I’m not the only one with a fixation on Eliza Scidmore. After I began researching her I met two other women equally fascinated by her remarkable life. Washington writer Ann McClellan learned a lot about Eliza while writing The Cherry Blossom Festival, published in 2005 as a souvenir book for the National Cherry Blossom Festival. Hearing about my project, a colleague in the Women’s History Discussion Group at the Library of Congress put me in touch with Ann, a friend of hers. Then earlier this year I met Andrea Zimmerman, soon after the launch of her children’s book Eliza’s Cherry Trees. We all agreed: Eliza was quite a gal.
Though Ann’s book is compact and devotes just a dozen pages to the origin of Washington’s cherry trees, I could tell from the many specific details she included that she’d done an impressive amount of research. Discussions with Ann have led me toward a couple of strands of research important to Eliza’s story. Ann is now working on another book about Washington’s cherry trees, to be released in conjunction with the centennial celebration in March. It’s to be published by National Geographic so of course it’s heavy with photos.
Andrea, the author of 11 books for children, told me she first got the idea to do a children’s book on Eliza and the cherry trees a decade ago, but it took years to get a publisher interested. Andrea contacted me last spring after I published an article about Eliza Scidmore on National Geographic’s online news site.
The roll-out of Eliza’s Cherry Trees was timed for the 2011 cherry blossom festival in Washington, so Andrea and I arranged to meet when she came to town to promote the book. She was accompanied by her friend Jane, who donned period dress — which Andrea sewed — and high-top shoes to portray Eliza Scidmore at several book signings in the Washington area. Over dinner we exchanged research notes. Afterward I gave Andrea and Jane a driving tour around Washington. One of our destinations was the neighborhood where my research indicates Eliza Scidmore grew up.