By Carol Antman for Island Eye News
When unrequited love turns into craziness spurned lovers might binge on reality TV and Ben and Jerry’s, turn into stalkers or post revealing photos on the Internet. Bonfires of discarded clothes and curse words scratched into cars can result.
As passion turns to obsession, pets have even been poisoned. But Edward Leedskalnin took crazy love to a whole new level.
When he was 26, he was engaged to Agnes Scuffs, his “Sweet Sixteen.” It wasn’t just because of her age that he called her that.
He had strong opinions about love and lust and wrote, “When a girl is sixteen or seventeen years old, she is as good as she ever will be but when a boy is sixteen years old, he is then fresher than in all his stages of development.” He valued Agnes purity. He wanted to dedicate his life to protecting her.
Somehow, she saw red flags and broke the engagement one day before the wedding. For Edward it was a tragedy beyond measure. He would win her back or spend his entire life trying, which he did. He left his homeland of Latvia in 1913.
After wandering for a few years, suffering from tuberculosis, he went to Florida City where he hoped the climate would agree with him. A grand gesture to bring his Sweet Sixteen running back, that’s what he needed.
So he began digging the rocky ground with hand tools, working alone by lantern light.
Ed was only 5 feet tall and weighed only 100 pounds but he fashioned block and tackle wenches and chipped away at the coral that was sometimes 4,000 feet thick. Bit by bit he painstakingly began a monolith to his unrequited love.
Meanwhile, Florida was being developed and a subdivision was being planned nearby.
Ed felt his privacy eroding so he decided to move the gargantuan blocks of coral rock he’d harvested ten miles up the road to Homestead. He laid two rails upon a chassis from an old Republic truck. A friend pulled the loaded trailer along slowly. Moving all of the huge blocks of rock took three years and attracted on-lookers who began to ask questions about this reclusive, obsessed man. Curiosity followed him to his new home where people dared each other to approach the site.
He bought ten acres in Homestead where he worked fifteen more years on his Coral Castle. First he built walls with look-outs to watch for interlopers. Then he carved a place for his future life with Agnes: a coral desk, a coral table shaped like the state of Florida, a coral sundial, his and hers coral beds, a cradle, a wishing well. His masterpiece is a nine ton gate that’s 180 inches wide, 92 inches tall and 21 inches thick that can be turned like a revolving door with just one finger. Throughout it all he lived simply in a makeshift bedroom without electricity or running water. He rode his bike into town for supplies and began to allow paying visitors who asked the same questions people ask today: “How did a 5 foot tall, 100 pound man, with only a fourth grade education move tons of limestone rocks by himself?” Edward always explained that he used the same principles that were employed in the building of the pyramids. But Egypt had thousands of slaves. Maybe aliens had helped Edward, some suggested.
Maybe he had supernatural powers. Did anybody actually see him working? Theories and questions continue to feed the mystery today.
Agnes never saw Coral Castle or even came to the United States. She probably didn’t even know it existed and may even have forgotten Edward. But he never gave up on her joining him in Florida. In 1951, Edward left a sign on the Coral Castle entrance “going to the hospital.” He took a bus to Jackson Memorial and died three days later.
In Ed’s time there was a sign “Ring Bell” outside a locked gate. Another said “Ring Twice.”
If the directions were followed precisely and if Ed wasn’t busy, he’d come give a tour for 10 cents. Now tourists pay about $15 to hear the story, see the incredible structures and peak into Edward’s humble living quarters consisting of a plank bed wrapped in burlap and repurposed junk turned into shelves and rudimentary benches. Outside there’s a 5,000 pound rocking stone throne for Ed, the king of the castle and smaller ones for Sweet Sixteen and an imagined child. There’s also a purposely uncomfortable one for his would-be mother-in-law. To complete the homey tableau there’s Ed’s heart shaped Feast of Love Table with his original flowering ixora plants growing in the center.
It’s an inspiring place to sit and contemplate passion, obsession and the mysteries of love.
Roadtrips Charleston presents adventurous and interesting destinations within a few hours drive of Charleston, S.C. Carol Antman’s passion for outdoor and artistic experiences feeds her wanderlust for exotic and nearby adventures. For hot links, photographs, previous columns or to make comments please see www.peaksandpotholes.blogspot.com.