Coral Castle

On the morning of the penultimate day of our Florida holiday I thought we might briefly drive past Coral Castle, which our guidebook noted was a quirky, kitsch little sculpture garden; the kind of curious roadside attraction to be filed alongside Carhenge. They were seriously under-selling it, as it was one of the most memorable things I saw on this trip.

It was built by a Latvian immigrant called Ed Leedskalnin in the 1920s, supposedly as a tribute to his 16 year old fiancé who’d jilted him at the altar. There are three interesting aspects to this place: what Ed built, how exactly he built it, and Ed’s personal story.

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The entire construction is made from massive blocks of oolitic limestone, which Ed quarried single-handedly out of the ground surrounding the property. Many of the pieces are not only very large, weighing several tonnes, but bear no obvious cut marks, and fit perfectly together. A couple of “gate” stones are so perfectly balanced as to be able to spin easily with the slightest push (you can see some video footage here).

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In fact it was originally built in another location, and Ed moved the whole thing, again single-handed, in order to be near a newly-constructed highway which he hoped would bring more visitors. No one ever saw Ed at work, and in fact he worked only at night so as to avoid scrutiny. When quizzed about his methods he usually gave one of two answers: “It’s easy when you know how” or “I know the secrets of the pyramids”. He used only simple tools made from scrap metal found at a nearby garage. Here’s the view of the main garden.

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Many of the pieces are of astronomical significance. There’s a sundial and a “telescope” lined up to allow viewing of the pole star.

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There are various chairs angled so as to receive maximum sunlight at different times of the day. Ed spent a lot of time sunbathing as he’d been told that it would help cure his tuberculosis.

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There are several outdoor “rooms” obviously intended for his erstwhile fiancé and their hypothetical future children, including a bedroom with baby cot (at top). He also built a “repentance corner” where naughty children (or his wife) would be made to stand with their heads through a hole in the rock while he lectured them on their failings.

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A well.

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Ed himself lived on the top floor of a small two storey tower, sleeping on a wooden board suspended by chains from the ceiling.

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The room below shows some of his work tools such as simple pulleys and metal levers.

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Over the years many theories have been elaborated as to how Ed managed all this by himself. People talk of anti-gravity, harmonic resonance and, of course:

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Others maintain that for all the seeming impossibility of the task Ed, an experienced stone mason, was simply applying well known principles of leverage. Many videos on youtube and self-published books offer detailed arguments to support their theories.

There’s a brief overview of the site and its history on wikipedia, but I also recommend the book I bought in the gift shop, which gives a fairly comprehensive account of Ed’s strange, solitary life and his unconventional ideas. In the end for me the man is as interesting as his work, which is best seen not just as an engineering puzzle but as an expression of his view of the world.

Make time to visit if you’re ever anywhere nearby.