Edward Leedskalnin loved his “sweet sixteen” Agnes Skuvst (some Latvian sources give her name as Hermine Lusis) but she broke off with him just a day before their planned wedding. Maybe she got cold feet because at 16 she felt too young to jump into marriage with someone ten years her senior.
Leaving her to seek another Latvian lover the disenchanted Ed moved across the Atlantic to seek fresh pastures and adventure. After spending time in Canada, California and Texas, Ed moved to sunny Florida in 1918 because he felt the climate would benefit his health following a bout of tuberculosis. He would later claim that magnetism healed his TB.
Ed, born on 10 August 1887, came from a family of stonemasons and was slightly built: he weighed a mere 100 pounds (45 kg) and stood just over five feet tall. Despite his small stature and never really robust health he singlehandedly created a modern-day marvel which became a lifelong obsession lasting 28 years.
He began building a castle on land he bought in Florida City on the edge of the Everglades. In those days it was still in the “backwoods” which suited the reclusive immigrant just fine. He opened the castle to visitors in 1923.
Initially he allowed visitors to see his handiwork for free but began to charge 10c a visit after careless tourists repeatedly trampled his shrubbery. Although always polite and friendly, with something of the showman in him, Ed preferred the life of a hermit.
In 1936 he heard that nearby developments were planned, which would compromise his dream of wide open spaces, so he sought a more isolated spot and began literally “moving house.” With the help of a friend, Ed moved the entire structure 10 miles (16 km) northwards to its present location at Leisure City near the intersection of South Dixie Highway (U.S.1) and SW 157th Avenue, current address 28655 South Dixie Avenue, Miami. The entire move took three years. But this never deterred Ed, a man of singular patience and determination.
Ed had the chassis of an old truck on which he placed two rails. This was hitched to his friend’s tractor and the pieces were ready to roll to their new home.
Once he was ready to receive visitors to his new domain Ed requested a donation of 25c per visit but allowed people in for free if they had no money with them.
The castle and fittings are made from oolite, a form of limestone rock containing coral, which occurs abundantly in Florida and can be quarried from just under the surface in many places.
He continued to work on his “special interest” for the rest of his life, constructing assorted furniture. This project involved quarrying a total of 1100 tons of oolite. The huge stones are placed together so accurately that no light shines through the cracks: a method of building which Ed told people he learned from the construction of the Pyramids. Although there are many claims both mundane and outlandish, no one really knows how this strange little man, working unaided, moved rocks weighing over 30 tons each, into position so perfectly.
He did much of his work at night by lamplight, preferring to operate away from prying eyes – adding to the enduring lore of the curious building.
Assorted engineers, scientists and US government representatives visited to find out more about his secret, but left just as baffled as before.
Ed had a deep interest in the field of electromagnetism and claimed that all matter in the universe, rather than getting their energy from the protons and electrons in the atom, consists of microscopic individual magnets of opposite polarity. Ed was likely also aware of the location of the Earth’s natural ley lines and used them to best advantage.
One person who did witness Ed quarrying some of his stone and erecting part of the wall is Orval Irwin who published a book Mr Can’t Is Dead, documenting some of his own observations.
The Nemith Film Collection made a short documentary about Ed at work in 1944.
So very likely the shroud of arcane mystery has been exaggerated, but many finer elements of his technique remain unexplained.
Some of the pieces visitors to the castle can see include:
- A heart-shaped table (presumably dedicated to his Sweet 16!)
- A table in the shape of the state of Florida
- An accurate sundial
- A water well and fountain
- Assorted stars and planets (the Jupiter block weights 23 tons)
- 25 rocking chairs (they literally rock!)
- A throne (for Elvis maybe?)
- An obelisk
- A Polaris telescope
- A gate weighing 9 tons which can easily be opened with the touch of a finger (it doesn’t work as well as it used to before the metal bearings wore out and had to be replaced twice since). The name of Ed’s castle, Rock Gate, was named for this structure. Today the castle is usually known as Coral Castle.
Most of these and other furniture was carved from single blocks of stone, and quarried from the castle grounds which abound in oolitic limestone.
Ed lived in the two storey roofed castle tower in one corner of the castle itself, where he generated his own electricity to power his lamps.
Ed never owned a car but would regularly be seen riding his bicycle 3.5 miles (5.6 km) into town to fetch his food and other supplies.
Toward the end of 1951 Ed began to feel unwell enough to seek medical treatment. Leaving a note on the castle door “going to the hospital” he caught a bus to Jackson Memorial Hospital, Miami. There he died three days later from a kidney infection at the age of 64.
$3500 dollars in cash was found among his possessions. He had made a fairly substantial income from conducting his castle tours, selling copies of five pamphlets about assorted topics which interested him, such as the use of magnetic currents, and from the sale of part of his land to the roads department for the construction of Highway U.S.1. Money clearly wasn’t one of Ed’s priorities in, life so long as he had enough to live on. He left no will and the castle fell into the hands of a nephew, who died just two years afterwards. Eventually in 1981 the castle was acquired by Coral Castle Inc, who run it today.
Copies of his five pamphlets can still be bought today from Coral Castle Inc, but some of the ideas expressed in them wouldn’t be very popular today, for instance his view that the poor and unemployed shouldn’t be entitled to vote.
He also had a rather prudish bent, probably due to his tendency to keep to himself. One of his booklets asserts the following:
“The schools and the churches are cheapening the girls! They are arranging picnics — are coupling up the girls with the fresh boys — and then they send them out to the woods, parks, beaches, and other places so that they can practice in first-degree love making.”
However odd some of his views may have been, Ed was an interesting character who liked to study and observe every detail of the magnificent universe around him.
In 1984 the castle was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It still attracts numerous visitors who marvel at the rich assortment of sculpted rock.
On 24 August 1992 the castle was in the direct path of the destructive Force 5 Hurricane Andrew, but all the stones remained unscathed and in in position, a silent witness to the genius of their maker who knew how to make something which would stand the test of time.
There are similarly eccentric buildings throughout the world, containing enigmatic art or sculptures, such as the curious Owl House in Nieu-Bethesda, South Africa, but none which involved the positioning of such huge and heavy rocks such as those found at the unique Coral Castle, a lasting tribute to the persevering genius of Ed Leedskalnin, a man who chose to live alone yet show the world he could do something no one else in our time has been able to copy.