Published in May 1929 for The Ladies’ Home Journal, Edward Bok’s article entitled The Most Beautiful Spot in America provides a first-hand account of his vision taking shape and is a fascinating window to Bok Tower Gardens’ history. This is the third and final part of the article and addresses Bok’s desire to bring the music of the carillon to the American public. Enjoy Part 1 and Part 2.
The Beauty of the Singing Tower
A carillon is often confused with a chime, whereas the difference between the two is as great as that between a child’s single-octave one-finger piano and a cathedral organ. A chime has only a few bells in the diatonic scale with the usual compass of only an octave, but a carillon has from thirty to seventy bells giving the complete chromatic scale with a compass of from three to five octaves. As we have more carillons in America, we will understand this musical instrument better. At present, there are only thirty carillons in the United States, with 185 in the entire world, principally in the Netherlands and Belgium. A chime can be played by the most amateur musician; the carillon, rightly played, requires a bell master of musical education and years of experience with bells.
At Mountain Lake, Mr. Anton Brees is bell master and is generally accepted as the foremost bell master in the world today. His mastery of the keyboard of a carillon is complete; he knows his bells as few do and is probably excelled in playing by no other today.
The carving on the Tower is among its choicest assets. It is the work of twenty-six expert carvers working for over a year. It is illustrative of the fauna and flora of Florida and was designed by Lee Lawrie, the New York sculptor. It is this abundance of carving that has compared it to the Taj Mahal of India, this impression being heightened by the reflection pool directly in front of it – a beautiful view of the Tower apparently lying quietly on the surface of the water.
Every detail of the Tower has been done as perfectly as the whole. The great entrance door is a museum piece, truly a masterpiece by the famous ironworker, Samuel Yellin, and as one follows his ironwork in the two grates and the railing leading across the moat to the Tower door or in the superb stairs and railings in the private room as one enters the Tower, the impression of ironwork becomes overpowering in its lace-like beauty.
It was not long before the newspapers got hold of the idea that something unique and unusual was doing at Mountain Lake, and there followed a deluge of publicity. Though I in no wise contributed to this, I courted it for the reason that I wanted the American people to know what was being prepared for them. But I did not court the misrepresentations or the exaggerated reports that followed. I was left gasping with amazement of the imagination of the American newspaper writer as I read of the total financial cost of the Tower and the Sanctuary, and when this reached five million dollars I succumbed. Then came the manufactured stories that the Tower and the Sanctuary were memorials to my parents in one case to my grandparents in another. As a matter of fact, neither ever entered my mind; I never thought of either. Neither is a memorial of any sort and never intended to be.
Symbols of Beauty
What is the purpose, them? I am asked. Simply to created symbols of pure beauty, as to spread the influence and power of beauty, which we so much need in the is country, both in our cities and our communities and in our homes. Secondly, to express my appreciation and gratitude to the American people for their kindness and generosity – extended without limit. All that I have in means is from them; naturally, I wish to give it back to them in symbols of helpfulness and beauty. This latter thought reached its culminating point when the President of the United States came from Washington on February first, to dedicate the Sanctuary and the Singing Tower and to present them, for visitation, to the American people. He placed the crown of dignity on my purpose and desire – today, in my own way, my thanks to the American flag.
Author’s note: The Editor of the Ladies’ Home Journal asked me to write this article, and I consented because, though the Mountain Lake Sanctuary is generally pronounced by visitors to be the most beautiful spot of its area in America and the Singing Tower almost unanimously christened by everyone who sees it as the “Taj Mahal of America,” the work in both instances was that of other men – the Sanctuary that of Frederick Law Olmsted, the New England landscape architect; the Tower that of Milton B. Medary, the Philadelphia architect. My own part was simply that of the conception of the idea. But of what use is a conception if not carried to realization? These men did that. Hence I feel that I may praise their unquestionably marvelous work the same as is the privilege of any other person.