Coral Castle was a surprise destination on a trip to Florida Keys so I didn’t have time to research, I’d heard of the name but knew nothing else so didn’t know what to expect other than the assumptions that it was a castle and made of coral.
Wrong on both counts.
The site is a squarish plot with most of the objets d’art being open air so upon paying and entering at the lower right hand side you are supposed to be met by the/a tour guide. We found two members of staff at the greeting area with modern seating but they didn’t rise to greet us, seemed uninterested in showing us around indicating that we could walk around ourselves and not giving any site specific information and that was all after the woman had laughed and talked to the man about my outfit who called it “harem”. Such a great introduction. At the time I was just embarrassed, thinking back on it I should have said if not thought “I hope your information and delivery of such is better than your limited cultural knowledge (which is probably limited to Princess Jasmine of Disney’s Aladdin)” but as aforementioned they quickly proved their disinterest in their jobs anyway.
As soon as you see the site you realize that there is no castle, it’s more of a small house with large garden, I wasn’t so much as disappointed as surprised given its fame but it still has enough charm to lure you in. The thing I next realized or thought I realized was “hey is this really coral, it’s not coral is it?” Typically when I make such observations no one believes me if they listen at all and after the ‘salutations’ of the ‘tour guides’ let’s just say I didn’t feel compelled to ask them. Basically it didn’t look or feel like coral to me but I couldn’t emphasize that to present company because of its texture and because you know, we were in Florida; if you’ve been told it’s coral (even if it’s just an assumption based on a name that has already shown to be incorrect) then you’ve no reason to think otherwise. However having just looked up the site prior to writing this – it turns out I am vindicated! It’s actually oolite limestone which is formed in/from water environments and whilst this can appear like ‘shelly limestone’ partially made up from animal skeletons and fossils of them, to me it was more porous and granular than ‘shelly’. Additionally, according to some Coral Castle originally called ‘Rock Gate Park’ but was apparently changed after visitors noticed some fossilized coral and shells in the stone. To me that’s a bit like seeing a scrawl on a monolith and telling the public with certainty that the site was built by that namesake. ‘Rock Gate Park’ is a lot more fitting to me, but what do I know? (I’m just a cave woman 😉 )
Ed Leedskalnin is the name of the man who built Coral Castle, a structure that can’t be called a rich man’s folly because wealth didn’t seem to figure into the his life. Born in Latvia 1887 to a family of stonemasons he emigrated to the US at approx age 26 after his 16-year-old fiance left him just before the wedding. Approximately 6 years later he came down with tuberculosis and something about that episode ignited his desire to build this… Tribute, memorial, masterpiece, ‘crazy/eccentric’ proof of worth. Intensely secretive about his work and methods, he felt its original location in Florida City compromised or inaccurate (depending on who you choose to believe) and moved it 10 miles to Homestead. It apparently took him at least 28 years to build, 3 of which he spent setting it up again somehow able to resurrect it and add to very quickly. Either way this was a colossal feat that he purportedly did single handedly, only letting a few friends visit before it was finished and even working at night so that other people wouldn’t see his methods. In total he moved and organized over 1000 tons with individual pieces weighing upto 30 tons and they stand together without joining/mortar.
Once the site was finished records say he made a living opening it as a tourist attraction and in 1951 at age 64 he died of kidney infection/failure, single and unmarried. $3,500 was found in his ‘home’ on site – his life savings after spending so much of his time and energy over the years.
How to describe the layout..?
Imagine one of those lego boards that you stick bricks on, a diorama of what ‘should’ be a floorplan or a roof-less doll’s house. There are tables, chairs, rocking chairs, elevated chairs like thrones, beds all made of stone and then anyone interested in masonic architecture will recognize inclusion of cosmology and energy with the Moon, Mars/Jupiter (people differ on which), Saturn, the obelisk, fountain with two crescent moons (reminiscent of Hathor’s crown) with a six sided star in the centre, a sundial set for the solstices, a telescope and bringing the outside in/inside out merging duality and interestingly enough a Repentance Corner. There’s also parts you can’t access such as some very narrow steps going downwards, modern features added are fencing and lighting. I should have paid more attention to the plants to see if they had a message too but the most notable was the Ixora – other names West Indian Jasmine, Jungle Flame, Jungle Geranium, Flame of the Wood/Forest, Burning Love – a native of India, parts of South East Asia and Africa that made its way to the US and associated with mental/physical/spiritual aspiration, valour/courage, passion and both a prayer and Ayuvedic mecidinal flower in India.
This place wasn’t designed for a hermit or person of solitude, there is a designated dining area for example with a large table, water bowl and multiple seating, as well as a lounge like area and the ‘bedroom’ has two single beds. The place looks like it was built to entertain and marvel but the bedroom is small and uncomfortable looking/feeling even without it being made of stone. That feeling is continued when you visit the house aka the ‘Tower’ – a duplex prison block looking house (appears bigger on the outside but the thickness of the walls take up much of the space) where the creator of this place lived and worked and a spartan place it is indeed. Simple, functional with tools in the workshop downstairs and hammock upstairs – all the decoration was put into the ‘garden’ – into the display of his vision and intention. His workshop didn’t appear very organized, tools lying about including chains, saws, tuners, copper wire, a flywheel (even though he didn’t haven a conventional electric input on site or running water), hammers, chisels etc.
From other reviews I’ve read they always feel the need to point out height/weight 5ft/approx 100lbs so roughly my size but just as I’ve never found my size prohibitive or inhibitive and it’s only ever been seen as a problem to other people (which I have to compensate/counter for with self-deprecation and poking fun at myself to makes others comfortable and prevent/minimize them making fun) whereas I actually really like it and of course my perspective is relative to me so nothing seems too big or small because this is what I’m used to and like many other people use a workaround if necessary, I find it both insulting and undermining to consistently mention his size let alone in a diminutive sense and imply that building Coral Castle was all the harder for it. The only reason I’m mentioning it is because many of them then go on to talk about how he did it and so contradict themselves in their efforts to purport ‘it can be done’ and ‘anyone can do it with enough determination and hard work’ particularly those who believe the technology/methods are efficient enough for one person. If he had been 7ft 300lbs it still would have been a monumental task; taller/bigger doesn’t mean stronger, more able, determined nor a higher pain tolerance (or more attractive and intelligent – yes seriously, people make those assertions all the time! Even plus sized people who know how size discrimination feels are being patronizing and demeaning nowadays!) It reminded me of someone extra amazed at a woman who crossed the Atlantic alone due to her size (at least it wasn’t necessarily because she was a woman – http://www.sailing-women-on-yachts.com/solo-sailing.html) and my response was “everybody is small to the ocean”.
He didn’t claim to love his solitude so perhaps the nature of the Tower – itself a name marker of being alone, indeed of being kept alone – and the bedroom represented a loneliness. Whilst the gesture is welcoming, energetic, gregarious and elaborate, maybe some parts are different – I wouldn’t say baring his soul because the Tower was off limits until after his death but what was hidden is both sad and strong.
At the end we visited the gift shop which seemed to be filled with trinkets and knick-knacks, many made of shells. A lot of pretty things to look at and clippings/photos on the wall, I remember noting Billy Idol’s interest in the place.
This is where the debate comes in (aside from why his fiance left him) – how did one man and maybe a few friends make this? Ed himself was both old fashioned (in an ancient sense) and ahead of his time in that he wrote about magnetic currents (and had an interest in perpetual motion) and may have found comfort in current day’s re-assertions or rediscovery of the ‘plasma universe’ in which magnetism and electricity hold the priority for manifestation and consciousness rather than breaking everything down into atoms, electrons, protons etc. Some people reported that he used harmonics/frequencies, so there is a side on anti-gravity techniques. However, he was at the very least of a humanoid body living in the set of parameters we call/think of reality as generally dictated by our limited sensory perception and tools of the period, so he wasn’t adverse to the grit and grunt side of bearings, fulcrums/leverage, tripods/pulleys/winches and photos of which can be found in the gift shop plus online, he did not deny that. A book published 45 years after his death (1996) by Orval Irwin explains how it was built, or at least what he saw or what he thinks he’s allowed to say on how it was built. Perhaps Ed felt the need to glorify his methods for publicity or perhaps he really did use hybrid methods, one has to bear in mind that for the orthodox theories on ancient buildings there’s still debate and alternative evidence. People often bring the Great Pyramid construction into comparison with the mystery over Coral Castle, I’m in two minds – I’m not sure they are the ‘right’ comparison but at the same time I can see why. The pyramids particularly the GP is an almost incredible feat in extremely accurate positioning and modern simulations claim there was a ball balancing on the top at one point plus we can’t build the thing using modern techniques. We can make models but to stand up to the test of time like they have, and then to claim it was done via slave and farmer labour (farmers having limited time ‘off’ in a year), sourcing and transporting giant stones over such long distances and terrain and then putting them on ‘primitive’ barges on the river to location before setting them up is in itself asking for a large suspension of disbelief if the theory hadn’t been repeated over the years and normalized. I’m not commenting on it or offering an alternative, just saying sometimes you have to imagine you’re hearing something for the first time and theories behind structures like this can be in all honesty hard to talk about or listen to unless you’re comfortable/confident with certainties.
How did Ed move all these carvings a distance of 10 miles? Ed had the chassis of an old Republic truck on which he laid two rails. He had a friend with a tractor move the loaded trailer from Florida City to Homestead. Ed lived a very simple life; he did not own a car. Instead, Ed would ride his bicycle 3.5 miles into town for food and supplies on a regular basis.
Many people saw the coral carvings being moved along the Dixie Highway, but no one actually ever saw Ed loading or unloading the trailer. Ed did much of his work at night by lantern light and to help protect his privacy, he built numerous “lookouts” along the Castle walls.
Some people are obsessed with debunking and think that reproducing smaller scale models with a theory, skilled team(s) and resources (equipment availability/accessibility, functioning equipment, disallowing for catastrophes and ‘acts of god’) proves something was made that way yet under different conditions; and then others are interested in more exotic explanations (which should be fine under the ‘science’ heading of an enquiring mind but there’s a teenage mentality of pointing and laughing) and can ignore possible mundane methods or hybrids with lesser used/known technology. Just because a method is possible doesn’t mean it was the one used or maybe it was used in conjunction, or maybe it was and after so long a build up we’re reluctant to lose some if not all of the mystique. As far as I’m concerned I’ve always been of the opinion that if you don’t know then it’s fine to say you don’t know, the public doesn’t need answers given as definites or opinions provided as knowledge about everything and anything whilst experts and people with experience or different ways of thinking are arguing with daggers at the ready for ages and then it takes an ordeal to change the official line even if they do come to an agreement. Perhaps if saving face wasn’t the ultimate priority it’d be a lot easier.
The builder was intentionally secretive, one of friends less so post-mortem – so who do we believe and why? Mystery doesn’t have to be a threat and science doesn’t have to strip everything, he made the place to be a spectacle and it is, he had many ideas and convictions ranging from magnetics to a kind of balance similar to Feng Shui and politics and this landmark is a testament to that. We can speculate all we like and why not, it’s interesting – but when you’ve got various people from various fields arguing about the cranes needed, how much you can manage on a winch, that because a heavy door can be made to move easily that the rest of the site must have been made just as efficiently, it gets petty quickly – especially since with modern hydrolic equipment the site could be erected relatively quickly in weeks/months but would a person like him (assumptions based on his intelligence and resourcefulness) use the same methods for approx 30 years? Maybe it was a case of ‘if it’s not broken, don’t fix it’. We don’t know. What we do know is that it was a mammoth job, sourcing/transporting/carving/building, he had few friends, he re-positioned the site quickly and he claimed he’d discovered the (or at least some of) secrets of ancient builders. He built this thing for us to see and appreciate, his masonic skills and interest in symbolism and possibly psychology on display.
From the other visitors I saw they were either underwhelmed (roadside, small attraction that doesn’t ‘do’ anything for modern visitors used to sensory overload or youngsters) or over awed by the magnitude of the achievement. I think I was in-between, I wasn’t really able to concentrate on the place because I wasn’t alone and it was a quick curiosity stop on a longer journey. One thing I didn’t like was the romanticism, something put me off – partially the age difference between him and the girl he/they claimed to make it for but also the depth of his anger/passion and managing to sustain it for so long, perhaps I recognized something that I didn’t want to/couldn’t acknowledge. The Coral Castle website claims she was invited over the years but didn’t visit but overall there doesn’t seem to be much information about Ed other than his emigration and periods of major illness, even his beloved’s name is disputed so I don’t know whether he knew where she was or how to/whether he did contact her or the circumstances of their relationship/engagement but in regards to the site he knew what he was doing, kept it to himself/precious, pulled off the massive feat and wanted deserved praise/attention for it. In hindsight I should have been more understanding and perhaps kinder if as the result seems to indicate there was love, protection and consideration in the design (even if it was too grandiose and ‘generous’ with the cosmos involved), if it was for someone lost and a loss for which the years just pile on without healing; I just hope that if it was a labour of love – both for the person and as a project of his own endurance, that he thought it was worth it by the time he died.
Most famous edifices of supposed love/tragic love were commissioned by the uber rich at the cost of mass suffering and poverty, this one wasn’t and would have taken a huge toll on Ed himself so it’s better than the other tributes/tombs/temples in that sense at least in my book.