Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Coral Castle

I’ve added a few photos to my Miami gallery. They’re taken at a place called the Coral Castle, in Homestead, Florida. It’s about an hour’s drive southwest from Miami.

The Coral Castle was built in the 1930s and 1940s by a man named Ed Leedskalnin, who was, quite frankly, just plain nuts. As a young man in Latvia, he fell in love with a 16-year-old girl who ended up leaving him at the alter (possibly it was past her bedtime). He never got over this, even after moving to South Florida. After buying some land cheaply there, he decided to dedicate his life to building a castle out of coral rock, a fortress where he and his beloved (who would understand the error of her ways after she saw the coral bedroom furniture he carved for her) would live out their days.

It didn’t work out that way. The girl married someone else and stayed in Latvia. The man eventually died alone, surrounded by his self-published treatises on electromagnetism. It’s kind of a sad story, but it makes for an interesting tourist attraction now.

One thing that isn’t so crazy about the building is the decision to use coral rock. Apparently if you dig anywhere in this part of Florida, you find a few inches of sandy topsoil and about 4,000 feet of coral. What’s crazy, besides the fact that only the actual sleeping quarters has a roof, is what exactly he built out of the coral. After he’d built walls and a very Spartan bedroom/tool shed, he started building furniture. Out of rock. In the middle of his courtyard. Things like a 5,000-pound, heart-shaped dining-room table, a stone couch, and even a rocky double bed with a nearby coral cradle, just in case his Latvian lass had a change of heart.

One piece of furniture I really liked was his reading lounge. He built a sort of a stone chaise longue for reading in a reclining position. Ed was only about five feet tall. I’m not significantly taller, and I found that the curves and contours were incredibly comfortable for someone my size. Although I guess it wouldn’t be quite so nice in the rain.

Another amazing thing is the main gate to the castle, no longer in use. It weighs nine tons, but it’s said that back in the day, it was so well balanced that a child could push it open. The hinges are rusted and fused now, so it’s impossible to test if this was ever really true, but the guy does seem to have been some kind of eccentric genius for sure.

Another surreal touch is the fact that the whole complex is overrun by giant lizards. Well, maybe “overrun” is a strong word, but I saw several. They’re huge. Not iguana sized, but far larger than the speedy little fly-eaters we have in California. They were well over a foot long, and extremely colorful. I asked the lady in the gift shop what they were called. She didn’t know, but she did tell me that someone figured out that they are from West Africa. No one knows exactly how they got here, but they don’t seem to have major predators, and the population is starting to get a little out of hand.

My guidebook described the Coral Castle as possibly the strangest tourist attraction in Florida. The field is strong, but this just may be it.
28655 South Dixie Highway
Homestead, Fl 33030

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