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May Queens and Cherry Blossoms

Apr 29, 2010 3:00 PM | 0 comments

Cherry Blossom, Brooklyn NY, April 21, 2010

The delicate cherry blossom is so ephemeral! This poor blossom wilted as I walked from the park to my office, and the trees bloom for just a few short weeks in early spring. In my previous post, I wrote about Brooklyn's official flower, the Forsythia.  I like to think that the cherry blossom is one of Brooklyn's unofficial flowers because Brooklynites have celebrated this symbol of spring for many, many years.

The cherry trees of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden have been celebrated since their planting, some as early as 1912.  The garden boasts around 42 varieties of flowering cherry trees including weeping varieties.  The trees have a lifespan of 25-30 years.  The New York Times once described the blossoms as "frothy and bouffant as whipped cream tinted from white to shocking pink". 

Cherry Blossoms, Brooklyn Eagle, April 29, 1942

Visitors have been flocking to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden for years and in 1942, the garden in the springtime became a refuge for Brooklynites.  As one reporter described the above scene at the garden, "unaffected by priorities, rationing or the other results of war, the eternal cycle of nature brings the early cherry trees to bloom in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden".

Rite of Spring, Brooklyn Eagle, May 1, 1954

Prospect Heights High School and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden began hosting May Day acitivities at the garden starting in 1947 with the first annual Brooklyn Botanic Garden Week.  The school held an annual pagent to crown the May Queen.  The ceremony, which included the singing of madrigals, choral singing, and maypole dances, was one of the few observances of May Day in New York City. 

Blossom Queen, Lambert for the Brooklyn Eagle, May 2, 1954

May Queen Mucinieks "smiles through a lush frame of colorful cherry blossoms before being crowned as May Queen".  In 1954, Mucinieks was the 6th May Queen for Brooklyn Botanic Garden Week.  May Queens were often crowned by celebrities and Mucinieks' crowning was officiated by Alfred Drake and Doretta Morrow who starred in the Broadway musical "Kismet".  

As far as I can tell, the last mention of May Queens and Brooklyn Botanic Garden Week appears in the 1955 Annual Report of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.  Spring festivals made a comeback when BBG began celebrating the Japanese Rite of Spring in May of 1982, the first official Sakura Matsuri festival. 

Sakura Matsuri celebrations lasted for a week, similar to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Week of years past.  Events focus on traditional and contemporary Japanese arts and culture.  The festival has moved from a week long celebration to a weekend event, usually the last weekend of April or the first weekend of May. 

Blooming cherry blossoms signal the beginning of spring.  The Brooklyn Botanic Garden's website has a beautifully illustrated page that shows the great variety of cherry blossoms from their trees and their various stages of beauty, from birth to death.  They last for such a short period of time and by now, the blossoms are already past their peak.  Below is a lovely time lapse video for those readers who cannot make it to Brooklyn to see our fleeting treasures.   

2008 Cherry Blossom Time-lapse at Brooklyn Botanic Garden from Brooklyn Botanic Garden on Vimeo.