I’ve seen a lot of strange places during my travels, and the Coral Castle — not far from Miami — certainly qualifies as strange. Still, in its own way, it is beautiful and tells the tale of a man’s desire to create something unique.
The Coral Castle was entirely constructed and carved by a single man, Edward Leedskalnin. Ed was an immigrant from Latvia who migrated to the USA almost a hundred years ago. A slight man, weighing only 100 pounds in a 5 foot tall frame, Ed was heart-broken. He loved a 16 year old girl in Latvia and was set to marry her when she rejected him a day before the wedding. Ed decided to emigrate to America where he spent the rest of his life creating this unusual place. He never got married and seemed to love this Latvian girl all his life. When asked why he had built the castle, Ed would answer that it was for his “Sweet Sixteen”.
Between 1923 to his death in 1951, Ed single-handedly extracted blocks of coral rock from the ground, carved over 1100 tons of them them in secret, and constructed what he called a Coral Castle, although it looks more like a sculpture garden than a castle. This is actually the second location of the Coral Castle, everything having been packed up and moved to this site as it was more remote than his original home.
No one is exactly sure how Ed managed to erect this complex without help, and that caused all types of speculation ranging from extraterrestrial to supernatural assistance. It seems probable that Ed was a good engineer who understood how to use tools, levers and pulleys. Being of coral origin, the stone is relatively light, fairly soft and easy to work. The stones are put together without mortar, set on top of each other using their weight to keep them together.
Ed lived a simple life in the Castle Tower — part of the complex — in accomodations that were very spartan and far from royalty.
Visitors to the Coral Castle in the 1940’s would have been greeted by Ed, who charged 10 cents a head to show you around his fantasy garden (although it was free if you had no cash). Ed would have explained what each piece of carved coral for, and so on.
Today you can tour the Coral Castle either on your own or with one of the frequent guided tours (which we did). The guides were knowledgeable, pleasant and explained many of the highlights and historical background of Coral Castle.
Everything in the Coral Castle is made of the coral rock found only a few inches below the ground. Features include :
– A finely balanced 9-ton gate that moved with just the touch of the finger (until it stopped working in 1986 when the bearing it was set in rusted out)
– Functional chairs and tables, including a table shaped like the state of Florida and another heart-shaped table (probably crafted for his Sweet Sixteen).
– The focal point of Ed’s creation seems to be the “throne room”, and the unusual creative rock garden that surrounds it.
– Outside the Castle’s main groupings of art and furniture you can see the actual quary from which Ed extracted the coral rock to do his work.
When Ed died at age 64 he had no will so the castle was passed on to his closest living relative in America, a nephew from Michigan. The castle was sold a few times before it was turned into the tourist attraction it remains to this day.
In 1984 the property was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
A quirky and unusual destination, well worth the time to visit and admission you pay for your entrance and tour. We had to pause our tour when a very heavy rainstorm drenched the site for about a half hour, but that just made the place more interesting. Very recommended.
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