The Purpose of the Mountain Lake Sanctuary

Rough draft found in the Nellie Lee Bok Archive. Handwritten by Edward Bok in October, 1928.

The purpose of the Mountain Lake Sanctuary and the Singing Tower is four-fold.

First: As a place of quiet and repose for the electrically-driven people of America. In the olden days, a sanctuary was a retired spot protected for those who were persecuted and who found there anasylum of safety. We have no persecutions in free America as in those days. But we do need the sanctuary as a place of quiet refuge for those who are in the rapid whirl of our modern life and can, find repose and a place to think. Man needs the quiet moment every oncein awhile to take as it were an inventory of himself. To consider where he is going and if the goal is worthy of the effort. Some place where he can peaceful,ly think and where he can sit among the beauties of nature and let the realization of the existence of a God come to him. Man cannot live by bread alone; he must have the quiet moment where he can withdraw from the rush of life and try to understand himself. As John ,Burroughs has so beautifully put it,which is the motto of this Sanctuary: I come here to find myself. It is so easy to get lost in the world.” Men do lose themselves in our modern whirl and it is well and needful there should be such places of beauty and quiet in this fast going country of ours where the human can find himself and be the better and finer because of the quiet moment. It is pleasant to know that hundreds of visitors who have visited this Sanctuary have said that a feel of supreme peace has come upon them upon the first step of their entrance into it. So the Sanctuary is already justifying itself in exactly the way the founder hoped for it. As the old writer expressed it: it is a place to which to invite one’s soul to see not what man has done, but in the landscape and green verdure to see what God has done.

Second: Neither the Sanctuary or the Tower was conceived as a memorial or a monument. It has no such purpose. Both were erected and laid out solely and singly to express the gospel of beauty: to open our eyes and awaken our senses to the beautiful. Here is beauty in almost every form: in the quiet majesty of the trees: in the soft green of the verdure: in the appealing beauty of the flowers: in the exquisite note of the nightingale than which there is no more beautiful note by the feathered singers of the skies: the calm and beautiful reflection of the ponds: in the superb beauty of the stone and marble and the graceful line of the Tower and in the beautiful and appealing music of the bells. What more can the heart ask for than is here? Beauty, beauty, beauty, – everywhere and on all sides. Surely the architects have done well in their fashioning of the purpose in view. And how much we need this appreciation and understanding of beauty in this country, especially to impart to our children. We are now the most prosperous nation in the world: but we should be and can be the most beautiful country in the world. And we would be the better and greater nation if we were because the value and power of beauty is limitless. Only the few of course have the means to preach beauty on such a scale as this, but beauty is not dependent on large areas or great heights. The homes of greatest beauty in the world happen to be small homes. Beauty’s power is so great that it preaches equally strong and sure from the smallest unit as from the large spaces. If after you have been here the beauty of it has appealed and spoken to you, and you go home to your town or city and your eyes have been opened to the fact that there might be a row of trees on the curb of your street, or that the three of four empty lots at the foot of your street might be transformed into a square or small park of green verdure, if you look at your child’s school and wonder why it was not made more beautiful, or why your municipal buildings have not more beautiful lines in their architecture, or your library or your art gallery ,then your visit here shall have not been in vain. We need such awakening of our senses for the beautiful in every community and municipality in America. Much is being done already, but more should be added. We must have the material, but let us harnass the beautiful to the material. When the San Francisco Fair was held a few years agao its buildings were made very beautiful and it was noted that during the five years following the the Fair municipal buildings all through California were torn down and beautiful examples of architecture took their places and the face of the Pacific Coast State was changed – where was the explanation? The people from these cities had gone to the World Fair, seen the beautiful buildings there, and returned to the cities of their homes dissatisfied with what they had and determined to change it. Thus was the face of an entire state changed by the awakening of a people to the examples of beautiful architecture which they had seen and had influenced them. Thus does an example of beautification pass itself on from one place to another. This does not mean a restless or disloyal dissatisfaction with what we have: it means just the opposite: it means growth: it means that we want better things: more beautiful buildings and streets and squares so that our children will not be brought up to consider beauty as an exceptional thing but as an accustomed feature of their daily environment. It is that kind of work, of putting into our homes and into the cities where we live which a Sanctuary and a Tower such as are here does and was intended by the founder and his architects to do. Washington is already a beautiful city but it will be far more beautiful if present plans are individually and carefully carried out, as they will be. It will be then, as it should be, the most beautiful city in America. But the more that all our American cities, large and small, vie for that distinction, the better it will be for our country and our people.

Third: This Sanctuary and Tower also refutes the oft-repeated criticism that the American man of wealth is a dollar-grubber, nothing but an accumulator of wearth and when he gets it, enjoys and spends it only for his selfish pleasures. There is perhaps no accusation made against the American man of wealth where the exact opposite is the rent truth. There is no country in the world in which so large a number of men are so generous with their wealth or more inclined to give such large parts of it to the public for the purpose of beautification or helpfulness to others. Scarcely a week goes by but we read in the newspapers of the enormous gift of some millionaire for the erection of some superb building for public benefit, some line of research for the benefit of the people or for some idea having in mind the health and refreshment of the people who have not the means to obtain such benefit and necessities for their well-being for themselves. It may be truly said that the average American millionaire considers private wealth as a public trust, and that as his wealth has come from the American people, as in this case, he does not keep it for himself but gives it back to the American people in a gift of beauty or helpfulness. This is one of the characteristics of the American man of wealth. He earns for himself and his family, perhaps, as he should do, but once he has it he looks around for places or projects where he can put it and help others.

Fourth: Another purpose sought here, this time through the Singing Tower, is to accustom the American public to a new form of music, new to America. In the older countries like The Netherlands, Belgium, France and England, the carillon has been a fixed institution for hundreds of years. In The Netherlands, from where the inspiration for this Singing Tower has come, a community that has not a carillon in its City Hall or in the belfry of one of its churches, is not regarded as a complete community. These carillons go back to the 14th century. In America, for many years, a bell has found its place on a locomotive,a fire engine or an ambulance, or as a call to valorship. But to have a carillon just for the pleasure of hearing starry melodies and the bells in a recital was not thought of because we did not know the beautiful music that laid hidden in a carillon. Now we are beginning to realize what we have hitherto missed. This is the 30th carillon of various sizes in the United States: this Mountain Lake carillon is the largest and heaviest in the world ever cast in a single order and thus we have reason to expect that it will be the most beautiful, for it has taken nearly a year to cast these 61 bells so that they might all be perfectly tuned and in complete harmony. For two months you have heard these bells: for many months to come you will hear them and you will be surprised at the beauty of music there lies hidden in an assemblage of bells as is this. We are making great headway in America in the growth of music: musical ideals are spreading rapidly and the carillon will introduce music to us in a new way. For as we come to love the music of bells, carillons will spread all over America, and a new element of beauty will be introduced into our American life. We should regard this Singing Tower not as an example of beautiful architecture with bells placed in it. Technically, that is what it is. But when the bells play, the one unites with the other, and the whole becomes a Singing Tower: hence the name borrowed from the Dutch. And now in my capacity as President of the United States, I hereby dedicate this Mountain Lake Sanctuary and its Singing Tower and present them for visitation* to the American people.

*Owing to the property title deed, it is important that the words for visitation should be included in the presentation, lest it affect the ownership of Sanctuary and Tower.

This account of the purpose of the Sanctuary and the Tower was sent to President Coolidge to be used as a fact-basis for his dedicatory address.