Edward Leedskalnin was a wee man with a huge problem. Originally from Latvia, Ed weighed just 100 lbs. and measured 5 feet tall (give or take an inch), and by 1923, the 36-year-old found himself in the wilds of southern Florida. Alone.
You see, Ed had it bad for this cute 16-year-old Latvian, Agnes, who had been betrothed to him. But Agnes was no dummy. She jilted him the day before the wedding, sending Edwin into a tailspin. Like most crazed people, years later (and after an unlucky bout with TB), he found himself in Florida.
Poor heartbroken Ed gave himself a mission: to build a castle and garden made of stone in honor of his “Sweet Sixteen.” Because he was strange, he only built while alone at night, using giant slabs of limestone — 1,100 tons of them to be exact — and would mysteriously allude to what powers allowed such a slight man to build such a huge undertaking on his own.
Fast forward to the present day, and you, too can find yourself in the sorry town of Homestead, as I recently did, strolling the grounds of Ed’s Coral Castle, originally named Rock Gate Park and previously located in Florida City. Oh wait, did I not mention that Ed allegedly moved the entire complex 10 MILES AWAY to Homestead in 1936 using a tractor?
Anyway, with a bit of luck, you will then take a tour with a guide who presents Ed’s feat as one of the great wonders of our time — asking probing questions like, might aliens have been involved? Or, did Ed have access to powerful magnets?
Dig a little deeper (or ask another one of the guides) and you’ll learn that Ed happened to come from a long line of stonemasons. So, there’s also that.
Still, you might be burning with questions like, what is it that draws scores of people to this sweaty armpit of a town? Is it the glorious castle of
Well, the castle is a bit more like a shed. But to be fair, it IS two stories tall.
The garden of stone sculptures was really the most compelling part of the complex. And also offered the most frighteningly enlightening look into Ed’s wee head.
It’s here that you’ll find the small stone beds and crib Ed made for himself, Sweet Sixteen, and their unborn (and never-conceived) baby to lay. It’s also home to the punishment wall — which, I’m just gonna leave to your imagination.
The castle was finished a whopping 28 years later, in 1951. And then Ed died.
But in Florida, even the oddest accomplishments are heralded, likened to the actual, deserving wonders of the world. As the Coral Castle website will tell you,
“The only other tribute that can compare to the Coral Castle is the Taj Mahal, built over twenty years and by several thousand slaves, as monument to the King’s wife. In Ed’s case, he labored intensely for twenty-eight years working on this astonishing masterpiece.”