Sights Spotlight: Coral Castle Museum, the Taj Mahal of Florida

Edward Leedskalnin next to a segment of Coral Castle. Courtesy: Coral Castle Museum website

Nestled in an unincorporated portion of Miami-Dade County between Leisure City and Homestead lies a vast collection of hand-carved, multi-ton, megalithic coral structures. 

Recognized by the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, Coral Castle is a bit of a mystery, but nonetheless a marvelous hidden gem. Think of the Great Pyramid of Giza, but made of oolite limestone derived from coral deposits.

Originally named Rock Gate Park, the “museum” remains to be much more than just a showing of precious carved rock and stone, but a tribute and symbol for the artist’s long lost love. 

Edward Leedskalnin single-handedly etched and carved roughly 1,100 tons of coral rock “as a testimony to his lost love, Agnes.” Ed set out to build the monument after Agnes Scuffs, his bride-to-be, broke off the wedding the day before the celebration.

Ed was a private man in practice. Stories have it that he would carve the structure with no outside help or large machinery but with hand tools. The monument took over 28 years to build, and Leedskalnin was never seen working on it, mainly because he would work through the night with a lantern in hand.

The way the Coral Castle was erected by one man is what remains so enigmatic. Ed was hardly 5 feet tall and roughly 100 pounds and limestone formations in this part of Florida could be up to 4,000 feet thick—making the build that much more impressive. Reportedly using only hand tools, he was able to cut and move massive coral solids and form them into the existing structure. Born from a family of stonemasons in Latvia, Ed translated his work in lumber camps to create the castle.

After living in Canada, California, and Texas, Ed moved to Florida City in 1918 after developing tuberculosis to help his condition with the warmer climate. He later moved 10 miles up the road to Homestead in 1936 and bought 10 acres of land in the area, and yet another mystery remains. How did he move the formations he began carving in Florida City to his new property in Homestead?

It took him three years to move the existing pieces of coral in Florida City to Homestead with the help of a friend’s tractor and the chassis of an old Republic truck on which he laid two rails for the pieces.

In 1940, the carvings were in place, and Ed was able to finish hoisting the walls of the castle, each weighing an estimated 125 pounds per cubic foot and measuring 8x4x3 feet, totaling more than 5.8 tons.

“When questioned about how he moved the blocks of coral, Ed would only reply that he understood the laws of weight and leverage well. This man with only a fourth-grade education even built an AC current generator, the remains of which are on display today. Because there are no records from witnesses, his methods continue to baffle engineers and scientists, and Ed’s secrets of construction have often been compared to Stonehenge and the great pyramids,” reads the museum’s website. 

Ed passed away at the age of 64 in 1951 after falling ill and left the castle behind to serve as a reminder of his unwavering love for Agnes. Much like the Taj Mahl in India, both took over 20 years to finish, except this was done by one man and his tools.

You can visit Coral Castle at 28655 South Dixie Highway

Miami, FL 33033, and tickets can be purchased for as much as $18. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, make sure to check the hours of the museum and call ahead before visiting. To learn more about Coral Castle, click here

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