by Jantje Blokhuis-MulderWas Edward Leedskalnin a visionary, or a magician?
Located 2 miles north of Homestead, Florida, on U.S. Highway 1, stands Edward Leedskalnin’s, obsession. It is wonderful, and magical, and it took 1100 tons of coral to build.
Edward Leedskalnin was born in 1887, into a farming family, in a small village near Riga, Latvia. As a young man of 26, he fell in love and became engaged to a lovely 16 year named Agnes Skuvst. However, Agnes decided that Ed was too poor and too old and she soon broke the engagement. Deeply hurt Ed left Latvia.
First he traveled to Western Europe where he wandered for several years. Eventually, he made his way to Canada and in 1920 to Washington state, USA where he worked in lumber camps as a logger.
Somewhere along the way Ed contracted tuberculosis and his doctor recommended a warmer climate. So Ed headed south - first to California, next to Texas to work on cattle drives, and finally to Florida. Once in the sunshine state, Ed encountered a couple near Florida City who offered him shelter and medical care.
After some time, Ed purchased an acre of land for twelve dollars in Florida City and it was there that he began to build a large, open-air structure to honor his lost love. Perhaps he hoped to win Agnes back, but by all accounts, after leaving Latvia, he never saw nor heard from her again.
When building, Ed's tools were handmade saws, chisels, chains, hoists, and hammers fashioned from wrecking yard junk. His transportation? An old bicycle without tires.
A slight man weighing only 100 pounds, Ed spent twenty years constructing large works of art, like the world’s largest valentine - a heart weighing over 5000 lbs, and a giant rocking chair that rocks at the touch of one finger. He also built a large table made out of solid coral - in the shape of Florida. Driven by some unseen force, Ed made an enormous (working) sun dial, which towers twenty-five feet in the air. Aligned to the North Star, the sun dial is so accurate, it tells time within two minutes. The massive entrance to Ed's "Coral Castle" is made from a single coral block weighing nine tons! This mammoth slab balances so perfectly on its center of gravity, that a visitor can easily push it open with one finger. In fact, every piece in Ed's castle was made from using coral dug from the earth, all by this one man with a fourth-grade education.
In 1923 Edward Leedskalnin opened his home to the public, charging people a dime to take a tour of what was hidden behind an eight foot wall of coral blocks. The money was used to support his modest lifestyle - he had no electricity and no town water. You can’t help but wonder, how could this one slight man move the 25 ton (and heavier) pieces, not only once in Florida City, but twice? For when in 1936 the one acre site Ed owned was threatened to be crowded out by a planned subdivision, he decided to move. He purchased a 10 acre piece of land in Homestead and for the first and only time in his life, he hired some help - a tractor trailer and driver. However, Ed would not allow the driver to be present whenever the blocks were placed on the truck. Instead, single handedly, piece by piece, Ed moved the heavy chunks of coral. How the large monoliths were lifted onto the truck we can only guess, but no crane or other lifting device was used.
When asked how these large pieces were moved Ed is reported to have said, "I have discovered the secrets of the pyramids. I have found out how the Egyptians and the ancient builders in Peru, Yucatan, and Asia, with only primitive tools, raised and set in place blocks of stone weighing many tons." Looking at what this 100 pound, 5' 6" man accomplished, you have to believe him.
He never did reveal the secret of how he managed to move, lift and position, the massive coral blocks that make up the compound, although some witnesses say they saw him "...float coral blocks through the air like hydrogen balloons". Whatever the case, in 1951, at the age of 64, Ed took his knowledge with him to the grave. His only living relative, Harry, inherited the castle and later sold to a Chicago family. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1984, and today, Coral Castle draws about 65,000 visitors a year.
This monument of love, invokes our awe and respect.
Coral Castle is open daily from 9:00 am to 6:00pm. To get there, just take Interstate 95 until it ends, then follow US l to Coral Castle at 28655 South Dixie Highway. For more information, visit CoralCastle.com