The Mysteries and Ingenuity Behind Miami’s Coral Castle

By: Shayne Benowitz

Made of 1,100 tons of coral rock, the Coral Castle is one of Miami’s most fascinating attractions.

Homestead is home to one of Miami’s most unusual and mysterious attractions. Built single-handedly over the course of 28 years, the Coral Castle Museum is both a feast for the eyes with its mind-bending sculpture garden carved of massive coral rock and a legendary love story about the man who created it.

The History

In 1918 at the age of 31, Latvian-born Edward Leedskalnin moved to Florida City to convalesce in South Florida’s warm, humid climate after being diagnosed with tuberculosis. He’d previously lived across North America in Canada, California and Texas. When Leedskalnin arrived in North America from Eastern Europe, he was a heartbroken man having been left by his betrothed Agnes Scuffs just a day before their wedding in Riga, Latvia. Scuffs was 16 years old, a decade younger than Leedskalnin. He called her his Sweet Sixteen.

Leedskalnin spent about 18 years in Florida City before buying a plot of land in Homestead 10 miles away. He’d already begun construction of his Coral Castle and spent three years painstakingly moving his sculptured carvings, which weighed approximately 125 pounds per cubic foot, to what would become their permanent home.

The engineering of Leedskalnin’s Coral Castle is shrouded in mystery. At five feet tall, he weighed only 100 pounds and is believed to have worked with 1,100 tons of coral rock without the aid of modern mechanics or any collaborators. Theories abound from the super natural to his preternatural knack for ancient sciences. Homestead’s Coral Castle has been compared to the mysteries and monumental accomplishments of the pyramids in Egypt, Stonehenge in England and the Taj Mahal in India.

However, Leedskalnin came from a long line of stonemasons and he’d worked in lumber camps in his native Latvia. It’s believed that he was single-mindedly determined to build a monument to his lost love Scuffs. Whenever he was questioned about the construction, he explained that he had a vast understanding of the laws of weight and leverage.

He completed the coral rock carvings in 1940 and then erected the walls of the castle, which were eight feet tall, four feet wide and three feet thick, weighing more than 58 tons. Originally called Rock Gate Park, Leedskalnin conducted tours of his Coral Castle during the 1940s for the meager price of 25 cents.

In 1951, at the age of 64, Leedskalnin died at Jackson Memorial Hospital, bequeathing his monumental Coral Castle to a nephew in Michigan who eventually sold it to a family from Illinois. They turned Leedskalnin’s creation into a museum, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

Visiting the Coral Castle

Today, visitors can explore the wonders of Leedskalnin’s accomplishments at the Coral Castle in Homestead. Highlights of his sculptures include a nine-ton gate that moves with the touch of a finger, a Polaris telescope, rocking chairs, a 40-foot tall obelisk and a giant crescent moon all carved out of coral rock. You can scale stone steps to discover his coral turret and peer through windows to the castle grounds below.

Narrated audio stands in English, Spanish, French and German tell the tale of Leedskalnin and his inspiration behind not only the coral castle as a whole, but also individual sculptures. The gift shop carries souvenirs, as well as books about the castle, engineering and the original writings of Leedskalnin on topics such as magnetic currents, mineral, vegetable and animal life and his domestic and political views. The Coral Castle is open seven days a week and is available for private events, such as weddings.

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