Friday, October 29, 2010

Babe Ruth in Hilo

With the World Series in progress it seems fitting to discuss Babe Ruth’s presence in Hilo on the Big Island -- particularly since his Hilo visit was memorialized in such a spectacular way.  The year was 1933 and The Babe was in Hawaii to play a series of exhibition games against various local teams.
About that same time several park commissioners in Hilo decided that it would be a good idea to have celebrities’ plant banyan tree saplings along the Waiakea Peninsula.  In late 1933, Cecil B. DeMille was on the island filming "Four Frightened People".  Several of the actors planted trees in their own honor, along with Mr. and Mrs. DeMille.  Some eight trees were planted in October 1933. And in addition to the movie stars, one tree was also planted by one of the most famous men in America, Babe Ruth.  This drive, now named Banyan Drive is also known as the "Hilo Walk of Fame.”
Over time probably some fifty trees were planted with many surviving until today having grown into a thick canopy, making it popular for walking.  The Waiakea Peninsula is anchored by the beautiful Liliuokalani Park and Reed’s Bay Beach Park, and not far from the Hilo airport.  The name comes from wai ākea which in Hawaiian means "broad waters,” and sometimes what is now called Hilo Bay was once called Waiakea Bay.
The Banyan tree is an example of a strangler fig that often begins life in the crown of another tree. Its roots grow down and around the stem of the host, their growth accelerating once the ground has been reached. Over time, the roots coalesce to form sort of a pseudotrunk.  Older banyan trees are characterized by their aerial prop roots that grow into thick woody trunks which, with age, can become indistinguishable from the main trunk. Old trees can spread out laterally using these prop roots to cover a wide area.
The first banyan tree in the U.S. was planted by Thomas Alva Edison in Fort Myers, Florida.  The tree, originally only four feet tall, now covers 400 feet.  Robinson Crusoe, in the 1719 novel by Daniel Defoe makes his home in a banyan tree.  Due to the complex structure of the roots and extensive branching, the banyan is also extensively used for creating Bonsai.  Taiwan's oldest living bonsai is a 240-year-old banyan in Tainan.

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