November 11, 2013 - In Homestead, Fla., not far from Miami and off the South Dixie Highway, sits a world-famous structure called the Coral Castle. Though not really a castle — and not really made of coral — it is nonetheless an amazing achievement. More than 1,000 tons of the sedimentary rock (oolite limestone) was quarried and sculpted into a variety of shapes, including slab walls, tables, chairs, a crescent moon, a water fountain and a sundial.
"You are about to see an engineering marvel that has been compared with Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids of Egypt," touts an information sheet available at the site. Many sources claim that the castle, originally called Rock Gate Park, is scientifically inexplicable. According to the attraction's website, "Coral Castle has baffled scientists, engineers and scholars since its opening in 1923." It has appeared countless times in books, magazines, and television shows. Rock musician Billy Idol even wrote a hit song about the place, "Sweet Sixteen."
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. How it 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.
As strange and amazing as the site is, its history is equally improbable. It was created by just one man working alone for nearly three decades until his death in 1951. He was a small Latvian immigrant named Edward Leedskalnin who stood, it is said, 5 feet tall (1.5 meters) and weighed 100 pounds (45 kilograms). Legend has it that he was inspired to build the structure after being abandoned by his 16-year-old sweetheart on what was to be their wedding day. Spurned by his lost love, he set out to prove to her — and the world — that he could do something remarkable, and make something of himself despite his poverty and fourth-grade education. And he succeeded spectacularly.
Though Leedskalnin was a private person, he opened the park in 1923 as a tourist attraction and would often greet visitors to personally show them his handiwork. Leedskalnin was not only a hard worker but also a self-styled philosopher (and a bit of a crank) who issued a series of pamphlets about his personal views on political, social, and domestic issues. One moralizing booklet optimistically titled "A Book in Every Home" complained, "The schools and the churches are cheapening the girls! They are arranging picnics — are coupling up the girls with the fresh boys — and then they send them out to the woods, parks, beaches, and other places so that they can practice in first-degree love making."
Leedskalnin also opined that the unemployed and powerless should not have voting rights: "It is not sound to allow the weaklings to vote.