Thus I Refute Spook Hill. (long)

Well, not really a refutation, per se. More like a heckling. Here’s the story:

I’ve heard about “magnetic hills” or “mystery spots” for a while now – those places around the globe where what seems to be an uphill slope is actually a downwards grade. Imagine my surprise and delight when I learned that there was one less than two hundred miles away from me, in Lake Wales, Florida: Spook Hill. I made a promise to myself: once I got the car fixed up enough so that I was willing to chance a longish trip with it, I was so there.

The day came. I took a day off work, booked a room at a nearby motel, and away went Mrs Lacha and myself. My plan was originally just do it as a one-day thing: drive up there, bask in the glory of Spook Hill, and return, all within 24 hours. Mrs L just stared at me evenly until I said, “Hey! I just had a great idea - why don’t you come, too – we’ll make a whole little trip out of it!” So we went, arrived in the afternoon, had a look around the historic downtown area (cute!), had dinner and some drinks, and planned our itinerary for the next day. There were another couple of attractions in the area, but the crowning note of the day would be the dizzying propulsion down an up hill, as if moved by otherworldy hands. The back of my neck prickled with excitement at the mere thought of it; I was like a child on Christmas day, drooling at the thought of a landscape-sized optical illusion (for that’s all it is, really) fooling my fragile little mind.

And then we were there. Really there. The mystery spot sits right in front of the Spook Hill Elementary School, but it was kind of hard to tell, because all of the welcoming signs and banners had been blown down in last year’s hurricanes. Also kind of hard to tell, because there was no discernable “uphill” to roll down. Oh well. I gamely drove the car to the designated spot and put it in neutral. The car then rolled backwards to where it stopped of it’s own accord. That’s it. Where was the whole going uphill sensation? Where was the visual paradox? WHERE WAS THE MYSTERY?

Here’s what happened: I parked at the base of a fairly steep hill. I rolled backwards. The end. Some nice folk from Tennesee were there at the same time, and they were as non-plussed as we were. I commented, “I know this is a free attraction, but I want my money back!” They agreed. They noted that the Lake Wales Chamber of Commerce must be pretty darn savvy in the marketing department, because this is one of the top free attractions in Florida, believe it or not. In all fairness, the car rolled a longer way than it normally would have, but that was cold comfort. Talking to a local, later on, they said that the illusion was greater before the area had gotten built up. There were more visual references, now, and the optical illusion had been dispelled for the most part.

So we went home.

The trip wasn’t a complete wash-out. We got to see the beautiful Bok Tower and Sanctuary gardens. Lake Wales also was the home of a permanent Passion Play, set in an ampitheater. We saw the faded billboard for it in the middle of an orange grove, but all that’s left of it is a creepy crumbling proscenium set among the trees. Beautiful and serene, in a decayed sense. Abandoned, storm-wracked, partially pulled down and now left to rot. And yet it’s advertised in some guidebooks and posted on new street signs. Go figure.