Florida III: Curiouser and Curiouser

Florida, you probably already know, is a very curious place, by which I mean a curiosity to outsiders rather than any particular exhibition of curiosity by the denizens.

Said denizens are some mix of the descendants of Spaniards, who came looking for the Fountain of Youth, and Cubans, who came looking for the Land of the Free. Plus cattle ranchers, who are dressed and armed as though it were Montana, and the spring breakers, who define dressing and baring arms quite differently. Then come the transplants and snowbirds from the Nor’east, who occupy the east coast, and the transplants and snowbirds from the ‘Deep North’, who occupy the west coast. Both groups rate proximity to health care facilities ‘highly important’ in the real estate “location, location, location” algorithm and proximity to schools either ‘not at all important’ or a negative. All groups believing restaurants should be cooled to 65º in the summer and heated to 86º in winter. Except the anti-Separatists, who separated themselves from Quebec Province during the last Separatist scare, who believe the pertinent temperatures are 18º and 30º, respectively. And dinner time is 4:00 (perhaps, 1700 for the anti-Separatists.)

Florida extends, on some dimension or another, from Tallahassee to Key West; from The Everglades to Disney World; from Saint Augustine to Cape Canaveral, from Sarasota (winter quarters of Ringling Brothers & Co.) to the Crystal River (winter quarters of manatees), from Naples (median home price about a million and climbing) to Homestead (median price about $250k, maybe holding).

High on our list of curiosities is the Coral Castle found in Homestead, just off the South Dixie Highway (aka U.S. Route Numero Uno). This is a sculpture garden, comprising some 2.2 million pounds of quarried and carved coral. Comparisons to Stonehenge, the Great Pyramids, Rapa Nui, and the Taj Mahal are a bit of a leap, but not without some rationale. For the first three, we aren’t sure how they managed to do those either, and the last three are also over-the-top memorials to lost loves.

One big difference, right off the top, is the other four “Wonders” had lots of cheap labor. Coral Castle was done by one man, working alone, mostly at night, using homemade tools, no heavy construction equipment, employing methods known only to himself (and perhaps some Egyptians, Celts, and extraterrestrials.)

Ed Leedskalnin was about five feet tall, weighed less than 100 pounds, with a fourth-grade education. He began work on the sculptures in 1923, after his finance and long-time love, Agnes Skuvst, canceled their wedding the day before it was to have happened. The broken-hearted Ed immigrated to the US and began work on “Ed’s Place” as a memorial to his love in Florida City; what can you do? He later moved those sculptures to what he called “Rock Gate Garden” at the Homestead site on property he bought because it was next to the new highway. He never owned a car, truck, or tractor.

(Ed referred to Agnus as my “Sweet Sixteen”; allegedly inspiring for Billy Idol’s “Sweet Sixteen”; Ed had had to wait for her to “grow up”.)

Ron in the “Reading Room”, then the dining room without Ron. For the next two, think about one man and no crane. The last photo is the nine-ton “Rock Gate”, which Doré swung without standing up.

Ed continued the work for 28 years until December, 1951, when he put a sign on the Castle gate saying “going to the hospital”, took the bus to Miami, and died.

Leedskalnin never disclosed his methods, other than “I understand the laws of weight and leverage.” Agnes never visited her monument.

Less curiously, Homestead has BBQ.

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