It all began with the wrong tree.
In 1949, Maconite William Fickling landscaped his new home on Ingleside Avenue with what he thought were all dogwoods. Saplings can look alike…and one little tree lost its tag. The following Spring, amongst a sea of white blossoms, one tree had beautiful pale pink blossoms. After researching, Mr. Fickling learned it was the Yoshino Cherry Tree, travelled to Japan, and brought back hundreds for friends in Macon.
Enter Carolyn Crayton.
In 1970, new to Macon, she, too, loved the cherry trees on the Fickling property. She shared her dream with Mr. Fickling. “I dreamed my street was lined with these beautiful cherry trees.” His response? “Carolyn, you make it happen and I’ll provide the trees.”
With her gracious smile, contagious enthusiasm and gifted leadership, this winsome woman infused not only her neighborhood, but the whole city with excitement and love for the cherry trees. Under her leadership, Macon became the first affiliate of Keep America Beautiful. In 1982, she organized a city-wide birthday/thank-you party for Mr. Fickling’s generous cherry tree gifts. Thus, the first Cherry Blossom Festival was born! 33 years and 360,000 trees later, Macon, Georgia is the International Cherry Blossom capital of the world with more cherry trees than any other city in the world, including our nation’s capital. The International Cherry Blossom Festival, AKA the Pinkest Party on Earth, is ranked as one of the Top 50 Festivals in America and the Top Festival in Georgia.
The First Lady of Cherry Blossom said she hasn’t thought a lot about what her legacy with the festival will be, but the festival’s slogan – “Love, beauty and international friendship” – is a good summary of what she hoped to achieve.
“It has remained the message,” she said. “I hope it always brings the community together and extends friendship around the world.”
As I drove her tree lined street, surrounded by pale pink cotton candy, I felt as if I’d entered a fairy land. It was there that she told me the “behind the scenes” story of the wrong tree. I marvel that what was a mistake…the wrong tree…was used to bring unparalleled beauty, commerce and comaraderie to one town. Once a year, people put aside their differences to enjoy the transformation within our town.
From the Allman Brothers Band Museum at the Big House, which brings visitors from all over the world, not to mention paying tribute to Macon residents Otis Redding (Sitting on the Dock of the Bay) and Little Richard,
the Spring Spirit Stroll through historic Riverside Cemetery, where famous (and infamous!) Maconites who influenced our community “come to life” and tell their stories,
the new Harriet Tubman Museum,
the Ocmulgee Indian Mounds National Monument,
to the many parties, parades and performances all around the city.
We work together, party together, greet tourists together and re-appreciate our city together.
The blooms may be fading this week, but the magic of Cherry Blossom doesn’t have to.
May we continue in this spirit all year long!