Coral Castle doesn't look much like a castle, but that hasn't discouraged generations of tourists from wanting to see it. That's because it was built by one man, Ed Leedskalnin, a Latvian immigrant who single-handedly and mysteriously excavated, carved, and erected over 2.2 million pounds of coral rock to build this place, even though he stood only five feet tall and weighed a mere 100 pounds.
Ed built his castle to impress Agnes Scuffs, a 16-year-old who had jilted him on the day before their wedding. Various explanations are given for her cold feet: Ed was too poor, too uneducated, too old. Maybe he was just too crazy. After all, Ed was a man who spent 20 years building an open-air compound stocked with lumpy rock tables, chairs, and beds, with no electricity or running water, and expected that Agnes would fall in love with it and with him.
Ed was as secretive as he was misguided. He never told anyone how he carved and set into place the walls, gates, monoliths, and moon crescents that make up much of his Castle. Some of these blocks weigh as much as 30 tons. Ed often worked at night, by lantern light, so that no one could see him. He used only tools that he fashioned himself from wrecks in an auto junkyard.
Ed died in 1951 and the Castle opened as a tourist attraction in 1953. It has survived countless storms without a scratch -- a testament to Ed's handiwork -- although the sign that advertises the place was blown to pieces by hurricane Wilma in 2005.
A problem that we sometimes find with attractions built by people like Ed is that the person dies, and no one is left to explain the hows and whys of the place. Coral Castle has enough history to stand on its own without Ed -- butit's also fortunate to have a tour guide by the name of Ray Ramirez, who is here to take up the slack. "I've been researching him for years," Ray tells us. Ray's favorite word is "incredible," and he's not afraid to use it.
"What is in your pamphlet is the romantic presentation," Ray says as the tour begins, his voice edged with disdain. "Let me show you some things here that are incredible."
Ray wiggles the 3-Ton Gate at the entrance, marks off a few paces, draws a spot on the earth with his toe, and tells one of us to stand on that exact spot. "Offer resistance against me," he commands, as he pushes down on our outstretched arm. We hold firm. Ray then hops back to the Gate, shifts it slightly, and comes back to push down again. This time our arm collapses. Ray calls this "a kinesiology effect" and tells us that whenever the flat side of the Gate with the little notch in it points at someone, "you become much stronger" because "energy is compatible with limestone, because limestone's got a lot of calcium carbonate." Like your bones.
Ray believes that this kind of knowledge -- which he says was given to Ed by a "wizard" in Latvia -- helped Ed to move the big blocks of coral. Ray also believes that Ed's remarkable abilities had something to do with lines, angles, and alignments, which Ray can see everywhere within the Castle compound, and which he points out at every available opportunity.
Electromagnetism plays a role as well. Did Ed magnetize the rocks and float them into place? Ray scowls at our silly question. Of course not. Ed simply made the rocks lighter, and that made them easier to move.
New members join our group from time to time, mostly retired couples, evidently expecting to receive a straightforward, nuts-and-bolts explanation as to how Ed built the place. Most of them don't last long with Ray, who bobs, weaves, and waves his arms like an aerobic instructor as he stomps around the compound. Ray talks about Ed's "perpetual motion holder" and insists that the Coral Castle's sundial proves that "the books on astronomy are wrong." He points to one of the many coral rocking chairs in the compound. "Ed would sit in this chair like a statue, eyes closed," Ray says. "Like he was dead. So I wonder if he was into a trance, or if he was a time traveler? One of the two."
Ed's greatest achievement at Coral Castle was the 9-Ton Gate, a mighty slab of coral rock set on its side that could pivot in a circle with the push of only one finger. When we visited the Castle in 1985, we were told that the 9-Ton Gate had been working until six months before we arrived, when it had finally fallen off of its bearing and was stuck. Twenty-five years later, Ray tells us the exact same story. But Ray insists that the gate had been fixed in 1986 -- and while it took Ed only five days, working alone, to set it in place, Ray says that it took "a 20 ton crane, crane operator, engineer, and a crew of five, two weeks" to repair it. Ray repeats this line every time that a new member joins our group, and so we believe him.
The Gate, however, is not completely disabled. Although it is now sheltered within a steel cage, it can still be pushed with one finger, but only from right to left. Pushing it the other way requires considerable force, which Ray demonstrates with vigor. Why this should be so is a mystery to us, but not to Ray, who insists that the repair crew made "the big mistakes" by not taking electromagnetism into account. "The gate has the shaft. That would pull the magnetic energy! Magnetic energy cannot go through the hub, because it's a solid object! My question is, how many degrees of magnetic vortex is required?"
Ray pauses for dramatic effect. We stand frozen, not in awe but in trying to figure out what it is that Ray has just told us. "Incredible," Ray says again, for emphasis. And that, apparently, is that.
We hang with Ray for another hour -- and then we finally have to leave. "Everything that I've told you, most of it is not written anywhere," Ray says as we head for the car. "If you have any questions, just ask me. 'Cause I'm the guy who knows all the answers."