Editors notes. Due to the fact places I may find better photos are closed during these unprecedented times, I have to rely newspaper photos of lesser quality. All the photos are from the Beacon Journal archives, except for my Lake Anna photo.
In the years since the inception of the now defunct Cherry Blossom Celebration, first inaugurated in 1958, we can look back at the good, the bad and the ugly of the once annual event highlighting the blooming cherry trees of Lake Anna .
Long before a celebration there was no cherry trees in, around or even near our beloved Lake Anna. In 1927 Mrs. Ernest Bierly and Mrs. Lois Engler put their collective thoughts together and proposed planting flowering Japanese cherry trees. In 1929 Engler pushed it forward and in 1932 fifty-six cherry trees were blooming yet there was no celebration-yet.
Like the cherry trees being planted around the lake it took a lot of planning and high hopes to get the Cherry Blossom Festival from the thinking stage then giving birth the celebration. The Barberton Jaycees, under the direction of Robert White, first put it to thought in 1957 and by 1958 Barberton had a phenomenally successful event to celebrate the bloomin’ trees, though no recorded events could be found in the Beacon Journal. Of course, the Barberton Library is closed so we shall move on. So, with no more information we will give a good hooray to the merchants and Cocoa Cola for the festival.
A while back I wrote a short article on the Cherry Blossom Festival history, so we shall move on from here. Now, truthfully, I do not have all the interesting stories of every Cherry Blossom Festival, but recent meteorological events made me dust off the memory banks of cherry trees past. Like the recent cold snap, we discover disagreeable weather was a common problem to the event. It seems like no matter what the date, a cooling trend descended upon the Magic City.
Will scientists a million years from now examine ancient cherry tree rings, unearthed from an area that what was once a lake centered in a village populated by toilers who made fire sticks and say, “Boy every May it turned cold for a week.” Perhaps new scientific men of great learning will discover the festival nearly always occurred around the full moon when the lunar globe used its gravitational powers to suck the heat off the planet.
Okay, I am being a bit of a satirist here, something that is part of my DNA. So, let us take a look at segments of time and space when a few interesting things the Cherry Blossom Festival brought forward. The calendar said it was May 9th of 1966 when the fine folks of Barberton woke up to a good covering of snow with cold weather that hung around like a stray dog who discovered free Kibbles under the porch.
In that year, the festival goers shivered in the cold the week previous of snow arrival, but the cold seemed to bring out the best and worse in local residents. Still 40,000 parade loving folks showed up to watch 114 units parade through the streets of Barberton. Akron Sky Divers Club jumped from planes into Lake Anna and kids fished for the biggest fish.
The worse part was a spat between the Elks and the Jaycees. Seems like the teenagers caused a commotion at the WAKR sponsored Battle of the Bands, so in turn they locked out the Jaycees for the Barbershop Quartet show. When the Jaycees were unable to find a venue, the Jaycees said that was it for the 1966 show.
In 1960 the problem was not finding contestants for the beauty pageant but more finding sponsors. As early as April 5th eleven young girls could not find a sponsor and that was tough for the pageant hopefuls who were promised to be promenaded around Lake Anna in boats while bands played away. Later the bevy of beauties would appear on TV.
There was electricity in the air as the promise of great things would be bestowed on the 1960 winners. Miss Cherry Blossom would take home $125 in clothing, a charm course, and six months of hair styling. The first three runner ups would receive bathing suits. Hopefully, they would have a warm summer ahead for those dips in Lake Anna.
1965 seemed to offer better temperatures for both parade fans and festival goers. The usual fare of hot dogs and other carnival food was being offered to those who came to watch sailboat racing, canoe jousting, fishing derbies and the ever so popular bicycle wheel decorating that followed the festival for many years. People were still trying their luck by jumping out of planes with hopes of landing in Lake Anna.
Sixty-three local girls vied for the coveted Miss Cherry Blossom. As for the guys, they made manly use of their time by taking a sledgehammer and putting a beating to an old car. But 1965 had one highlight that was never duplicated came when a shapely nude woman ran naked from Wooster Rd N. at Sylvester Avenue, heading quite rapidly for lake Anna. The parade had just ended so there was certainly no lack of witnesses. As the unnamed lady ran for the lake she yelled, “I want to go swimming in Lake Anna.” I do not think the lake was open yet for swimming, nude or otherwise.
Patrolman Lester Jones gave chase and with the aid of Patrolman Robert Brooks they subdued the woman before she was able to make the plunge and proceeded to wrap her in a raincoat. Meanwhile she was still angry, yelling her constitutional rights were being violated. The lady was given medical help after cooling down in the city jail.
In 1967 the snow returned on May 1st. The flurries and cold wet rain caused the officials to cancel the parade. Not sure of the outcome, but the morning temperature of 36 degrees was enough to make the officials to call off the parade. Indoor festivities carried on and the parachute jumpers and kite flying contestants had to be rescheduled.
The cold air tradition carried over to 1968. The parade numbers were down but the festival moved forward. The balmy weather before the start of the six-day festival did allow for a full bloom of the crescent of cherry blossoms. The highlight was Governor Rhodes showing up for lunch on Friday noon-unannounced. True, he was invited but never said he was coming. The lowest part of 1968 festival took place when skydivers, Lew Pemberton and Buzz Draskovich missed Lake Anna by a good distance. Pemberton landed on Third St. and Kriegmore Avenue. Draskovovich ended up in front of the old high school tangled up in wires. They were going to try again on Sunday.
The other unintentional disappointing event of 1968 was the cancelled All-Nations Folk Dance after the dancers said it was to cold to dance.
Somewhere, before this turns into the next great Barberton novel, this article will have to wind up. 1969 would be a good place to end. Not there are no more stories to keep you spell bound, especially since the Cherry Blossom Festival was to be moved to diverse locations around town, everywhere from the stadium to Austin Estates .
This is a good place to end because the weather was actually nice that early May. Barberton had two parades to kick off the 12th annual festival, the regular one with floats, bands, and clowns. The second one was a youth parade where youngsters under 16 could participate with their own floats, wagons, bicycles, and small engine apparatuses.
Entertainment came in the form of magic tricks, including putting a man in a box, dumping him in Lake Anna and hoping he will reappear. Last I heard they are still waiting.