ED LEEDSKALNIN'S CORAL CASTLE
A mysterious castle built as a monument to lost love.
The Throne Room at Coral Castle with Mars, Saturn and what Ed called "The Crescent of the East" above | Photo © 2023 Sugarbomb
"You will be seeing unusual accomplishment" reads the sign carved into stone that greets you as you enter the mysterious Coral Castle. Coral Castle - though it is not really made of coral and not really a castle - was crafted singlehandedly by a man named Ed Leedskalnin working in secrecy for 28 years. Coral Castle is sometimes referred to as Florida's Stonehenge and is widely believed to be a monument to lost love.
Born January 12, 1887 to a family of Latvian stone masons, little is known about Edward Leedskalnin's childhood in Latvia, aside from the fact that his parents were not particularly wealthy and he received only a fourth grade formal education. Ed was a sickly boy who often spent time reading books, helping him to develop an inquisitive mind and life-long yearning for knowledge. It was suggested that he learned stonemasonry from his father and practiced this craft in Latvia before his eventual move to the United States.
The east side of the garden. Ed's barbecue is on the right. The obelisk standing tall in the middle is one of the tallest stones at Coral Castle | Photo © 2023 Sugarbomb
So what inspired this man to build a castle? The most commonly told story states that it is a meticulously crafted monument to lost love. At the age of 26, Ed was engaged to marry a girl named Agnes Skuvst, who was ten years younger than himself. However, the girl who Leedskalnin later referred to as his "Sweet Sixteen," broke their engagement off suddenly the day before their wedding. After this heartbreak, Ed moved to the United States and eventually to Florida, where he began working on the mysterious engineering marvel that would be his home.
After arriving in the United States, Ed came down with an allegedly terminal case of tuberculosis, but spontaneously recovered, later stating that magnets had some effect on his disease. He purchased land in Florida City from Ruben Moser, whose wife had assisted him when he was ill with tuberculosis.
Ed Leedskalnin would go on to construct himself a home reminiscent of a castle with a surrounding garden, which he called "Ed's Place", in Florida City, Florida, around 1923. Florida City, which borders the Everglades, is the southernmost city in the United States that is not on an island. At this time, it was an extremely remote location with very little development.
The stone sign at the entrance from the original location in Florida City | Photo © 2023 Sugarbomb
A stone sign, which still remains just inside the property today, displaying "Adm. 10c Drop Below" is from this original location in Florida City. Ed made the sign and placed it in front of the castle when he became tired of giving a "free show" to visitors who were careless and trampled his shrubbery.
The castle remained in Florida City until about 1936 when Ed decided to move and take the castle with him. He reportedly chose relocation as a means to protect his privacy when discussion started about developing land in the original area of the castle. He spent three years moving the component structures of Coral Castle 10 miles north from Florida City to its current location outside Homestead, Florida. Ed named his new place "Rock Gate" after the huge rear swinging gate he built into the back wall and it was here that he continued building onto his castle until his death in 1951.
The Moon Fountain and the Throne Room on the northeast side of the garden | Photo © 2023 Sugarbomb
Ed used his inherited skills - and some claim ancient knowledge and magic - to move blocks of limestone over 25 feet tall and weighing over 30 tons. Commonly mistaken for coral, the stones of Coral Castle are actually made of oolite, also known as oolitic limestone. Oolite is a sedimentary rock composed of small spherical grains of concentrically layered carbonate that may include localized concentrations of fossil shells and coral. Oolite is found throughout southeastern Florida from Palm Beach County to the Florida Keys, often beneath only several inches of topsoil, such as at the Coral Castle site.
The coral pieces that are part of the newer castle, not among those transported from the original location, were quarried on the property only a few feet away from the castle's walls. The pool and the pit beside the southern wall are quarries. The east and west quarries have been filled in.
The grounds of what would come to be known as Coral Castle consist of 1,000 tons of stones in the form of walls, carvings, furniture, and a castle tower. The structure comprises numerous megalithic stones, each weighing several tons. Some of the stones in the Coral Castle are taller than those in Stonehenge and heavier than the heaviest stone in the great pyramid of Giza.
The castle tower. Ed's living quarters were on the top floor, while the bottom floor was a workshop/tool room | Photo © 2023 Sugarbomb
The two-story castle tower served as Ed's living quarters with walls consisting of 8-foot-high pieces of stone. Among the features and carvings surrounding the tower are an accurate sundial, a Polar telescope, an obelisk, a barbecue, a water well, a fountain, celestial stars and planets, and numerous pieces of furniture. The furniture pieces include a heart-shaped table, a table in the shape of Florida, twenty-five rocking chairs, chairs resembling crescent moons, a bathtub, beds, and a throne. The 500-pound heart-shaped stone table was a “Valentine” for his lost love.
In the garden there is a seat for two that Ed referred to as the "mad rocker"; a piece of stone shaped into a side-by-side rocking chair. The purpose was so that during an argument, lovers could face away from each other, but still be close.
A revolving 8-foot-tall, 9 ton stone gate - appropriately named the "9 Ton Gate" - is an especially intriguing part of the castle, carved so that it fits within a quarter of an inch of the walls. It was so well-balanced that a child could open the gate with the push of a finger. The methods which Ed used to achieve the perfect balance that allowed the stone gate to revolve with such ease remained a mystery for decades until it stopped working in 1986. It took six men and a 50-short-ton crane to remove the gate. After the huge stone gate was removed, engineers discovered that Ed had centered and balanced it by drilling a hole from top to bottom and inserting a metal shaft, which rested on an old truck bearing.
With few exceptions, the objects are made from single pieces of stone that weigh on average 14 tons each. The largest stone weighs 27 tons and the tallest are two monoliths standing 25 ft. each. The stones are fastened together without mortar. They are set on top of each other using only their weight to keep them together. The craftsmanship detail is so fine, and the stones are connected with such precision, that no light passes through the joints. The 8-foot-tall vertical stones that make up the perimeter of the tower wall have a uniform height. Throughout the decades the stones have not shifted.
The 9 Ton Gate on the east side of the garden. When Ed installed it, the gate was balanced so well that it could be pushed open with a single finger | Photo © 2023 Sugarbomb
When Hurricane Andrew made landfall in the early morning hours of August 24, 1992, Homestead received a direct hit from the Category 5 storm. Homestead was one of the hardest hit communities and it was estimated that over 99% of mobile homes were completely destroyed. Hundreds of homes and businesses were destroyed or severely damaged, and only 9 of the 2,000 buildings at the Homestead Air Reserve Base survived the storm. Many communities in the Homestead area were quite literally flattened by the monster hurricane; homes were wiped away down to the slab, cars were flung, sailboats were tossed into trees. Sustained wind speeds were as high as 165 mph and gusts estimated up to 200 mph. Coral Castle, however, despite being in the bullseye of the storm's damage, not only remained standing, but received astonishingly minimal damage. Hurricane Andrew caused the roof of the gift shop to collapse, but otherwise Ed's masterpiece remained unscathed.
Ed Leedskalnin at his Coral Castle in Homestead (circa 1936) | Source: State Library and Archives of Florida
Carved into rocks at the front gate are signs instructing visitors to "Ring Bell Twice". Ed would come down from his living quarters in the second story of the castle tower, close to the gate and conduct tours for visitors. After moving his castle to Homestead, Ed would request donations of 25 cents to enter, but would let visitors enter free if they had no money.
When asked why he had built the castle, Ed would vaguely answer that it was for his "Sweet Sixteen". It is widely believed that this referred to his would-be wife that left him before the wedding. In Ed's own publication A Book in Every Home, he implies his "Sweet Sixteen" was more an ideal than a reality.
Throughout the decades Ed worked in obscurity and never told anyone how he made the castle, though many asked. He would simply answer "It's not difficult if you know how." Ed was spectacularly secretive, working on the castle mostly at night, and keeping to a policy of allowing no one to see his methods. He would claim that he had "discovered the secrets of the pyramids," referring to the Great Pyramid of Giza, and that he "understood the laws of weight and leverage well." The only advanced tool that Ed spoke of using was a "perpetual motion holder". A few teenagers once claimed to have witnessed him working, reporting that he had caused the blocks of coral to move like hydrogen balloons.
Creating a place like Coral Castle today could likely be accomplished in a few months by a construction crew and modern machinery. However, Ed worked in solitude using only basic tools like picks, winches, ropes, and pulleys, stating that he was able to accomplish his endeavor using hard work and the principles of leverage. Many of the tools that Ed used to quarry the rock are on display on the ground floor of the castle tower that served as his home, and several old photos depict large pine tripods, pulleys, and winches that he used to move the blocks.
Some of Ed's tools displayed on the bottom floor of the castle tower | Photo © 2023 Sugarbomb
There was much speculation that 5-foot, 100-pound Ed used some magical or ancient power to move the giant stones. Coral Castle is noted for legends surrounding its creation, claiming it was built single-handedly by Ed using reverse magnetism or supernatural abilities to move and carve numerous stones. It has been suggested that he levitated the blocks with psychic powers, or by singing to the stones. One theory is that Ed had acquired arcane knowledge of magnetism and earth energies. Some even attribute his abilities to extraterrestrial technology, believing that Ed may have encountered beings from out of this world and learned their secrets.
When Ed became ill in November 1951, he put a sign on the front gate reading "Going to the Hospital" and took the bus to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. He suffered a stroke at one point, either before he left for the hospital or at the hospital. He died twenty-eight days later of pyelonephritis (a kidney infection) at the age of 64. His death certificate noted that his death was a result of "uremia; failure of kidneys, as a result of the infection and abscess".
After Ed's passing, $3,500 was found among Ed’s personal belongings. He had made his income from conducting tours, selling pamphlets about various subjects (including magnetic currents) and the sale of a portion of his 10-acre Homestead property for the construction of U.S. Route 1. As he had no will, the castle became the property of his closest living relative in the United States, a nephew from Michigan named Harry. A year later, Julius Levin, a retired jeweler from Chicago, purchased the land and may not have even been aware that the castle was on the property.
Carved chairs surrounding the Florida Table | Photo © 2023 Sugarbomb
In January 1981, Levin sold the castle to Coral Castle, Inc., for $175,000 (equivalent to over $500,000 in 2021) and this company retains ownership today. The new owners transformed the castle into a full-time tourist attraction, changing the name of Rock Gate to Rock Gate Park, and finally to Coral Castle. In 1984 the property was listed on the National Register of Historic Places (#84000840) under the name "Rock Gate", but the listed name was updated to "Coral Castle" in 2011.
Located in unincorporated Miami-Dade County, between Homestead and Leisure City, Coral Castle remains a popular tourist attraction. Sometimes referred to as Florida's Stonehenge, books, magazines, and television programs have speculated about how Ed Leedskalnin was able to build the structure and move the large stones by himself. "The Castle of Secrets" is an episode of Leonard Nimoy's program 'In Search of...' (airing from 1976–1982) that features a dramatization of Ed moving the stones with minimal effort. On June 20, 2014, the History Channel aired a segment about Coral Castle in the Ancient Aliens series (Season 2, Episode 8), "Mysterious Structures".
The 1958 film The Wild Women of Wongo used Coral Castle as the set for the dragon-god temple and the lunar scenes of the 1961 film Nude on the Moon were shot there as well. In the 1966 children's musical film Jimmy, the Boy Wonder, Coral Castle was used as a backdrop in several scenes. Billy Idol's 1986 song "Sweet Sixteen" was inspired by the story of Ed Leedskalnin and Coral Castle. John Martin's book, Coral Castle Construction, released in November 2012, describes how Ed could have built his home and garden based on fundamental engineering principles.
Part of the Throne Room with the carvings of Mars and Saturn and the chair known as the "mad rocker" to the right | Photo © 2023 Sugarbomb
In the summer of 2017, everyone's eyes were on the sky - not necessarily to see what some people believed to be the mysterious source of Ed's ability to move the giant blocks with ease, but rather to witness the first total solar eclipse in the contiguous U.S. since 1979. On Monday, August 21, 2017, all of North America would be able to view the eclipse. The moon would block the sun from any given location along the path for about two minutes and 40 seconds.
South Florida fell outside of the path where the moon would fully cover the sun but would still be treated to a partial eclipse where the moon covers a portion of the sun. For months before the eclipse, people were buying up "eclipse glasses" in order to view the celestial spectacle without harming their eyes and even taking time off from work to see the eclipse. I too had considered where to go to watch the eclipse and decided what better place to be than the mysterious Coral Castle! The tales of aliens helping Ed construct his castle intrigued me and I thought 'well if I want to be abducted this seems like a pretty good place and time!'
I sat on the carved stone throne with my super special - and silly looking - eclipse glasses and watched the shadow of the moon begin to overtake the sun. As the sun fell into shadow, an uncanny silence fell upon the others watching and even the wildlife; birds stopped chirping as day turned to twilight turned to night...all at around 3pm in the afternoon.
The temperature suddenly dropped as well as the partial eclipse began, a welcome bit of weirdness since Florida in August is well into the 90s with heavy humidity. The darkness that came along with the eclipse was eerie and entirely unique; of that entire experience, the lighting was what I remember the most of those two minutes and 40 seconds.
I did not end up being abducted by aliens from Coral Castle during the solar eclipse of 2017 - but there's always next time! Specifically in 2024, when the next total solar eclipse will grace the United States. If we survive the potential breakout of a world war, election year shenanigans, and the potential new UFO-related info being released by the government that no one seems to be paying attention to, I will eagerly be looking skyward again on April 8, 2024.