MIAMI — The Coral Castle, 28655 South Dixie Highway in Miami, is a roadside attraction unique to Florida.
The stone sculpture garden was built by one man, Edward Leedskalnin. From 1923 to 1951, Ed single-handedly and secretly carved over 1,100 tons of sedimentary rock (oolite limestone), working alone at night and using a process that he kept secret. Ed claimed to know the “secret of the pyramids.” And he took that secret to his grave.
Ed was born in Riga, Latvia in 1887. He was born into a family of stone masons. When Ed was 26 years old, he became engaged Lto marry Agnes Scuffs. But the 16-year-old Agnes canceled the wedding just one day before the ceremony, and the heartbroken man left the country. He spent time in Canada, California and Texas before moving to Florida in 1918.
In Florida, Ed decided to build a monument to his lost love and started work sculpting massive blocks of rock. With no heavy equipment and no outside help, the diminutive man – who stood just over 5 feet tall and weighed around 100 pounds – started work on his vision in Florida City, quarrying the stone from his own property. Around 1936, Leedskalnin learned a subdivision would be built close to his property. He decided to move to Homestead, where he bought 10 aces of land.
He spent the next three years moving the Coral Castle structures he had already built from Florida City to Homestead, a distance of about 10 miles. Ed had the chassis of an old Republic truck on which he laid two rails. After he loaded blocks on the rails (in secret) he had a friend with a tractor move the loaded trailer from Florida City to Homestead, where he would unload it and place the blocks at the new site (also in secret). Many people saw the stone carvings being moved along the Dixie Highway, but no one actually ever saw Ed loading or unloading the trailer.
After the carvings were in place, Ed worked on erecting the walls. The rock walls weigh 125 pounds per cubic foot. Each section of wall is 8 feet tall, 4 feet wide and 3 feet thick.
In total, Ed labored 28 years to build his masterpiece. He made a modest living giving tours for 10 cents or 25 cents and selling pamplets that he wrote about his domestic and political views, mineral vegetable and animal life, and magnetic current.
Ed lived a very simple life; he did not own a car. He lived in a room he built in the castle walls. He rode his bicycle 3.5 miles into town for food and supplies on a regular basis.
In December of 1951, Ed became ill. He put a sign on the door of his Castle saying “going to the hospital” and took a bus to Jackson Memorial in Miami, where he died three days later at the age of 64. After his death, a nephew inherited the castle. In 1953, shortly before his own death, the nephew sold the castle to a family from Illinois.
For decades, the park featured a perfectly balanced stone gate that, despite its weight, would easily swing open with a strong breeze or the push of a finger. According to livescience.com, how the gate worked remained a mystery until 1986 when it stopped moving. When the gate was removed, it was revealed that it rotated on a metal shaft and rested on a truck bearing.
Over the years, many visitors have been amazed at the monument the tiny immigrant left behind. Billy Idol wrote his song “Sweet Sixteen” as a tribute to Ed and the Coral Castle.
The Coral Castle Museum has welcomed visitors from around the world to explore this enchanting South Florida destination. The Coral Castle is open Thursday-Sunday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (closed on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday). The last tour starts at 5 p.m. For information call 305-248-6345.