Edward Leedskalnin: The Creator of The Coral Castle

Supernatural abilities? Alien intervention? Engineering ingenuity? Scientists are still baffled how a 5-foot, 100-pound man carved and constructed a castle from over 1,100 tons of coral by himself.

Edward Leedskalnin was born on January 12, 1887 in Latvia. He was the fifth son of Mini and Andrejs, who were farmers on rented land.

It’s during his time in Latvia that it’s believed under the tutelage of his father that Leedskalnin learned stonemasonry.

According to records, Leedskalnin only received a fourth grade education, but by his 20s he could read, write and speak at least three languages.

Age 26 was Leedskalnin’s turning point that started him on the path to creating the Coral Castle.

Leedskalnin was set to marry Agnes Skuvst, who was 10 years younger than him. But on the day of the wedding, at the altar nonetheless, she called it off, leaving Leedskalnin’s heartbroken.

“It is absolutely clear that Ed left for America because he was jilted by his bride,” Janis Leedskalnin, Edward’s grand-nephew, is quoted as saying in “Coral Castle: The Mystery of Ed Leedskalnin and his American Stonehenge” by Rusty McClure.

There are several theories why Skuvst broke off the engagement, but the one that sticks out is that there was another man in the picture.

Leedskalnin published five pamphlets in his lifetime with his longest being “A Book In Every Home,” which lectured moral education. In the very first section titled “Ed’s Sweet Sixteen,” he describes how boys are “soiling” influences on girls.

“He is then not big enough to work but he is too big to be kept in a nursery and then to allow such a fresh thing to soil a girl,” he wrote.

As Thomas Lorman, professor of Eastern European Studies at the University of Cincinnati, put it, the runaway bride was a slap in Leedskalnin’s face.

“[Ed] becomes a laughing stock. A 20-something to be turned down by a 16 year old? It’s a pretty appealing slap. It’s a slap of class distinctions,” he was quoted as saying.

On March 23, 1912, Leedskalnin boarded the S.S. Pennsylvania out of Germany bound for New York. Leedskalnin took off from the East Coast to Oregon, which was experiencing a logging boom.

While working in ax-handle manufacturing in Reedsport, Leedskalnin allegedly contracted tuberculosis in the winter of 1922-1923.

In need of warmer weather, Leedskalnin took off for Florida in February of 1923 as noted in “The Homestead Enterprise” newspaper, which wrote “E. Leedskalnin a Californian has purchased an acre of the R. L. Moser homestead and is planning to erect a home soon.”

Apparently, before purchasing the property, Leedskalnin had been wandering around Florida for sometime before settling down.

Joe Bullard, author of the fictional tale titled “Waiting for Agnes,” spoke with a man who said his father met Leedskalnin one day.

“My father was working in Jacksonville in a bank. He looked outside one day and saw this little guy walking along the road with a witching rod,” the man told Bullard. “He said the little guy seemed out of it and might need some help. He asked the little guy what he was doing, and the guy just said, ‘When I find it, I’ll know it.’”

A witching rod, also known as a dowsing rod, is a divination instrument used to find water underground. According to McClure, this was the first mention of Leedskalnin being guided by “supernatural” powers.

Weighing only 97 pounds at the time, he was apparently told by Dr. B.F. Eckman that he only has six more months to live. Yet, three years later Dr. Eckman noted Leedskalnin was alive an well.

Theorists believe Leedskalnin cured himself through magnetic treatments, which lends in hand with the notion that his deep fascination with electromagnetism aided him in lifting the massive coral blocks of the castle.

A healthy Leedskalnin went to work on his living quarters, first constructing the two-story castle he called “Ed’s Place.”

Records indicate he worked alone and only at night, cutting, quarrying and raising the oolitic limestone structures out of sight from the public.

“He only worked in the dead of the night and everybody knew that,” local resident M.C. Bardsley recalled.

Leedskalnin originally named the grounds “Rock Gate” after building a 9-ton door that would spin open to reveal his monuments dedicated to his “Sweet Sixteen.”

When asked how he moved the massive stones, he would say, “I understand the laws of weight and leverage and I know the secrets of the people who built the pyramids.”

That’s not to say all his methods were completely unknown. Leedskalnin apparently showed off some of the techniques to local high school students who were studying “weights and the methods of moving articles with a minimum of effort.

“He showed how he used pine logs to lift rocks,” explained David Freidrish. “He would tie one end while he placed another wedge, keep this up till he got the piece on wooden rollers and moved where he shaved pieces with a hatchet.”

Leedskalnin fashioned plenty of his tools out of old car parts, which in itself is a massive feat. His precision was also remarkable. For example, the gate was perfectly balanced and revolved for decades. When it finally stopped moving and restoration efforts were made, it took six men and a 50-short-ton crane to move it.

The grounds were littered with all sorts of unique functional pieces, such as a sundial, a bathtub, a barbecue, a water well and a fountain. Furniture included a Florida-shaped table, a heart-shaped table for his “Valentine,” twenty-five rocking chairs, chairs resembling crescent moons and a throne. He also had art installations like an obelisk, celestial stars and planets.

Leedskalnin made his income from conducting tours for 10 cents and asking for donations of 25 cents to enter, though entering was free if visitors didn’t have the money.

Leedskalnin died at the age of 64 from a kidney infection.  With no will in place, the property went to a nephew named Harry. His nephew was apparently in poor health and sold the land to Julius Levin, a retired jeweler from Chicago. Levin turned the location into a tourist attraction, changing the name to Coral Castle.

The property was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, first under Rock Gate and then Coral Castle in 2011.