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Have a Georgia Cherry Jubilee
Story and photography by Kathleen Walls - American Roads Travel Magazine

Macon blossoms for the festival

The Yoshino Cherry Tree produces no fruit. Its sole purpose in life is to create beauty. Each year, in early spring, the trees drape the city of Macon in a blanket of pearly pink blossoms. The residents are so intoxicated with nature's blushing masterpiece they want to share it with the world.

In 1983 they decided to wrap the city with pink bows, put together a plethora of varied and fun activities, invite artists and craftspersons and throw a terrific city wide block party. The first International Cherry Blossom Festival was born.

The festival traces its roots to William Fickling who began propagating the trees and sharing them with the community. As a result of his generosity, over 230,000 Yoshino Cherry Trees burst into bloom all over Macon's parks and neighborhoods in mid March. The city is transformed into a fragrant pink bower earning it the title "Cherry Blossom Capital of The World. The azaleas, dogwood and tulips must be jealous since they all decide to erupt in a floral display at the same time.

Central Park is the place to be.

The whirlwind of activities begins this year with the ribbon cutting in Central City Park on March 17. For the next ten days, the city pulls out all stops to entertain you like royalty. Complementary refreshment and free carriage rides are offered. Carnival rides, animal shows and shopping will compete for your attention. Golfers of all ages can whack little white balls in one of the four golf tournaments. Softball, volleyball, archery, running and bicycling are also on the agenda. If you're not the energetic type, the ongoing arts and crafts in the park and various displays offer something for everyone.

On stage activities run the gamete from concerts to plays and everything in between. Gospel groups offer you inspiration. Mercer University serves you up "A Cherry Jubilee". Magicians mystify, dancers strut and thespians entertain with world class plays, including the famous New York's Gilbert and Sullivan Players' presentation of "The Pirates of Penzance".

For those who wouldn't leave home without Fido, you'll enjoy the Canine Frisbee Disk Championship and the Humane Services Fins, Furs and Feathers Festival. Their contests include smallest pet, largest pet, pet trick contest and even a most unique pet contest with prizes in all catagories.

And then there are those of you who like to eat. You won't feel slighted here. The Pink Pancake Breakfast, International Food Fair and the pizza eating contest should fulfill your every food fantasy.

Only in Georgia will you find a "Peanut Boil", provided by the fire department.

Even the skies are filled with entertainment. Multicolored hot air balloons and fireworks provide drama and spectacle.

The "Ghosts of Macon" tour provides a haunting look at the city's past. Tours are a must in Macon. They have some of the most beautiful historic homes and buildings as well as unrivaled museums.

Your feet may ache from the four walking tours of Macon but they are worth the effort. The Lights on Macon is a unique nighttime tour that offers over thirty illuminated sites. Then there is the Victorian Walking Tour, the White Columns Walking Tour and the Historic Downtown Walking Tour. If you value your feet, don't do them all in one day.

Hay House

From the fabulous Hay House, an Italian Renaissance Mansion built in the 1850's, to the 1842 Inn, from the Woodruff House, site of Jefferson Davis's daughter's sixteenth birthday party, to the Cannonball House and Confederate Museum, Macon is a cornucopia of historic sites.

In fact, they even offer you a glimpse of pre history with the Ocmulgee National Monument. Here you will stroll through the mounds and earthlodge of a culture that stretches back beyond 9000 BC. The visitor center offers tantalizing sketches of the ancient cultures that flourished and vanished long before the European settlers arrived.

Soul on Rice exhibit at Harriet Tubman Museum

Harriet Tubman Museum was rated the number one downtown attraction until September 1996 when it was slightly upstaged by its neighbor, The Georgia Music Hall of Fame. From military heros such as Crispus Attucks, the first Black to die in the American Revolution, and Rodney Davis, Macon's only Medal of Honor recipient, to entertainment greats such as Otis Redding and blind singer-guitar player Rev. Pearly Brown. Rev. Brown performed at Carnegie Hall and became the first Black entertainer to preform at the Grand Ole Opry. The Museum of Arts and Science and Planetarium allows you to view a 40 million year old whale skeleton found near Macon, view art exhibits and interact with exhibits.

The Georgia Music Hall of Fame's Skillet Licker Cafe

What do Ray Charles, Jerry Reed and former Georgia Governor Zell Miller have in common? They all share a love of music and a place in the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. Whatever kind of music moves you, you will find it there. The museum, which opened in 1996, is a three story, glass encircled tribute to the Georgia artists and behinds the scenes people who contributed to the world's musical enrichment.

When you step through the doors of "Toon Town", the 12,000 square foot exhibit hall, you find yourself on the main street of a tiny Georgia village. Each building represents a different style of music. Within each you will see artifact of the stars and hear their music. The Vintage Vinyl Record Store celebrates the raucous rock and roll of The Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skinner and that wild man who exploded on the music scene in 1953 with his classic "Tutti Frutti", Little Richard.

After that blast from the past, you might need the quiet reverence of the Gospel Chapel. The chapel is a miniature country church featuring the sounds of such greats as Thomas Dorsey and Amy Grant. Thomas Dorsey earned the name of "the father of gospel music" with his unique blend of blues and religious music.

Macon is also very much a city of the present. The brand new, state of the art Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, opened, April 24, 1999, the Macon museums allow participation not just appreciation. Your tour begins with a fast paced video introducing you to the world of Georgia sports in a 205 seat theater modeled after a ball park stadium. When the cheers die away, you emerge into a colorful display of jerseys and banners. The museum merges interactive activities such as an interactive wheelchair race or sit in the sportscaster's chair and make the call for one of sports history's great moments. A riveting display is Bill Elliott's red NASCAR car, featured prominently on the second floor. No way could it have been driven to that spot. Robbie Burns, the museum's publicity director told me the secret. "It was hoisted and manoeuvred through an opening on the second floor where a hugh, curved window had been removed to allow the car's access."

You will find so much to see and do in Macon that this just scratches the surface. There are magnificent churches, such as St Joseph's Catholic Church, cultural offerings, such as the newly restored Douglass Theater and the Grand Opera House. Parks and gardens abound. Sports enthusiasts will enjoy seeing the newest member of Macon's sports family, their hockey team, the Macon Whoopee.

Lake Tobesofkee Recreation Area provides three parks and 1800 acres of fresh water fun. They offer fishing, boating, picnicking, tennis and swimming. Two of the parks, Arrowhead and Claystone, offer camping along the lake's 35 miles of shore. Woodall's Camping guide will provide you with several other excellent campgrounds in the area. To avoid heavy weekend traffic during the festival, take advantage of the free shuttle bus that runs from the Coliseum to Central City Park. In case of injury or sickness, The Red Cross provides a first aid station on site. They also offer free blood pressure readings.

Although most of the activities are free, some of the big name concerts do cost additional. Tickets for these events can be purchased at any Ticketmaster location or at the Coliseum.

The Cherry Blossom Festival was named in the Top 20 Events in the Southeast, a Top 75 Event in the United States and a Top Hundred Event in North America. It has something for every taste. It can be as sweet as a chocolate covered cherry or as intoxication as a Cherry Jubilee.

Sidebar of useful information

Cherry Blossom Festival Office Phone 912-751-7429
794 Cherry St www.cherryblossom.comMacon, GA 31201

Macon Convention and Visitors Center Phone 800-768-3401
200 Cherry St
P.O.Box 6354
Macon, GA 31208
Lake Tobesofkee 912-474-8770

Provided by American Roads Travel Magazine - Visit American Roads Travel Magazine website.

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