When six year old Edward W. Bok immigrated to New York from the Netherlands with his family he did not understand our language or anything about our customs or culture. But from a young age he had a goal, one inspired by his grandmother, who told him to “make the world a bit better or more beautiful because you have lived in it.” And he did just that!
Growing up in Brooklyn, his family was so poor that the young boy collected pieces of coal that had fallen off coal wagons to help heat their home and washed the windows of the local shops after school to bring in a few extra pennies. That work ethic would lead him to great success in life.
As a young man Bok became involved in the publishing business, eventually becoming the advertising manager for Charles Scribner and Sons. He spent four years as the editor of The Brooklyn Magazine, and in 1886, at age 23, he founded the Bok Syndicate Press. Three years later he took over the editorship of the nationally-circulated Ladies Home Journal. During his tenure it became the first magazine in the world to reach one million subscribers.
Bok spent thirty years at the Ladies Home Journal, changing the face of magazine publishing by dropping things like patent medicine ads and attracting better advertising customers and growing reader involvement through contests, letters to the editor columns, and practical news his subscribers could use in their everyday lives. Along the way, he also became a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, writing fourteen books, and an advocate of world peace and the environment.
In 1896 Bok married Mary L. Curtis, the daughter of a prominent family. The couple shared an interest in music, cultural activities, and philanthropy.
The Boks escaped Philadelphia’s cold winters by going to a home they owned in Lake Wales, Florida. Bok loved the area and spent a lot of time on Iron Mountain, at 298 feet above sea level, one of Florida’s highest points. The “mountain” offered views of dramatic sunsets and Bok found a lot of peace and tranquility there.
Remembering his grandmother’s advice to make the world a bit better or more beautiful, he purchased the land and hired architects and landscapers to create the marvelous Bok Tower Gardens, a magnificent place of beauty, serenity and peace that was his gift to the American people as an enduring token of his appreciation for the opportunities he had been given.
Today visitors from all over the world come to Bok Tower to walk the meandering paths through the subtropical gardens that provide refuge for 126 bird species.
A 205 foot tall neo-Gothic singing tower houses one of the world’s finest carillons. The tower is adorned with sculptures and grille work of birds, plants, and wildlife, including various flowers and trees, cranes, herons, eagles, seahorses, jellyfish, pelicans, flamingos, geese, swans, foxes, storks, tortoises, and baboons.
The 60-bell carillon fills the surrounding area with two daily concerts at 1 and 3 p.m., with short selections played on the hour and half-hour. The carillon’s bells range in weight from 16 pounds to nearly 12 tons.
The Great Brass Door and wrought iron gates on the north side of the Tower depicts the Book of Genesis, starting with the creation of light and ending with Adam and Eve being ousted from the Garden of Eden. They were created by America’s premier metalworker. Samuel Yellin.
The beautiful Reflection Pool captures the reflection of the Singing Tower and offers the first image visitors have when entering the gardens.
The sundial on the south side of the Tower was set in place on October 26, 1928. The gnomon, which indicates time by casting a shadow on the dial face, is made with a bronze rod supported by a bronze snake – the ancient symbol of time. The hours are marked by the 12 signs of the zodiac and Roman numerals to mark the hours of the day. A correction table for different periods of the year is located at the base of the sundial.
Plan to spend several hours when you visit Bok Tower Gardens because this gift from an immigrant of humble origins who proved that our only limitations are those we place on ourselves has a lot to offer. Take the time to stroll the garden paths, paths at the Reflection Pool, and enjoy the music from Bok’s singing tower. It’s an experience you won’t forget.
Bok Tower Gardens is centrally located between Tampa and Orlando at 1151 Tower Boulevard in Lake Wales. It is open 365 days a year from 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. Last admission from the entrance gate is at 5 p.m. Admission is $14 for adults, and $5 for children ages 5-12. For more information, visit their website at https://boktowergardens.org/
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Thought For The Day – The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance; the wise grows it under his feet. – James Openheim