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Thursday, May 19, 2016

Coral Castle

Coral Castle is not really much of a castle, more of a walled garden; but never is it more beautiful than late in the afternoon near sunset.
Edward Leedskalnin, ca. 1940
Usually, as the story goes, it's the bride who gets jilted at the altar. In the case of Edward Leedskalnin, quite the opposite happened. At the age of 26, the Latvian laborer was engaged to marry Agnes Skuvst. The night before the wedding, she broke the engagement. Heart-broken, Leedskalnin emigrated to North America where he found work in various lumber camps in Canada, California, and Texas. Born in 1887, in growing up, young Edward had been a rather sickly boy, who spent his time inside reading books. He achieved only a fourth-grade edu-cation before dropping out of school due to boredom, even though he had an intense yearn-ing for knowledge. During his early years in the United States, Leedskalnin contracted tubercu-losis. He moved to the warmer climate of Florida around 1919, where he purchased a small piece of land near Florida City (the southernmost area of Dade County).

Southern Florida has changed a lot since Ed Leedskalnin's time.
Leedskalnin built his original Florida City castle which, he named "Ed's Place," in Florida City, around 1923. It was an extremely remote location with very little development at the time. The castle remained in Florida City until about 1936 when Leedskalnin decided to move and take his castle with him to its present location at 28655 South Dixie Highway in the southwestern area of Miami, Florida known today as Leisure City (above). He spent three years moving the Coral Castle structures just ten miles up Dixie Highway in order to protect his privacy when he heard discussions about developing land in the area.

The original entrance and carved "advertisement."
Over the next 20 years, Leedskalnin constructed and lived within a massive coral monument he called "Rock Gate Park", dedicated to the girl who had left him years before. Working alone at night, by lantern light, Leedskalnin eventually quarried and sculpted over 1,100 tons of coral into a monument that would later be known as the Coral Castle. He used only very basic tools, several made from timber and parts of an old Ford. He began by building a house out of coral rock and timber, gradually adding to it the monuments for which he is famous. Despite his private nature, Leedskalnin eventually opened his walled castle to the public, offering tours for ten cents. Later he found he took in more by simply allowing visitors to make a donation. Upon his death, his nephew, and only heir, found he'd hidden away some $3,500 in profits from his little enterprise.

The two maps above give some idea as to the working of Ed Leedskalnin's amazing mind. Both maps are oriented in roughly the same direction.
The real fascination having to do with Coral Castle is not what Ed Leedskalnin carved, or that he carved it, or even why he carved it. The real mystery that draws visitors today centers upon how he carved it. More specifically, the mystery revolves around how one man, working alone, without heavy equipment, could quarry and move stones, many of which weighed several tons each. The site is lovely to look at, nicely landscaped, and interesting from a sculptural viewpoint in its diversity of shapes. However, such diversity also tends to create a sort of "hodgepodge" lacking much in the way of visual unity. It has somewhat the character of a grown man's playground.

The Throne. A man's home is his castle.
When people asked him how he had moved all of the stone by himself, Leedskalnin refused to reveal his secret. He would only say: "I understand the laws of weight and leverage and I know the secrets of the people who built the pyramids. In any case, Leedskalnin took his secret to his grave. On November 9, 1951, he checked himself into Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. There he suffered a stroke. He died several days later of pyelonephritis (a kidney infection) at the age of sixty-four.

A panoramic view of Coral Castle.
Edward Leedskalnin spent more than 28 years building the Coral Castle, always refusing to allow anyone to watch him while he worked. A few teenagers, who claimed to have secretly spied on him as he worked, reported that he had caused the blocks of coral to move like hydrogen balloons. The only tool that Leedskalnin spoke of using was a "perpetual motion holder" (whatever that might be). Some of his pamphlet writings spoke of obscure theories involving magnetism. Today, Coral Castle is a privately owned tourist attraction charging $15 per person for entry ($12. for seniors), open seven days a week during daylight hours. Prepare to see "unusual accomplishment"--to be amazed, if not exactly overwhelmed.

Ed Leedskalnin's modest castle quarters. 

The grand staircase.


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