain if the fountain ever worked. Soon after it was erected, the city stopped replenishing the ice altogether. In the late 1880s, the city considered connecting the fountain’s pipes to a local spring, but the spring was polluted with sewage.

Cogswell’s DC Temperance Fountain was headed for the scrap heap in the 1940s when Sen. Sheridan Downey of California introduced a Senate resolution to tear it down, calling it a “monstrosity of art.” Ulysses S. Grant III, the former president’s grandson and chair of the city’s planning commission, wanted to preserve it, calling the fountain “ugly, but interesting.” Congress ignored Downey’s resolution, and it died in committee.

In 1984, the fountain that nobody wanted in the first place was listed on the DC Downtown Historic District National Register. The pipes are no longer connected to the fountain and the ice well is, ironically, filled with discarded cups, soda bottles and other trash. Despite the abundance of public water fountains in town, the saloons of DC are still doing brisk business.

Union Station Roman Legionnaires: Behind the Shields

More than 90,000 visitors pass through Union Station daily and, thanks to a group of foresighted railroad officials now long dead, most of those visitors will never have to see a Roman legionnaire’s sculpted man parts.

Back in 1906, American sculptor Louis Saint-Gaudens was under contract with the railroads to create a series of interior and exterior statues for the massive Union Station train depot being developed a few blocks north of the U.S. Capitol. Louis was the brother of famed American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who created the bronze Adams Memorial in Rock Creek Park.

As the Roman legionnaire symbolized the far-flung reaches of the Roman Empire, so these figures symbolize the far-flung ribbons of steel of the vast network of the American railroads reaching every part of the United States.” — George J. Olszewski, “Construction History of Union Station, Washington, D.C.”

For Union Station’s interior, the main sculptural theme was to be Roman legionnaires, to complement architect Daniel Burnham’s Beaux-Arts style modeled after the Roman baths. Upon official railroad approval of a plaster model to be submitted in advance, Saint-Gaudens would then complete 46 carved soldiers. Perched atop the arches over the entrances and exits of the main waiting room, these larger-than-life statues of Roman legionnaires would dutifully watch over the Union Station travelers below.

When Saint-Gaudens submitted his plaster model of the legionnaire, though, there was one small problem: You could see his package. And it wasn’t wrapped. To be clear, the soldier’s wee willy wasn’t even a proper Roman penis — more of a nubbin really. But the officials of the Baltimore & Ohio and Pennsylvania Railroads were having none of it – there would be no sexy soldier legs or any other bareness beneath the belt.

Although the pants-free lifestyle was typical of the Roman legionnaire, railroad officials believed it would cause undue embarrassment for little old ladies visiting Union Station to be exposed to the towering genitalia of rock-hard Roman legionnaires. They felt Union Station was designed to be a noble transportation hub for our nation’s capital, not a giant Roman bathhouse with leering legionnaires gone commando. Louis Saint-Gaudens was urged to alter his model.

Jarrett Hendrix (@briliantartistry) takes a photo of a Roman legionnaire's junk. (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Jarrett Hendrix (@brilliantartistry) takes a photo of a Roman legionnaire’s junk. (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Louis tried to convince the prudish railroad officials of the architectural significance of the symbolic figures, but they were adamant that no sculpted man-bits would appear in their new train station. After many meetings (for which we wish we had the transcripts), Saint-Gaudens proposed a solution: Why not place a shield in front of the legs of each legionnaire, held by his right hand (so station travelers would know what that right hand was up to), and thus covering the objectionable hint of phallus the whole way from feet to hips, just to be sure. The railroad officials conceded that this was an adequate manhood cover, and the shields were incorporated into the final design.

The 46 legionnaires were hollow cast in plaster with a sand finish and arranged in pairs over arches. Of these, 36 appeared in the main hall: 10 facing inward from the north gates to the concourse, 10 over exits from the station and eight each on the east and west sides. Six soldiers appear under the main portico above the doors to the main hall, with four more in the west hall. In addition to these figures, Saint-Gaudens created the six enormous stone statues on the façade facing Union Station Plaza and the U.S. Capitol. The more than 50 statues he created for Union Station are considered his life’s masterwork.

Within six years of his contract, Saint-Gaudens had completed carving all of the statuary for both the interior and exterior of Union Station. He was paid $52,044.10 for his work. In 1913, the Roman legionnaire statues were set in place. That same year, Saint-Gaudens died, a victim of pneumonia. Was it Legionnaires’ disease?

Behind the shield revealed (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Behind the shield revealed (Photo By: heydayjoe)

BONUS: You may have noticed that all 46 Roman legionnaire statues look fairly similar in face and build. They are. The model for Saint-Gaudens’ legionnaires was Helmus Andrews, a student from Pomona College in Claremont, Calif. All 46 Roman legionnaires have Helmus’ features, though we’re not sure about the nether-nubbens. According to Carol Highsmith and Ted Lamphair’s “Union Station: A Decorative History of Washington’s Grand Terminal,” Helmus visited the station nearly 50 years later and was not impressed. The statues look “pretty crummy,” he said, and he was probably right. By the 1960s, the statues were in dire need of cleaning. One was wearing a Santa hat.

To see more great behind-the-scenes photos of Union Station and the Roman legionnaires, check out the hashtag #UnionStationTour on Instagram and Twitter.

Presidential Inbreeding: Are All U.S. Presidents Related?

Octopus King - the genealogy of related presidents (Illustration By: Matt Wainwright)

Octopus King – the genealogy of related presidents (Illustration By: Matt Wainwright)

Does anybody else wish we could be done with all Bushes, Clintons and Kennedys? No more Roosevelts, Harrisons or Adamses?

As it turns out, ruling dynasties formed by centuries of incestuous coupling aren’t just for European monarchies. Here in America, we have our own “royal” families, a certain posterity who just can’t seem to keep their posteriors away from the seat of power.

Although no U.S. president has ever been directly related to the president that he immediately follows or who immediately follows him, some have come pretty close:

  • George W. Bush (#43) was the son of George H. W. Bush (#41).
  • John Quincy Adams (#6) was the son of John Adams (#2).
  • Benjamin Harrison (#23) was the grandson of William Henry Harrison (#9).
  • James Madison (#4) and Zachary Taylor (#12) were second cousins.
  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt (#32) was a fifth cousin of Theodore Roosevelt (#26)

The presidential bloodline runs especially deep for our longest-serving president. Genealogists have determined that FDR was related to a total of 11 presidents, five by blood or and six through marriage: John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Ulysses S. Grant, William Henry Harrison, Benjamin Harrison, James Madison, Theodore Roosevelt, William Taft, Zachary Taylor, Martin Van Buren and George Washington.

But it gets better. In 2012, a 12-year-old girl in California traced the lineage of all but one American President back to King John, who ruled England from 1166 to 1216. King John “Lackland” Plantaganet signed the Magna Carta in 1215, limiting the monarch’s power and helping form the British Parliament. According to the pre-teen, only one president was not related to King John – Martin Van Buren (#8), who has Dutch roots. (He was known as the “OK” president. Seriously.) If her research is true, it appears that all but one of the U.S. presidents are cousins. Kissing cousins. Of related royal bloodlines. Descended from European monarchs. So much for the Revolutionary War of independence

The Face of the Voice of the DC Metro

Randi Miller - from singing telegram to car dealer intercom to most heard voice in our nation's capital

Randi Miller – from singing telegram to car dealer intercom to most-heard voice in our nation’s capital

The most frequently heard voice in our nation’s capital isn’t the enunciated clip of Barack Obama or the smoker’s rasp of House Speaker John Boehner. It’s the sultry intonations of Randi Miller, the voice of DC Metro, who also happens to be an auto lease retention manager from Woodbridge, Va.

Randi’s voice is played 33,017 times a day in 86 Metro subway stations spanning DC, Maryland and Virginia. It’s Randi’s voice you hear just before the Metro doors snap shut on your bag with a thud – “Doors closing.”

Randi Miller’s voice was not the first to reverberate throughout Washington’s subway system though. Back in 1996, DC resident Sandy Carroll made a recording in her apartment as a favor to a friend, a recording that was to be the gentle voice of Metro for a decade.

Sandy Carroll - former voice of the Metro (1996-2006)

Sandy Carroll – former voice of the Metro (1996-2006)

In 2006, Metro decided to change its tone by announcing the “Doors Closing Voice 2006” contest to find a new voice for the Metrorail trains. The voice of Sandy had seemingly faded into the background, and Metro needed a more authoritative voice to nudge its passengers along. Anyone over the age of 21 was eligible to compete.

Metro asked each contestant to record two messages in three tones of voice: polite, serious and authoritative. Several scripts were specifically written to deter notorious door-blockers: “One arm. One leg. One briefcase. One purse … can delay everyone.” Another script began with “Jeepers, Batman! Did you see that person just shove their briefcase in the doors?”

The “Doors Closing” contest attracted 1,259 contestants from across the country, some from as far away as Seattle. Metro reviewed the CD submissions and narrowed the field. Of the 10 finalists, all lived in the metropolitan area and half rode Metro regularly. The contestants’ reward for making it to the Top 10: a DC edition of Monopoly.

The stage was now set for a studio showdown. Each finalist recorded new messages in a professional studio near Dupont Circle: a 10-minute recording session under the guidance of a creative director from Arlington’s LM&O Advertising.

Three judges – the head of marketing for Metro, the advertising creative director and a former local anchorwoman – listened to the recordings to select the new voice. On Feb. 2, 2006, Metro announced its winner.

Chosen for the honor of being the new voice of Metrorail trains – and it is only an honor – Randi Miller, like Sandy Carroll before her, didn’t receive a dime for her efforts. Her recording was simply loaded onto a chip and placed in Metro’s more than 950 train cars.

Although Randi’s a lifelong singer who’s delivered singing telegrams, her only previous broadcast experience had been over the intercom at the Alexandria car dealership where she works. But after landing the Metro gig, her vocal career took off. Now her voice can be heard at kiosks in the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History, aquariums across the country and even radio commercials. She’s also used her voice to raise more than $250,000 for charities including Central Hospice, the Duffy Project and the Thomas G. Larbrecque Foundation.

Although she’s an infrequent subway rider, Randi still finds it weird to hear her voice on the trains. “When it first started running on the trains, I couldn’t wait to hear it. I wanted to see how it sounded,” she said. “And it was so annoying to me when I heard it. Maybe because it’s me. Maybe because … maybe just because it’s me.”

As American as Cherry Pie … and Sushi

National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington DC

She wants to do with Pablo Neruda what spring wants to do with the cherry trees. (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Each spring, thousands make their annual pilgrimage to DC to gaze in awe at the riotous blooming of the Japanese cherry trees. Poet Pablo Neruda, distinctly not Japanese, once wrote, “I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.” Although we think that’s pretty hot, it has nothing to do with the history of the cherry trees in Washington, DC.

The first shipment of Japanese cherry trees arrived in DC in 1910, a gift from the city of Tokyo intended as a gesture of friendship and goodwill between the people of Japan and the United States. When the trees arrived, however, they were so infested with insects and parasitic worms that there was no easy way to re-gift them to another country. So President Taft agreed to have them incinerated in a heaping big bonfire. Many thought this was no way to accept a gift.

Nothing says "thank you" like burning your gift in a bonfire. (Source: U.S. National Arboretum)

Because nothing says “thank you” like burning your gift in a bonfire… (Source: U.S. National Arboretum)

After much diplomacy to smooth over the embarrassing burning of the gift, in 1912 the people of Japan sent a new bug-free shipment of 3,020 cherry trees, and these were planted along the Potomac River. First Lady Helen Herron Taft and the wife of the Japanese ambassador planted the first two cherry trees on the northern bank of the Tidal Basin, and workmen planted the rest around the Tidal Basin and East Potomac Park. (The two original trees are still there, near the John Paul Jones statue at the south end of 17th Street.)

In 1965 Japan gave First Lady Lady Bird Johnson (that’s a mouthful) 3,800 more trees to plant, and today there are 3,750 trees of 16 varieties on national parkland in DC.

This year marks the 102nd anniversary of the original gift of friendship from Japan, although on the 39th anniversary, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, so how’s that for friendship? Four days later, four cherry trees were chopped down in suspected retaliation. The culprits were never caught. To prevent further attacks against the trees, the Cherry Blossom Festival was suspended during World War II (resuming in 1947), and the trees were referred to for the remainder of the war as the “Oriental” flowering cherry trees.

This wasn’t the end of the cherry tree assaults though. In 1999, the trees were attacked once more. But this time they found the vandals – beavers! The beavers were forcefully removed from the Tidal Basin, and fences were erected around some of the more defenseless trees.

Beaver Vandals (Illustration By: Matt Wainwright)

Beaver Vandals (Illustration By: Matt Wainwright)

If you’d like to take a gander at these celebrity cherry trees, you can find them in three National Park Service locations: around the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park, in East Potomac Park (Hains Point) and on the grounds of the Washington Monument. (For more info on the varieties of cherry trees and their locations, click here.)

Some random facts about the DC cherry blossoms:

(Photo By: heydayjoe)

(Photo By: heydayjoe)

  • The National Cherry Blossom Festival is scheduled every year based on when the National Park horticulturalists predict peak bloom, but nature doesn’t always cooperate. The weather determines when the trees will bloom, and sometimes it’s not during the festival.
  • Most of the trees are of the Yoshino variety, and the average blooming date for the Yoshino cherry trees is April 4.
  • Peak bloom is defined as the day on which 70 percent of the blossoms of the Yoshino trees open.
  • The earliest blooms were on March 15 in 1990.
  • The latest blooms were on April 18 in 1958.
  • The Kwanzan cherry tree, the second-most-numerous variety between the Tidal Basin and Hains Point, blooms two weeks after the Yoshino trees. So if you’re a late bloomer, you still have a shot at seeing some blossoms.

To commemorate this perennial event, please submit your very own cherry blossom haiku by email or in the comments below. We’ll read them all and publish the best of them.

Here are two to get you started…

tourists swarm around

cherry trees in luscious bloom

as if sedated

 

the beaver vandals

hide in the day, but at night

they eat your blossoms

 

DC Police: It’s Hard to Believe DC Still Has Crime

Police forces watch over the crowd at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear on October 30, 2010. (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Police forces watch over the crowd at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear on October 30, 2010. (Photo By: heydayjoe)

UPDATED: With 32 33 police forces, Washington, DC, must be the safest city in America, right? Here’s the list of DC police, the law enforcement agencies and police departments that serve and protect the District of Columbia, in no particular order.

  1. Metro Police
  2. U.S. Marshals
  3. FBI Police
  4. Capitol Police
  5. U.S. Park Police
  6. Supreme Court Police
  7. Secret Service
  8. National Zoo Police
  9. U.S. Mint Police
  10. State Department Police
  11. Metro Transit Police
  12. Bureau of Engraving and Printing Police
  13. U.S. Treasury Police
  14. Housing Police
  15. Amtrak Police
  16. Government Printing Office Police
  17. GSA Police
  18. Veteran’s Administration Police
  19. Naval District Washington Police
  20. Military Police
  21. Postal Police
  22. Secret Service Uniformed Division
  23. Defense Protective Service
  24. National Institutes of Health Police
  25. Library of Congress Police
  26. Federal Protective Service
  27. Washington National Cathedral Police
  28. DC Housing Authority Office of Public Safety
  29. Smithsonian Police
  30. U.S. Federal Reserve Police
  31. Pentagon Police
  32. Coast Guard Federal Police
  33. DC Public Library Police

Have we missed any? Could there possibly be more? Do you feel any safer? Let us know!

DC Does Not Rain Supreme

washington-monument-puddle

Washington Monument reflected on a walkway of the National Mall (Photo By: Matt Wainwright)

For those who think Seattle is full of drips, you might be surprised to know that Washington, DC, Chicago, Dallas and Miami all get more rain per year than Seattle’s 37 inches, which is the U.S. average.

DC, supposedly a city of rainmakers, gets 39.7 inches per year of rain, less rain per year than New York (49.9 inches/yr.) and far less than slippery New Orleans (62.7 inches/yr.), the wettest city in America.