The Historic Coral Castle, an Engineering Marvel
We’ve passed the Coral Castle dozens of times through the years, but have never taken the time to stop. We weren’t sure whether it would be worthwhile or just another entry on a long list of Florida’s kitschy tourist “traps”.
But in honor of our 35 anniversary (for which the traditional symbol is ‘coral’) we incorporated a visit as part of our day. We were glad we did.
On the National Register of Historical Places since 1984, the Coral Castle was started in the 1920s by a diminutive (5’ – 100 lb), Lithuanian immigrant named Ed Leedskalnin. He must’ve had OCD because for the 20 years he toiled alone to build a mysterious, unusual monument to a lost love. Using simple, homemade tools, he capitalized on what he learned from his family tradition as stonemasons and his early years in the U.S. working in mines, lumber camps and farms.
He didn’t completely lose his head to lost love, because he quickly turned the site into a money-making tourist attraction, charging 10 cents for admission and 2 cents for a hot dog. In 1936, growth and development near his one acre site, pushed him 10 miles north to the current site in Homestead. He was savvy enough to place his new location just off US1, giving the state 7 of his 10 new acres to help build the highway.
Today, the site is often featured on programs about mysticism and aliens, but visitors need to get past the crazy rumors and speculation about magic, the supernatural, and aliens. This man clearly understood physics, engineering and how to sell his attraction. Always building, and/or moving, pieces at night, he crafted seemingly impossible walls, sculptures and furniture, all from massive pieces of local coral rock. He quarried and carved slabs weighing 6, 9, 18 and 23+ tons and moved them with the aid of pulleys and counter weights in a system he keep secret and took to his grave in 1951, at age 64. No one ever saw him working to put the rock in place. When he moved pieces from his first site, locals saw the tractor pulling the sculptures up the road, but never being loaded on or off.
He built thick walls, a castle tower with a workshop and his spartan living quarters, rocking chairs, reading chairs to catch the sun at just the right angle, sundial, tables, beds, a Polaris telescope to spot the North Star, a fountain, and much more. To accommodate local photographers, and the growing popularity as a great spot for a photo-op, he even built a photographer’s stand.
His main entrance features a three-ton triangular gate that even I can easily rotate (it is balanced on the axle of a Model T Ford with a Coca-Cola bottle neck on the end, so it can still be lubricated).
The attraction is a bit quirky, but in a fun and interesting way.
You can find discount coupons on-line and there are senior prices. With a discount coupon, it was $25 for two adults and the price included an excellent tour, lasting about an hour. Be sure to take the tour, they are ongoing and you join them in-progress. The guides really help bring Ed’s story to life. Two hours is plenty of time for a visit. There is a snack bar and a nice little gift shop. It’s a great spot to give kids a lesson in physics.