By Easter 1941, news coverage in the United States was beginning to reflect the ominous beat of war drawing closer to the country. The traditional Easter celebrations—the 5th Avenue Easter parade in New York City, visits to the blossoming cherry trees in D.C., and coverage of the Easter observations and style of the president and first lady—may have proceeded as usual, but echoes of the terror facing the world could be seen in things as minor as Easter egg decorations that year. Even in a neutral U.S., nobody would give up the chance to smash a hard-boiled Hitler!
Paramount News, the media organization responsible for this 1941 Easter report, would eventually be called on to join the national war effort. They lent their talents to the Office of War Information, which was formed in the summer of 1942 and was responsible for all international and domestic propaganda during World War II. But until then, they continued releasing their own coverage of world events, whether those in the government liked it or not.
Paramount Takes on the News Biz
In 1927, Paramount Pictures jumped into the world of journalism by creating a news division. For the three decades that it existed, Paramount News would produce biweekly newsreel dispatches like this account of Easter in 1941 that were often shown in cinemas before the regularly scheduled entertainment began.
While Paramount would come to collaborate with the government to produce domestic war propaganda and dispatches from the frontlines, not every politician was thrilled with their news coverage in the lead-up to war. In 1940, Senator Burton Wheeler from Montana accused the movie industry of campaigning for war.
According to a January 15, 1941, New York Times piece, the editor of Paramount News wrote a letter to Wheeler disputing the accusations, writing, “I stand on our record. Paramount News has consistently presented and will continue to present both sides of all controversial topics vital to the interests of the American people. May I remind you of our treatment of the Supreme Court controversy of two years ago, in which you were featured in our screen reporting? This is but one example, characteristic of our policy.”
A Basketful of Easter Traditions
Even with war on the horizon, expert Easter egg decorators were channeling cheekiness when it came to their craft, as seen in the Hitler and United States Navy eggs featured in this news report. While scholars debate when exactly the egg became associated with the Christian holiday, the roots of Easter egg dying are a little more clear. Some of the earliest evidence can be traced back as early as 1290 when King Edward I gave members of his royal court colored eggs (including some decked out in gold leaf) as an Easter gift.
The tradition was carried on and expanded from there. During the next few centuries, the peasant class would gift eggs to the church and their lords, often dying them red first. During the Victorian Era, the power dynamics of Easter eggs shifted, and it became a treat for children. But it was in 1885 that the tradition reached new heights of lavishness. That year, a Russian jeweler by the name of Peter Carl Fabergé began making intricate, gold-and-jewel encrusted eggs for the royal family of Russia, the Romanovs, that became the most sought after—not to mention expensive—Easter eggs ever crafted.
About Those Cherry Trees
When the Japanese cherry trees in D.C. begin to bloom, it’s a sure sign that spring has officially sprung. But the road to achieving this beautiful backdrop for our nation’s capital was anything but effortless.
The idea to plant cherry trees in D.C. was originated by two different people: Eliza Scidmore was the first female writer for National Geographic in the late 19th century, and she was inspired to bring cherry trees to the U.S. after a visit to Japan; Dr. David Fairchild was an employee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and he imported the first cherry trees to experiment with on his own property. After successful lobbying—and after gaining the approval of First Lady Taft—the two devotees received the green light in 1909 to proceed with bringing cherry trees to D.C. Not only was Operation Cherry Tree a go, but the Japanese had gotten wind of the plan and offered to donate 2,000 trees to the city.
But this first attempt was not to be. When the trees arrived in D.C. at the beginning of 1910, the authorities discovered that they were plagued by an arboreal disease. The trees had to be burned to avoid any contamination of American agriculture. The great blaze did nothing to stop the friendship of the two countries. Japan offered a new gift, this time of 3,020 trees, as a replacement. On March 27, 1912, the first ladies from both nations gathered on the banks of the Tidal Basin and planted two Japanese cherry trees in Washington, D.C.
Those trees may have set the foundation for the cherry blossoms that continue to grace the capital each spring, but they didn’t bode quite as well for diplomatic relations. Less than three decades later, the friendship between the two nations would quickly devolve, and the U.S. and Japan would find themselves on opposite sides of a deadly war.