Each March, Macon becomes a pink cotton-spun paradise of delight as over 300,000 Yoshino cherry trees bloom in all their glory. And for 10 days, festival-lovers are treated to one of the most extravagant displays of springtime color in the nation as they visit the town referred to by Congressional Records as the Cherry Blossom Capital of the World.
Originally a sleepy Southern town, Macon has now become a bustling center of beauty and international friendship. It roots began with a man who possessed a deep appreciation for beauty and a passion for horticulture. The man in question was none other than the late William A. Fickling, Sr ., a local realtor, who while strolling about in his backyard discovered the first Yoshino cherry tree in Macon. The year was 1949, and at the time of his discovery, he was unaware that the tree was a Yoshino species, rare to the south. Awed by the tree's unique beauty, he began inquiring about town as to what the tree was. No one knew---not even his very own gardener!
Later on during a business trip in Washington, D.C. in 1952, Mr. Fickling spotted a tree that looked exactly like the tree he had discovered in his backyard. During a return trip, he compared a cutting from his tree to those around the Tidal Basin. It was a perfect match! Upon his return home, he learned to propagate the Yoshinos and began freely sharing them with the community.
As the years passed, Macon's Yoshino cherry trees grew quickly in number, attracting the attention and admiration of long-time residents and newcomers alike. One particular individual struck by their beauty was Carolyn Crayton , a woman who had relocated to Macon from North Carolina during the early seventies with her husband Lee.
After admiring the trees' unique beauty, Crayton had the opportunity to speak with Fickling at a company picnic.
"I shared with him a dream of mine, one where the entire town was bursting with thousands of the graceful pink cherry trees. I asked if he would donate trees to plant in my neighborhood of Wesleyan Woods, and he generously agreed, helping my dream become a reality," said festival founder.
To start the project, Fickling agreed to donate the trees if she would organize the planting. A community effort, spearheaded by local families and corporations ensued, leading to the planting of approximately 500 Yoshino cherry trees on Sat., Nov. 24, 1973, with the first trees planted along Wesleyan Woods, Guerry and Oxford Dr.
But Crayton's vision did not end with the Wesleyan Woods project.
"It was just the beginning!"
As the Executive Director for the *Keep Macon Bibb-Beautiful Commission, she proposed launching a Cherry Blossom Festival to celebrate the beauty of the trees and to honor Fickling for all he had so generously contributed to the town.
As a result, the Cherry Blossom Festival was born in 1982 under the auspices of the Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful Commission, and was developed around the basic principles of "love, beauty and international friendship."
Despite its humble beginnings, the festival has become one of the Top 20 Events in the South, Top 50 Events in the U.S. and Top 100 Events in North America. It has grown from a three-day festival with 30 events, to a 10-day celebration featuring hundreds of events planned to entertain all ages and backgrounds.
And the Yoshino cherry trees' numbers keep growing as the Fickling Family Foundation continues to donate thousands of cherry trees to Macon-Bibb residents each year. Their generosity helps keep Macon's beauty alive as well as its distinctive title as the Cherry Blossom Capital of the World secure.
*The Keep Macon Bibb-Beautiful Commission, established in 1974, has been recognized as being the model program for the nation's first commission under the Keep America Beautiful System. Mrs. Crayton and the 28-member appointed body organized "to promote public interest in the general improvement of the environment of Macon and Bibb County; to coordinate programs for litter control, beautification, recycling, energy-related needs." The Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful Commission has continued to be a model program for other communities in developing Keep America Beautiful Clean Community Systems.