It started on October 24, 1933 …
Filmmaker Cecil B DeMille was in Hilo filming scenes for ‘Four Frightened People.’ The Hilo Park Commission asked him and some of the actors from the film (Mary Boland, William Gargan, Herbert Marshall’s wife (Edna Best Marshall) and Leo Carillo) to plant trees to commemorate their visit. (Pahigian)
Shortly after (October 29, 1933,) George Herman ‘Babe’ Ruth added a tree; he was in town for an exhibition baseball game against the Waiākea Pirates. In an earlier game in Honolulu, “Babe Ruth hit the first ball pitched to him for a home run when the visiting major league players defeated the local Wanderers here yesterday, 5 to 1.” (UP, El Paso Herald, October 23, 1933)
He and the visiting All Stars weren’t as fortunate in Hilo. “One of the most entertaining games ever played in Hilo was a 1933 exhibition matchup between the Waiākea Pirates and an all-star team featuring Babe Ruth. Ruth dazzled the crowd with a pair of homers, including one that traveled 427 feet. The Pirates still prevailed, 7-6.” (Honolulu Star-Advertiser, March 15, 2013)
A little later, US President Franklin D Roosevelt (FDR) was visiting the islands and arrived in Hilo on July 25, 1934 he planted a tree, too. FDR traversed the Pacific aboard the USS Houston, debarked at both the ports of Hilo and Honolulu, and stayed in the Islands for several days (July 24-28, 1934) to tour both cultural landmarks and military areas.
The visit was a stopover on a cruise starting July 1, 1934 at Annapolis going on to Portland, with stops in the Bahamas, Haiti, Puerto Rico, St Thomas, St Croix, Columbia, Panama, Cocos Island and Clipperton Island.
“Commemorating King George V’s silver jubilee (grandfather of the present Queen Elizabeth II,) a banyan tree has been planted here near the tree planted last year to honor President Roosevelt’s visit here.” (AP, Evening Independent, July 8, 1935.)
Another notable planter was Amelia Earhart. “Over the Christmas holiday, Amelia Earhart and George Putnam, along with Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mantz, arrived in Honolulu on December 27 (1934,) having sailed on the Matson liner SS Lurline. … The group spent two weeks vacationing in Hawaiʻi.”
“Five days after planting the banyan tree, she hopped off from Honolulu in her Lockheed Vega to cross 2,408-miles of Pacific Ocean. Eighteen hours and sixteen minutes later, Amelia and her red Vega, ‘Old Bessie, the Fire Horse,’ made a perfect landing at Oakland Airport at 1:31 pm … the very first person, man or woman, to fly solo between Hawaii and the Mainland and the first civilian airplane to carry a two-way radio.” (Plymate)
The next year, on November 15, 1935, Attorney Gonzalo and Adela Manibog, prominent Hilo community leaders in the 1930s and 40s, were given the honor of planting a banyan tree commemorating the birth of a new nation, the Philippine Commonwealth (now a republic.)
President Franklin D Roosevelt signed into law the Tydings-McDuffie Act creating the semi-autonomous government of the Philippine Commonwealth, a US protectorate ceded by Spain after the Spanish American war in 1898. (Manibog)
David McHattie Forbes, botanist, ethnologist, sugar plantation manager and explorer on the island of Hawaiʻi planted a tree. He served as the first district forester of South Kohala in 1905, and twenty years later was appointed a judge in Waimea. He was the discoverer in 1905 of what became known as the Forbes Collection, the greatest collection of Polynesian artifacts ever found.
William Linn (Lincoln) Ellsworth, was an American explorer, engineer, and scientist who led the first trans-Arctic (1926) and trans-Antarctic (1935) air crossings – he added a tree to the growing number.
Later, “Louis (Satchmo) Armstrong planted a tree … in the ‘living memorial’ Banyan grove in Hilo, Hawaii. Reviving a custom dormant since 1952, the musician spaded earth around the roots of the Louis Armstrong tree. It stands a few feet from the Amelia Earhart tree, planted by the aviatrix who vanished on a Pacific flight in 1937.” (Park City Daily News, May 7, 1963)
The tree then-Senator Richard Nixon of California planted in 1952 was destroyed. His wife Pat returned to Hilo in 1972, the year of his presidential re-election, and planted two banyans, one replacing his senatorial specimen (the sign incorrectly notes 1962) and another in her own honor.
Initially, eight trees were planted in October 1933; there have been over 50-trees planted at what is now known as Banyan Drive on the Waiākea peninsula, traditionally known as Hilo-Hanakāhi.
At the time, Banyan Drive was a crushed coral drive through the trees. Forty trees were planted between 1934 and 1938, and five more trees were planted between 1941 and 1972. In 1991, a tree lost to a tsunami was replaced. (Hawaiʻi County)
Trees were typically planted by or for notable politicians, entertainers, religious leaders, authors, sports figures, business people, adventurers and local folks.
The trees now represent the ‘Stories of Incredible People,’ as described in a book by Ted Coombs of Kurtistown, Hawaiʻi.