The first was Josef Meier. While passion plays have been performed for centuries in Europe, it was Josef Meier that formed a touring company in 1932 to perform his own English-version in the United States, starring himself as the Christ. While he opened a permanent home for his play in the Black Hills of South Dakota, where it is still peformed today, Lake Wales became the winter home for the show — The Black Hills Passion Play — from 1953 until 1998. Some may remember the large outdoor amphitheatre where Meier portrayed an ever aging Jesus until his retirement.
If it wasn't for the advice of one man's grandmother, that man being Edward Bok, Lake Wales might not be home to one of Florida's most beautiful and unique attractions. As a six-year-old, Bok set out on his journey from the Netherlands to America. He never forgot what his grandmother told him, "Make the world a bit better or more beautiful because you have lived in it." Indeed, Edward Bok grew up to have an interesting and successful life. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author was the editor of the Ladies Home Journal for over 30 years. But his legacy would be the beautiful gardens and singing tower he had constructed in the little Florida town of Lake Wales. For years, visitors have come from all over the world to hear the sounds of music from Bok's "singing" tower — a 60-bell carillon — and enjoy the peaceful gardens.
Another attraction — an optical illusion that nature carved into the side of a hill — lured visitors by the carloads to Lake Wales for many years. It was an old Indian legend that added the "spook" to Spook Hill, where you can experience your car rolling uphill! The sign still stands and the legend lives on, but the slightly offbeat attraction doesn't get the traffic it once did. Despite that, it is still proudly recognized by the town.
The early Lake Wales became a magnet for pioneers because the area's lakes and forest provided ample lumber and fish. Later, a rail line helped with the settlers main industry — turpentine production. Today, besides attracting visitors to the Bok Sanctuary and Spook Hill, Lake Wales also draws visitors to its downtown. The charming historic district with more than 30 unique shops and distinctive restaurants, also features murals that depict the history of Lake Wales. Much of that history is contained in the old train depot that serves as a museum and cultural center.
If you decide to go, the Chalet Suzanne is a historic, enchanting inn with amenities that include a pool, tennis courts and fitness center. Also, the Green Gables Inn on Highway 27 is a small lodging choice.
DirectionsLake Wales is located about 30 miles south of I-4 via Highway 27 at Highway 60.