The Coral Castle

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A view of Coral Castle

During my graduate studies in Newton, MA, I would often go with my good friends Dave and Jay on many wonderful adventures.  We drove to New Hampshire to visit America’s Stonehenge, then to Vermont to see The Old Man Of The Mountain before it collapsed in 2003.  We designed a Live Action Role Playing game before LARPs had even been invented and we played it around the Bear Hill Tower on the Middlesex Fells Reservation just north of Boston.  Dave even got married in the old Hammond Castle on the shores of Gloucester, MA right next to the famous Motif #1 of Rockport, MA. 

And we talked about visiting the Coral Castle in Homestead, Florida

At the time, we did not know anything about the Coral Castle, except for its name and that it was in Florida, somewhere.  We had visions of a large, multi storied, medieval style edifice with sharp coral edges at every turn and lots of dark hallways and dank dungeons.  It was one of the few adventures of which we dreamed but never had the opportunity to act upon.  Last year, however, I finally got to visit the Coral Castle located just south of Miami in the Redland area.  It was nothing like I expected yet everything I’ve ever hoped for in an adventure. 

First, a little history.  Edward Leedskalnin was born in Latvia 1887.  At the age of 26 he was engaged to 16 year old Agnes Scuffs.  He used to call her his “sweet sixteen.” She jilted him just one day before their wedding.  Ed decided to create a monument to the only love of his life.

Without any outside assistance or large machinery, Ed built Rock Gate Park, which later came to be renamed Coral Castle. Ed never did anything the easy or normal way. He immigrated to Canada, then later moved to California and Texas before a bout of tuberculosis made him finally move to the subtropical climate of Florida City in 1918. He stayed there, creating his stone sculptures, until someone planned a subdivision right beside his property in 1936. Being a private person, over the next three years Ed moved his coral rocks 10 miles to a 10 acre plot of land he purchased in Homestead, FL. He would load his the large rocks, each weighing several tons, on an old truck chassis and a friend with a trailer would drive them the 10 miles. Ed himself never owned a car and would ride a bike 3.5 miles into town for food and supplies. He was just over five feet tall and weighed around 100 pounds.

Although many people saw the large carvings being moved along the Old Dixie Hwy., no one ever saw Ed load or unload the rocks. He did most of his work at night, by lantern light. The numerous lookouts on his walls attests to Ed’s desire for privacy. When asked how he was able to move such heavy structures, he would only reply that he understood the laws of weights and leverage well.

I am a skeptical person by nature. I believe that if it sounds too good to be true, or too fantastical, it probably is a hoax. I also have a strong inquisitive streak. Like the mythical Sherlock Holmes, when presented with a mystery I explore all possible avenues and try to solve it.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out how Ed created the Coral Castle.

Yes, there are crazy stories of Ed using magnetism, kids who claim they saw Ed hovering over the rocks and doing a mysterious chant as well as other tall tales of the supernatural. I just dismiss those out of hand. But how did Ed cut, carve, lift, place and stabilize all the walls and sculptures of his Rock Garden that is now known as the Coral Castle.

Large Coral Door

Large Coral Door

Coral weighs approx. 125 pounds per cubic foot. Each section of his wall is 8 feet tall, 4 feet wide and 3 feet thick. That’s 6 tons per section. After visiting the Coral Castle and examining the walls, carvings, castle and educational material in the gift shop, my Sherlock Holmes is completely befuddled. How did he do it? Holmes himself used to say that when you have eliminated the impossible, that which remains, however improbable, must be the answer. Occam’s Razor also admonishes that, all things being equal, the simplest solution is the best. In this case, I believe that it simply means what Ed says is true–He so fully understood the laws of weights and leverage that he was able to devise ropes, pulleys and tripods in such a way that he could literally move mountains. The ancient Egyptians and the creators of Stonehenge had nothing on Ed!

And what a garden he created! No, there were no large edifices, dank dungeons nor twisty passages. There is one two story structure approximately 10 feet square with turrets on top. This was Ed’s workshop and a place to sleep in inclement weather. In addition to the wall that surrounded the garden, the remaining items within the garden were sculptures and furniture all carved from coral and each with a unique story that only Ed could write.

Testing out the furniture

Testing out the furniture

There is a table shaped liked the state of Florida complete with a carved out section filled with water representing Lake Okeechobee and stone chairs surrounding the table. Here, Ed said, the politicians of Florida could sit around the table of Florida figuring out how to raise your taxes. There are large, crescent moon shaped monoliths, holes aligned to give views of stars and planets, bathtubs made of coral rock, chairs, sofas, kids areas and much more all carved out of coral. There is a rock gate that weighs several tons but is so perfectly balanced that even a child can spin it. Although it is interesting to look at the photos of this place, they do not do it justice. You really have to experience the Coral Castle.

Ed used to give tours of his masterpiece, but in a his typically eccentric way. There was a bell with instructions on how to ring it for a tour. Ring it correctly, and if Ed was around he would take your dime or quarter and give you a tour. Ring it incorrectly and you would get no answer, even if Ed was around.

One day, in 1951 at the age of 64, Ed was feeling sickly and hung a sign on the rock garden gate, “gone to hospital.” He took a bus trip to the nearest hospital and died in his sleep three days later.

But his monument to the love of his “sweet sixteen” remains and is a must see. Indeed, it was this Rock Garden masterpiece that inspired Billy Idol to pen the song “Sweet Sixteen”.  If you watch this video carefully, you’ll see it begins with a grainy image of Ed standing in his Rock Garden.

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