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tv   American Artifacts Washington DC Tidal Basin Cherry Blossoms  CSPAN  April 28, 2021 8:00pm-8:21pm EDT

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every spring thousands of people visit the washington dc tidal basin to see the cherry blossoms
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memorials to thomas jefferson franklin d roosevelt and martin luther king jr. stand on its banks the tidal basin started as an engineering project but is also served as a swimming hole a protest ground and the scene of a political scandal. a protest ground, and the scene of a political scandal. mike litterst, national mall and memorial parks communications chief, met us on site to talk about the areas history and famous japanese cherry trees. we are at the edge of the tidal basin in washington, d.c.. home to the cherry blossoms. in fact, people across the world. had you've been here before in about 1890 or so, we would be in the middle of the potomac river. this area has evolved over the years. there's always been an element of recreation around the tidal basin. but with the passing of time,
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recreation has become much more important than it and initially once. as early as 1890, there was an established swimming area around what we know today as the tidal basin, with the planting of the cherry trees, originally in 1912. that really created interest and tourism and visitation around the tidal basin, and throughout the years as more and more memorials had been designed and built along the tidal basin we have seen the numbers today where millions of visitors a year make a trip for recreational purposes at the tidal basin area. this area was reclaimed by the u.s. army corps of engineers starting in 1891 to create a pond, a basin of sorts that would operate off of the tides. hence the name, the tidal basin. it was to serve two purposes. they were looking for something to act as a visual centerpiece for the city. much like them all.
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they were looking for something that they could harness to help flush the washington channel of sediment and debris every day. the channel is a narrow waterway between the shoreline of washington, d.c., and what is today's potomac park. sediment and silt builds up and to keep it navigable, they developed this title basin so that twice a day, 215 million gallons of water is released from the title basin down from the washington channel and flushes the sediment away. there are two bridges that give access to the tidal basin. there is the english bridge where the water comes in. and there is the outlet bridge where the water goes out. each of those bridges has gates on the other side of them. the title action closes the inlet gates in the morning when the tidal basin is full. at the same time the title
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action opens the gate and lets the water go out. and as the tides change each day day in and day out the title action opens and closes the gates to let the water in and out. the cherry trees where the inspiration of washington writer by the name of eliza skidmore. she had visited japan in 1884. she had seen the cherry trees there and seen what a wonderful scene they create every spring and how important they were to japanese culture. when she returned to washington she attempted to get a similar program underway here. her efforts fell on deaf ears for the better part of a quarter of a century. until she was able to enlist the aid of first lady helen taft who agreed and helped her advance the cause. the first cherry trees were planted in 1912. a gift from the people of tokyo. unfortunately, there is little
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concrete information known about the fate of the original trees planted in 1912. the are brisk and landscape designers who planted the trees did not leave behind a record of where they had planted them, subsequent planting over the years became mixed in with the originals, and today it is not known how many, if any of the original trees planted or very near the japanese -- a handful of very old, very gnarled cherry trees, which could in fact date to that original 1912 planting. this is only about 40 or 50 years. so out of the original shipment, there would not be more than a handful that are still living. each year the national park service has to replace approximately 90 trees around the tidal basin in east potomac park and on the grounds of the washington monument. cherry blossom festival simply originated out of the cherry
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trees themselves. people coming down to visit the trees and seeing the trees. the festival elements were added in the 1930s, and today as many as 1 million and a half people visit washington, d.c. over the four weeks of the cherry blossom festival, to not only see the trees, but to take pride in events in the annual kite festival, crowning of the cherry blossom princess. and of course the annual parade which cap off the festival each year. swimming was actually a popular recreational activity in the tidal basin league. the first public swimming area was established in 1890. there were various iterations over the years. the most famous of them comes about in the early part of the 20th century. there was an attempt by congress as early as 1914 to get an appropriation to build a swimming area, a large swimming area and the title base.
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a 1915 report showed that the water and the tidal basin was -- much of it was waste water and sewage. they decided it was far too unsanitary and unsafe to swim in. they would continue to move forward, however with attempts to get that swimming area to come up with plans to mitigate the unhealthy water and in 1917, construction begins on what will become the tidal basin bathing area. the bathing area will be constructed on the southeast side of the tidal basin between where the jefferson memorial and the outlet bridge are today. that area was chosen, because that area was mostly where the freshwater passed through between the outlet and inlet bridges. there were some cleaner water there. it was an attempt to mitigate the issue of waste water and sewage. by putting for large chlorine
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dispensers on the underside of the inlet bridge. these dispensers were capable of putting out as much as 12 and a half pounds of chlorine every hour to clean the water and make it safe to bathe and. the tidal basin bathing area opened in august of 1918 to the public. it immediately became the place to be seen and washington, d.c.. there were bathing pageants. there were aquatic festivals. -- far beyond the current capacity of the bathing area. in 1919 there was a line to get and stretching for three blocks, and the following summer there were as many as 20,000 people in one single day that passed through the bathing area. now the tidal basin bathing area was not without its issues. this being the 1920s, there was a start of the loosening of morality in the country. that extended here to the tidal basin. the length of women's bathing
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suits began to get shorter and shorter to the point that there was an employee here whose job it was to go around and measure suits to make sure that they can formed with the rule requiring suits to be no more than six inches above a woman's knee. it opened additionally, the question of segregation came up here at the tidal basin. in 1918 when it opened, the tidal basin swimming area was designed and permitted for whites only. congress at one point attempted to create a separate but equal situation. by drawing up plans for a bathing area for black patrons that would have been on the north side of the tidal basin. the number of southern senators were concerned about a plan that would allow blacks to swim in the tidal basin and actually managed to vote down the proposal and as a result of, congress did away with all swimming in the tidal basin rather than face questions about unequal facilities.
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by february 1925, the tidal basin bathing area was no more. it went back to it it had been before. swimming taking place, but not an established permitted or regulated areas. with the decision to not desegregate the tidal basin area as one of the most unfortunate chapters of the tidal basin's history. a construction of the bridge and the seawall in the 1940s provided an opportunity to mitigate some of that segregation's history. the contract for the construction of the kutz was awarded to alexander, a construction firm out of iowa. archie alexander and murray's repast were college classmates at the university of iowa where they studied engineering and played together on the university of iowa football team. alexander was an african american. the second black to play on the iowa football team. he was the leading partner of the firm and broaden ripaz and
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specialized in the construction of bridges in the united states. including the white hirsch freeway, and the kutz bridge which passes over the tidal basin. during the construction of the kutz bridge and the joining sections of the seawall, the employee fully integrated were crew of 116 employees that helped build those features. the south shore of the tidal basin had been envisioned as a possible location for a major memorial -- of monuments of government buildings along the national mall. running east to west from the capitol through the washington monument, to the lincoln memorial, and south from the white house to the shore of entitlements. franklin roosevelt was interested in creating a monument to thomas jefferson and acquired early in his presidency about using the
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tidal basin for that memorial. shepherding the process through design and construction, the memorial was dedicated in 1943. the construction having continued through world war ii. jefferson memorial was not without controversy as far as its location. the construction of the memorial would require the removal of the number of cherry trees, which sparked one of d.c.'s more famous protests known as the cherry treat rebellion. a number of women led by eleanor patterson, editor of the washington times herald went down to the tidal basin when they and chain them selves to a number of cherry trees blocking construction vehicles from being able to come in and remove the trees. they ultimately received a concession that any trees removed would be replanted elsewhere along the tidal basin. for more than 100 years, the cherry trees had been a beloved institution in washington,
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d.c.. symbolizing the friendship between the people of the united states and the people of japan. in the wake of the attack on pearl harbor in 1941, 11th for the cherry trees was put to the test. washingtonians for the duration of world war ii with sees referring to them as the japanese flowering cherry trees. instead, referring to them nearly as the oriental cherry trees. in fact, in february of 1942 there was damage done to a number of the trees, signage and markings left behind indicating that it was in retaliation for the attack on pearl harbor. following the dedication the jefferson memorial in 1943, the tidal basin would continue to be come home to some of d.c.'s most treasured landmarks. franklin roosevelt was dedicating in 1997, honoring america's president during
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world war ii. as the only president to serve one in two terms, the memorial is divided into four rooms. one room for each of roosevelts for terms. its location next to the tidal basin signified the importance of water in a road of -- roosevelts life. as a man stricken with polio as an adult, roosevelt spent much of his life in the soothing waters of springs and baths to ease his pain. the martin luther king junior memorial dedicated in 2011 sits on the northwest corner of the tidal basin. its location was specifically designed among the cherry trees, which are generally and bloom each year on the anniversary of dr. king's death. memorial design is drawn from a passage of his i have a dream speech, in which he says, out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope. dr. king himself is depicted as that stone of hope emerging
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from the mountain of despair, which sits behind him at the memorial at the base of that are a number of quotations from his famous speeches, sermons and writings. of t one of the most famous or perhaps infamous incidents in the history of title basins involved u.s. congressman mills, chairman of the house ways and means committee. one night in october of 1974 it carving driven a radically down independence avenue was pulled over and everyone was surprised to find in the back not only nails, but an exotic dancer name fanny fox known as the argentine firecracker. tely rescued for mills the scandal ultimately cost him his chairmanship of the powerful ways and means committee. the gift of the cherry trees from the people of japan has not been a one-way street the united states in turn has gifted the people of japan with dogwood trees over the years and we've helped repopulate some of the
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cherry trees that were lost in japan during world war ii. additionally cuttings from historic trees in japan are given to the united states to help us continue to keep the population thriving and alive here and eyes, we have sent cuttings from those original trees back to japan for their use as well. the national park service employs a full-time tree crew to take care of the cherry trees all year long not just during peak blooming season using modern arboriculture practices. we care for the more than 3,700 trees which grace the tidal basin nearby east potomac park and the grounds of the washington monument. the species of cherry trees planted around the tidal basin are flowering cherry trees only. they don't produce the fruit that many people expect to find amongst groves of cherry trees. every year during the first week of march the national park
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service makes a projection of when the cherry trees are expected to blossom. since they were planted in 1912 the average date of peak bloom is the first week of april around april 3rd or april 4th. once the blossoms emerge they'll stay on the trees for only 7 to 10 days depending on weather conditions. japanese flowering cherry trees is fleeting a strong wind or heavy rain while the pedals are on the trees can bring the blossoms down early and bring an end to the cherry blossoms season. tidal basin is now over 125 years old. and time is taking a toll on the tidal basin and the sea walls around it. settlement has occurred over the last century as the sea walls begin to sink somewhat and rising sea level due to climate change is bringing the tides up higher and higher every day. portions of the sea wall go
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underwater twice every day due to the rising tides and the national park service and some of our partners are looking at options to reimagine the tidal basin for the next hundred years. the national trust for historic preservation and the for the national mall are leading a tidal basin ideas lab where they are considering input from five different architectural firms about what the tidal basin will look like in its next century. i moved to washington dc in 1970. and for nearly as long as i can remember the tidal basin in the cherry trees have been an important part of my springtime ritual from my earliest memories with my family are coming down and seeing the trees. i volunteered for the national cherry blossoms festival parade when i was in high school and continue to look forward to cherry blossoms season unlike any other time of the year. the emergence of the cherry trees every spring signify the end of a long cold winter.
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and the emergence of spring in washington dc's grandes springtime tradition when the cherry trees are out. there is no blue. there is no red in washington. everyone is pink.
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each week american history tvs american artifacts visits museums and historic places located at the foot of capitol hill the united states botanic garden was first proposed by president george, washington in a 1796 letter next a visit to the grounds of the oldest botanic garden in north america to learn about the history of this plant museum. my name is ari novy. i'm the executive director of the united states botanic garden. we're standing on what's currently called union square which is


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