The blossoms barely made an appearance, but visitors poured into Wooster Square Park for a record attendance at the 38th annual Cherry Blossom Festival Sunday afternoon.
No one seemed to mind that there were more winter coats visible than blossoms.
Andy Ross, a board member of the Historic Wooster Square Association, could almost count the blossoms on the lone blooming tree in the park. He and volunteer Sharon Chekijian (pictured) were among the thousand-plus visitors who showed up to celebrate the short-lived, bright pink flowers.
The horticultural icon of the festival, the beautiful canopy of Yoshino Japanese cherry blossom trees on Hughes Place, was not yet cooperating.
Three or four more days of sunny weather in the 50s would have done it, suggested Ross. He predicted that the full glory of the season would be on display by Wednesday.
But nobody really seemed to mind. Attendance was at a record high, according to event organizer Ro Conforti.
She said 40 vendors, also a record, showed up, plus three bands and two dance groups. The budget to put on the festival runs around $10,000. What’s left over goes to the Historic Wooster Square Association.
“We raise the money so we can remind neighbors that the park is of cultural and historic significance, and that it must be preserved,” she said.
Around one o’clock Paul Berglund and a dozen or so other members of the St. Luke’s Steel Drum Band began wailing with a pulsating beat designed to encourage the flow of the sap, or whatever it is inside cherry blossom trees that’s required to make the final push into flowering.
On hand were a number of old timers, including retired Historic District Commission member Marianne Mazan, who remember the origins of that effort. It began 38 years ago in 1973 when 72 Yoshino Japanese cherry blossom trees were planted at the suggestion of architect Jim Skeritt, also a member of the commission.
The first group in the park proper were put in along Academy Street, the western border of the park. Mazan said the idea was to “brighten the area.” (Those along the famous Hughes Place corridor were planted earlier.)
Fruit trees don’t last 40 years, so they are periodically replaced.
At Sunday’s festival two new Yoshino trees were planted, this one in fact replacing one of the original trees that dotted the western perimeter.
Urban Resources Initiative’s Chris Ozyck had the help of a number of pirates with golden shovels to plant this 7-year-old Yoshino. Although its distant relatives hailed from the Emperor’s palace in Japan, this particular one came from New Jersey.
Ozyck seized the teachable moment to show the kids how to roll the ball of the roots, not the stem. He showed them how to measure out a crater that was twice the width of the ball, and, finally, how the flare of the roots must be exposed to the air above the ground line in order to breathe.
“Jesus Tree” Mourned
If there was a slight pall over the proceedings, apart from the weather, it was that a week prior to the festival as part of its regular maintenance, pruners from the parks department had chopped down an important branch from a tree in the middle of the park.
Unbeknownst to them, it was no ordinary tree. This London plane tree was known to some locals as the “Jesus tree.” In chopping off this particular branch, the department took off what to some eyes by certain light when it floods in from the northeast revealed an image of Jesus on the cross.
Now Jesus’s right arm was gone.
“Some people are upset, especially in Easter season,” said Conforti. She said that over the years people have come by to place candles by the tree, and many local neighbors have directed visitors to this particular tree for votive purposes.
On the other hand, she added, as a personal note and as someone of Sicilian heritage from Brooklyn, N.Y.: “If it really is the Jesus tree, the branch will grow back.”
In the meantime, the delights and the business of the festival continued. By popular demand, Andy Ross this year again had baked 120 regular size cherry pies and 24 personal pies, the latter going for five bucks a pie; the proceeds from which go to the Historic Wooster Square Association.
Ross originally planned to give away one small pie each, along with a medal of appreciation (pictured), to politicians and local cops. Ross said the pies proved too popular.
“While I would have liked to have given everyone a pie,” he said, “I was sold out by 2:30 p.m.”