The Eccentric Edward Leedskalnin: Builder of Coral Castle and “Sweet Sixteen” Fanatic
Most of you have probably heard of the incredible stone structure called Coral Castle, located near Homestead, Florida. Made up almost entirely of single pieces of coral rock weighing an average of 14 tons, which, put together, weigh more than 1,000 tons, the structure is a remarkable feat of engineering
More of a wacky temple than a castle, it is surrounded by a high stone wall, and features, among other things, numerous items of furniture, a two-storey tower, a barbeque, a fountain, a water well, and celestial stars and planets – everything carved from coral rock.
As weird and interesting as the castle itself is the man who built it unobserved and by primitive means – apparently single-handedly – an eccentric Latvian American named Edward Leedskalnin (1887-1951). How he achieved such a superhuman feat is still debated to this day. According to those in the fringe science camp, Leedskalnin possessed an arcane knowledge of “earth energies” and magnetism, and knew how to render the stones temporarily weightless. Those in the opposite camp – the sceptics – adhere to a far more mundane theory – that the stones were moved using the principles of weight and leverage.
To fully appreciate this beautiful mystery is to realise what a peculiar character Leedskalnin was. Having recently read one of his bizarre pamphlets (of which he published five in total), I feel as though I’ve gained a glimpse inside the mind of an extraterrestrial. In the pamphlet, titled A Book in Every Home (1836), Leedskalnin expresses his views on politics, domestic matters, and moral education, with an emphasis on how to raise sixteen year-old girls properly so that they don’t get “soiled” by “fresh boys.”
That Leedskalnin was obsessed with 16 year-old girls can be explained by the fact that, prior to his immigrating to America at the age of around 30, he was jilted by his 16 year-old fiancée, Agnes Scuffs, the night before their wedding. Leedskalnin often remarked, in fact, that he built the castle as a tribute to her, whom he vaguely referred to as his “sweet sixteen.” If true, she must have been quite a catch, since it took him over 28 years to build the castle, then, later, another three years to move it 10 miles to its current location near Homestead. (The original castle, constructed in 1923, was located in Florida City.)
Written in simple English, A Book in Every Home is a humorous read – especially because it isn’t meant to be humorous. It’s clear that Leedskalnin expected his views to be taken seriously and widely appreciated – as indicated by the title of the pamphlet. Funnily enough, every second page of it is intentionally blank, the reason for which is explained in the Preface: “Reader, if for any reason you do not like the things I say in this little book, I left just as much space as I used, so you can write your own opinion opposite it and see if you can do better.”
In the first part of the pamphlet, “Ed’s Sweet Sixteen,” Leedskalnin raves on and on about his favorite topic. “I always have wanted a girl but I never had one,” he laments. So as to preserve the purity and beauty of young girls, Leedskalnin advises that they be kept well away from fresh boys. He also suggests an interesting solution for dealing with the randy little devils, which, in all honesty, is difficult to criticize:
“In case the girl’s mamma thinks that there is a boy somewhere who needs experience, then she, herself, could pose as an experimental station for that fresh boy to practice on and so save the girl. Nothing can hurt her any more. She has already gone through all the experience that can be gone through and so in her case, it would be all right.”
Later in the pamphlet, Leedskalnin provides parents with some practical advice on how to prevent their children – their daughters especially – from developing unsightly facial features. For example: “The first thing the mothers should do is to watch the baby’s mouth so it is not hanging open. The mouth, by hanging open, stretches the upper lip and when kept open while growing, then when fully grown, the lips will not fit together anymore.”
Leedskalnin passed away on December 7, 1951, at the age of 64. He might have lived longer, perhaps, if his diet had consisted of more than sardines and crackers, and if he’d eaten more frequently. His death is generally attributed to malnutrition due to stomach cancer. Coral Castle, which still stands today, is a testament to the man’s genius and perseverance. While it would be easy to feel sympathy for Leedskalnin for leading such a lonely life, it’s worth noting that had he married his “sweet sixteen,” Coral Castle would probably never have been built and one less mystery would exist in the world.