A Day at the Tower

One last blog post from our awesome trip to Florida the other month.

I grew up in the small town of Lake Wales Florida. One of Lake Wales’ biggest claims to fame is the historic Bok Tower Gardens.

the reflection pool

The gardens were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., the son of the famed architect of Central Park and Biltmore Gardens, Frederick Law Olmsted Sr. The Singing Tower is 205 feet tall and houses a 60 bell carillon. I played in these gardens as a young girl and listened to the bells time and time again. I can remember going to the tower with my grandmother and having wonderful family picnics. More memories are going to the Tower every Easter for the Sunrise Services. I’ve taken Andie and Lydia every time we’ve visited Lake Wales over the years. It truly is one of my favorite places on the planet.

One of the perks for graduating from Lake Wales High School is you get to go inside the tower and go to the top and see the bells. This is an honor only given to graduates, donors to the tower, and volunteers that work at least 40 hours. A very prestigious club indeed.

I graduated from LWHS but unfortunately that June they were doing renovations to the tower and all tours to the top were cancelled. I think they let the class go up later that summer but I moved to Virginia right after graduation and never got my chance.

I’ve always dreamed of going inside so this trip, I clicked on the Contact Us button on the Tower website and asked. I explained that I didn’t get to go back in 1983 and that we would be in town for our 26th wedding anniversary. I wondered if there was any way an exception could be made.

Here’s the awesome response to my email. When I got the response, I totally expected to see something like, “Sorry but we can’t help you.” I about died when I realized they were saying YES!

“Dear Melissa,

Thanks for your email.

I’m sorry to hear that you never had the opportunity to tour the Singing Tower as part of your 1983 graduating class.  That doesn’t seem quite fair, does it?

So… since it’s your 26th wedding anniversary, I would be happy to make this dream a reality for you and give you a VIP tour.

How about we set a time for Tuesday, February 25…  Will that work for you and your husband?

Please let me know and I’ll schedule it.  Best wishes…. and see you soon!”

I couldn’t believe it! We were going to get to see inside the tower after all these years.

When we drove up to the gate on that Tuesday, all we had to do was mention the Marketing Director’s name, Brian Ososky, and they waved us right through. We felt like VIPs from the very beginning.

Brian met us in the visitor’s center and was the nicest person ever. He was all smiles and I could tell from the start that he loved Bok Tower as much if not way more than I did. Brian told us that it really was a fluke that he was able to grant us this awesome opportunity. Evidently, many calls are received every single day from other graduates that somehow missed their opportunity to go up in the tower. So many calls in fact, that they have to always say no and offer their apologies. However, all emails from the contact us button, get sorted. My email ended up in Brian’s in box and he had never come upon a request such as this. I guess since it was our anniversary and we caught him on a good day, Brian said yes.

Brian walked us up to the tower and when he reached in his pocket to get the key to unlock the iron gate I felt like I was in a dream. This gate had remained locked to me for 48 years and I couldn’t believe that a simple key and a regular person could unlock it. Brian held the gate open for Ron and me and we walked across the bridge over the moat. Each step I took crossing that moat felt so surreal! I’ve been by this moat thousands of times and fed the Japanese carp that live there but never did I think I could cross it.

Then, in the blink of an eye, Ron and I were standing at the Great Brass Door. This awesome door is a work of art and has 30 brass panels depicting the Biblical story of creation. It was breathtaking.

The Great Brass Door

Ron and Me at the GBD

Click here for a close up of the door and more history.

I am very sad to report that days before we arrived, a vandal somehow slipped into the gardens, crossed the moat, and carved their name into one of the panels. Can you believe that?! Here I am mesmerized by the opportunity to stand so close to the door and someone else had so little respect that they would do such a thing. Brian said they weren’t sure how they were going to repair it. This door is over 85 years old and it will be hard to find a metal worker that will have the skills to attempt the repair.

the great brass door from the inside

Once we got inside, we toured 7 of the 8 levels of the tower. We didn’t go to the tip top due to safety reasons but we got very close.

the top

One of the things that was so funny to me was when Brian let us go out on the balcony where the preacher stands when he delivers the Easter service. We walked out and right there across the moat were other visitors. They were standing where I have stood countless times and it felt so funny to be looking in this direction. I imagined that they thought we were some dignitary or famous person.

looking up from the door

I also was surprised to learn that the bells don’t swing. They stay stationary and the clappers hit up against them. The actual instrument that is used to play the music looks very similar to a piano. However, you have to use the side of your fist to play the very heavy bells.

how you play

the instrument

bells

The smallest bell weighs 16 pounds and the largest weighs nearly 12 tons.

the largest

 

 

Click here to listen to the bells.

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When we got to the top, Brian pointed out Edward Bok’s old house in the distance. It’s the smaller one to the left and above the large home.

Bok's home

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Bok Tower Gardens purchased one of the neighboring houses when it became available and now you can tour it too. It’s called the Pinewood Estate and is a beautiful example of the Mediterranean-style mansions that are similar to Bok’s home. Brian gave us free tickets to Pinewoods and we loved stepping back in time and visiting this lovely home.

My favorite thing about the mansion was that every window was framing the garden. It was almost as if the garden was the focal and the home and extension of it.

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Bok Tower was in peak bloom during our late February visit and I really got to practice with my new camera.

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My niece commented that this flower doesn’t even look real.

my favorite

Ron and I had a wonderful morning and it was the best anniversary present I could have ever received. And, to top it off, the day was not over. We had 5:00pm dinner reservations at The Chalet.

I love you honey so much and I thank you for this trip and my new camera. It really wasn’t a manly man sort of trip and I know it didn’t mean as much to you as it did to me. I love that you got into the spirit of the history and had so much fun too. Now, next year, let’s go to California and you can show me your old stomping grounds.  We could run the San Francisco Marathon, drive the Pacific Coast Highway, and see the Redwoods!

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