To say that the man who claimed to have mastered the building techniques of the ancient Egyptians was enigmatic is somewhat an understatement. Edward Leedskalnin’s monumental love letter in stone to his teen fiancé is as mysterious and incredible a feat as any Old Kingdom pyramid. You see, Ed knocked up his megalithic mega-structure(s) single-handed. And we still don’t know how he did it.
Mysterious Ed, the five-foot giant
Ed had emigrated to the US from Latvia and, over the course of twenty years from the early 1920s, he hand quarried and sculpted over 1,100 tons of stone. Standing barely over five feet, this self-taught amateur scientist, sculptor and later tour guide created his own wonderland – Coral Castle – over an acre of land. He filled it with finely sculpted rocks; crescent-moon shaped stones, moonstone fountains, giant love seats and even a nine-ton gate that moves with the push of a finger.
Ode to unrequited love
Ed mimicked the achievements of ancient builders who combined a knowledge of science and the stars with a passion for bold, expressive art. But Ed wasn’t driven by the worship of gods or kings. As Shah Jahan had been driven to express eternal love for his (favourite) wife through the Taj Mahal, Ed was inspired by his own sad tale of lost love. Coral Castle is Ed’s beautiful love letter to Agnes Scuffs – his sweet sixteen who vanished on the eve of their wedding night. Yes, it’s somewhat uncomfortable to think she was still a child but this was a different era. Certainly, she had a change of heart and left Ed all alone. He would never see her again. But he could not forget her.
Unlike the Taj Mahal, Ed didn’t employ 20,000 artisans to create his masterpiece. Sure, having been lucky enough to visit the Taj Mahal I can vouch that it’s a stunner; a priceless, shimmering Indian jewel in comparison to Ed’s plain limestone ingot. His Florida castle may lack the magnificence of the TM though equally it’s not the gaudy stuff of Disney’s Magic Kingdom either. What makes Ed’s feat so much more remarkable is that it he constructed it in the modern era and yet we still don’t understand how he did it. According to legend, Ed completed the epic undertaking entirely alone, without modern machinery and typically under the cover of darkness.
Other than references to his ‘perpetual motion holder’, sadly Ed never revealed his so-called secrets. We are teased by testimonies from witnesses claiming to have seen him ‘levitate’ stone weighing many tons via hand-made contraptions crafted in his own workshop. Ed had originally constructed the site 15 miles from its present location of Homestead, Florida, taking several years to transport the rocks. He’d hire flatbed trucks to shift the tons of stone back and forth, insisting the driver leave him alone upon arrival. When the driver returned to his truck he would be stunned to find the multi-ton rocks unloaded!
While it also believed that some items were removed from the grounds shortly before his death in 1951, what evidence remains: a giant tripod, a flywheel, copper wire and radio transmitters offers a conspiracy theorist’s world of possibilities.
Shortly after completing his great project, Edward opened Coral Castle up to the public for ten cents a pop, acting as a tour guide and telling visitors about his sweet sixteen, perhaps even hoping that one day she might return.
To supplement his income, he also published a series of rather cryptic pamphlets sharing his own, often archaic, philosophies – which having read serve only to deepen the mystery. The most tantalizing, Magnetic Currents, is written from the perspective of a layman and so lacks any real scientific basis. In it, Ed states that all matter is magnetic and that modern scientists do not properly understand electricity. The writing is so obtuse that the reader doesn’t get close to grasping what Ed really knew. Ed died from a kidney infection aged 64, taking his knowledge with him.
Ed’s feat has inspired academics, writers and musicians the world over (even Billy Idol wrote his song ‘Sweet Sixteen’ about Ed’s unrequited love). So how was able to quarry such massive stones single-handedly? To sculpt and erect them – the largest of which is a thirty-ton telescope that points to the North Star? What drove him to build a castle for his lost fiancé? And if we could turn back time, how could we persuade him to give up his secret?
Inspired by this timeless, romantic story, I consider these questions among other mysteries in my debut YA story, The Wax Moth, some of which is (very) loosely based on Edward, his lost love and Coral Castle.
You can find out more about Coral Castle here https://coralcastle.com