Cherry Blossom Festival 2013: 7 American Landmarks That Were Gifts From Abroad


It's been 100 years since the mayor of Tokyo wooed the United States with a gift of more than 3,000 cherry blossom trees. These pink-flowered gems have tickled the National Mall through two world wars, a couple of atomic bombs, and the invention of the Prius. Safe to say, it's been an awkward century of relations with our Pacific neighbor.

Actually, it's been an awkward century and then some — since the first batch of trees arrived on the shores of the Potomac River in 1910 with a mean case of bugs. Oops. But we remember that original gift like we remember the Grant administration: we don't.

The cherry-blossom courtship — which is annually celebrated in D.C. with a month-long festival featuring every single tour bus and high school spring-breaker known to this floating sphere of oxygen — wasn't the first or the last time another country batted its lashes at the Grand Experiment. Here are six more:

1. The Statue Of Liberty

Even while they were pretty busy vacillating between being an empire or a republic, they built the U.S. a huge statue celebrating democracy. I know, right?

Recommended for further research: Wikipedia.

2. The Resolute Desk

From remnant timbers to the most important writing surface in the history of the thinking species, the Resolute Desk has lived quite the rags-to-riches tale.

Its journey began as an obscure piece of poop deck or something on a British ship in the 19th century. Then, the Queen of England destroyed the ship because she was in the market for a really neat desk. Her attention span short and taste ever-changing, the Queen discovered a more ergonomic desk and shipped the Resolute Desk to America with a note that said, "Here's a bloody desk."

Now it casually chills in the Oval Office while Barack Obama signs landmark legislation on its face. Not a bad gig.

Recommended for further research: Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, the Aeronautics and Space Act of 1961, and the Social Security Act of 1935. 

3. Basically Everything Smithsonian

But a stone's throw or a smartphone's hashtag away from the cherry blossoms are the countless Smithsonian buildings (19 plus one zoo).

These museums essentially serve as a multisite afterlife for all artifacts that at one point or another were important to America or at least simultaneously existed in the same room as someone who said the word "freedom."

More importantly, the umbrella Smithsonian Institution came to be when a British fellow by the name of — get this — Smithson donated his entire Anglo-centric estate to the U.S.

And we complain about taxes.

Recommended for further research: Night at the Museum 2.

 4. The Senate's Gavel

What's ivory-toned, shaped like an hour glass, and handled aggressively by a stuffy political suit?

Monica Lewinsky ... if this was 1998.

The correct answer is the Senate's gavel, which was given to the U.S. by India in 1954. This was needed after Richard Nixon broke the old gavel that had been employed in the Senate since 1789. 

We can't say God didn't warn us about Watergate.

Recommended for further research: I don't know, just Google it.

5. Alaska

Seward's Folly. Sarah Palin. Oil. White Fang?

So the U.S. actually bought Alaska from Russia for a couple cents on the dollar — but whatever.

Recommended for further research: The state of Alaska. Go there.

6. Marty McFly a.k.a Michael J. Fox

If you don't think Michael J. Fox is the bee's knees, well, then, you'd be right. He's a little bit shorter than a bee's knees, actually. But the guy is certainly affable. And Canadian. 

He's the gift that keeps on re-wrapping itself just so we can excitedly unwrap it again. 

One Back to the Future movie would've been enough, but he did three. Plus Family Ties. Plus Spin City. Plus he has Parkinson's. PLUS he's starting up another sitcom that will restore NBC to number-one-network status.

Bow down, you guys. Bow. down.

Recommended further research: Doc Hollywood.