I grew up in the same town as Ave Maria Grotto, and going there — a place put together by one man, with unwanted, unappreciated bits and pieces transformed into beautiful works. Brother Joseph Zoettl, a Benedictine monk at the Abbey, recreated in miniature buildings that he knew from childhood or read in books, places that knew from fairy tales, and buildings from the Bible.
In that same vein, but not in the same manner or exact execution, Rev Walter Harvell Jackson in Lucedale, Mississippi set out to create scenes from the Bible in miniature using concrete and blocks, and he called it, opening in 1960, Palestine Gardens.
Av and I had been here before, and I just cannot find those pictures. I think chances are, the gentleman who owns the property likely tries to give everyone who visits a tour. The last time we visited, he asked to pray with us without knowing/asking about our religious beliefs, and we were thinking this is going to be a general prayer of thanks, and we soon found ourselves in the midst of somewhat of an evangelical sermon. Which was okay, I mean, this is his place and in principle I’m happy as a lark to hear how other people view religion, as long as it isn’t super pushy or extremely dark. This time knowing the ropes, Av let the gentleman know that we’re Jewish, thought we would stop back by since we were in the area, and that we wanted to again visit the representations there from the Hebrew Bible. Gosh why didn’t we tell him this last time!? Well, because we didn’t know… But anyway, he was so tickled we were there, said that he would not missionary to anyone that was ‘of our faith’ (‘just let me know!’) and asked that we let other people know to come on out and see etc etc etc.
Here’s an article on the gardens in the Mobile PR from 2009.
In the 15 years that Bradley has been owner and caretaker of the homemade replica in the woods, he has seen the numbers of tourists dwindle.
While there were thousands of visitors in the early years, he said, times have changed. A guestbook shows approximately 20 visitors a month in recent weeks, some of those church groups from Butler and Loxley in Alabama, and Ocean Springs and Petal nearby in Mississippi.
Indeed, the sign announcing the miniature Holy Land off U.S. 98 about a 10-minute drive west from Lucedale, is battered and torn. Some folks, he said, even think the place is closed.
“God doesn’t want this to be a Bible theme park,” he explained…