Continuing in the Steps of Calvin Coolidge

Roads had begun filling for miles around since that morning. Keeping in mind that roads then were not what they are now, which, at that time were principally gravel and dirt trails. Some seventy-five thousand people descended on the area that February 1, 1929, to attend the dedication. Whole towns ran out of food and gas and traffic came to a standstill.

The parking lots on Dedication Day, February 1, 1929

The parking lots on Dedication Day, February 1, 1929

Driving in as close as possible, families trudged through the mud with what food and water they could carry to see Edward Bok’s Singing Tower and hear the bells firsthand. They were especially drawn to this dedication because the President — Calvin Coolidge — would be there to speak. It was going to be one of his last major Presidential addresses as he would be leaving office in just over a month.

Masterful carillonneur Anton Brees sitting at the 60-bell carillon in the Tower.

Masterful carillonneur Anton Brees sitting at the 60-bell carillon in the Tower.

The Great Bell, the largest of sixty bells housed in Bok Tower from a picture taken in 1928 in England, where it was cast to be transported across the Atlantic and over rails to its place as the centerpiece of Bok's musical assembly.

The Great Bell, the largest of sixty bells housed in Bok Tower from a picture taken in 1928 in England, where it was originally cast to be transported across the Atlantic and over rails to its place as the centerpiece of Bok’s musical assembly.

The President and Mrs. Coolidge arrived for their first visit to Florida on an Atlantic Coast Railway special out of Washington. Deboarding from the Mountain Lake Station in Lake Wales, they would be escorted the short drive around Mountain Lake to the Tower grounds that afternoon. The Coolidges took their seats in the temporary pine platform specially put up for the dedication on the Tower’s south side and listened as carillonneur Anton Brees played “America” inside the Tower and the six hundred voices of the United Singing Societies of Polk County performed “The Glory of God in Nature” and “Hallelujah” from Handel’s Messiah. Introduced by Mr. Bok, creator of the Tower and its lush gardens, President Coolidge took to the podium to dedicate what the site meant to America and all who were there that day.

The United Singing Societies of Polk County, positioned opposite of the President and platform, on the south side of the Tower, February 1, 1929.

The United Singing Societies of Polk County, positioned opposite of the President, February 1, 1929.

The bells, played by Anton Brees, would resume as they chimed out “Onward, Christian Soldier” and other music to the silent amazement of all those present. The largest silk flag in the South up to that time, would be raised near the pinnacle of the Tower as a completion of the day’s events and the President and Mrs. Coolidge would be led around to see more of the grounds and the inside of the Tower. Grace Coolidge would even plant a palm tree beside the trail leading up to the Tower. Mistakenly attributed to the President, it was the First Lady who did the honors. It remains quietly standing there beside the creek with a weathered plaque to commemorate the 1929 dedication. Coolidge would even reappear from the lower balconies on the south and west so that he could be better seen by those who had come so far.

Cover of the Dedication Program printed for the event, February 1, 1929.

Cover of the Dedication Program printed for the event, February 1, 1929.

He likely remembered on this occasion the first time he saw a President, when as a teenager he heard Benjamin Harrison address the crowds at Bennington, Vermont. “As I looked on him and realized that he personally represented the glory and dignity of the United States I wondered how it felt to bear so much responsibility and little thought I should ever know” (The Autobiography, p.52). He always made a point of making himself accessible to young people in order to inspire them with a sense of both personal potential and faith in our republican system of government. The President was not some distant, aloof ruler but one of them. Coolidge recognized that any one of those youngsters might themselves be inspired to take up public service as President some day.

Invited to Mr. and Mrs. Bok’s home for that evening’s supper, the Coolidges sat with Governor Carlton and those who served in Florida’s state government at the time. The President and First Lady then boarded the train and returned to Washington that night. The words dedicating this Tower can be found today carved into the coquina and marble below the sundial. It is a fitting tribute not only to the majestic beauty of the site but also to the vision of men like Edward Bok and Calvin Coolidge to imagine great things, put them into being and call us to reflect on God’s work both around and in us.

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These orange groves met us on the way to Bok Tower. It reminds us of the drive through the oranges on Dedication Day told by Horace Herndon.

These orange groves met us on the way to Bok Tower. It reminds us of the drive through the oranges on Dedication Day told by Horace Herndon.

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The carillon played by Anton Brees at the Dedication by President Coolidge

The carillon played by Anton Brees at the Dedication by President Coolidge

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The Golden Door on the north side of the Tower, depicting the Creation and Fall of Man. Mr. Bok's grave lies at the foot of the stairs, surrounded by white flowers.

The Golden Door on the north side of the Tower, depicting the Creation and Fall of Man. Mr. Bok’s grave lies at the foot of the stairs, surrounded by white flowers.

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Entrance to Pinewood Estate across from Bok Tower through the Gardens.

Entrance to Pinewood Estate across from Bok Tower through the Gardens.

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