The Coral Castle: Masonic Mystery in the Sunshine State

Just a little way outside of Homestead, Florida, there stands an enigma. The Coral Castle is a decorative park built from over 1,000 tons of megalithic coral rock; dense blocks which from 1923 until 1951 were quarried, carved and stacked to form towers, beds and tables, rocking chairs, sundials and bizarre astrological figures. As a folly, it is singularly unique – but what makes it stranger still is the fact that the Coral Castle was built by one man alone, using no more than hand tools as he fashioned a palace over the course of 28 years of solitary labour.

Numerous explanations have been offered for this seemingly impossible task – from pulleys and magnetism, to witchcraft and extraterrestrial intervention – but behind it all lies a profound science of geometry, a technique of mass manipulation which the architect himself claimed to have inherited from the builders of King Solomon’s Temple and the pyramids of Egypt before that.


The Great Architect & His Sweet Sixteen

The castle and its surrounding gardens were built by Edward Leedskalnin (1887–1951), a stonemason from Riga, Latvia. At the age of 26 Leedskalnin was jilted by his fiancée, one sixteen-year-old Agnes Skuvst, who broke off their engagement just the day before the wedding. Leedskalnin was heartbroken and he set out on a quest to build a monument worthy of celebrating his lost love – or so people inferred, from conversations with this notoriously vague eccentric. When asked what he was doing, Leedskalnin would claim that he was building a tribute to his ‘Sweet Sixteen.’

The girl was real, according to a Latvian account – though actually named Hermīne Lūsis – but Leedskalnin’s own writings would later suggest at other motives behind the project. In his pamphlet A Book in Every Home, he later hinted that Sweet Sixteen was more a reference to an ideal, than a reality.

Edward Leedskalnin left Latvia soon after… with one investigator suggesting that he was fleeing the Tsar’s secret police, following his own involvement in the armed uprising of 1905. Whatever the reason, Leedskalnin ended up in North America where he worked for a time on lumber mills across Canada, in California and in Texas. When he was later diagnosed with tuberculosis, Leedskalnin decided that the Florida climate might improve his condition. Some accounts claimed that he was spontaneously healed, and Leedskalnin himself credited the cure to magnetism – a subject with which he was becoming increasingly fascinated.

Leedskalnin settled in Florida City in 1918, and began work on what he called his ‘Rock Gate Park’ sometime around 1923. Using only hand tools, he quarried huge blocks of coral rock before cutting them to shape and arranging them into position. Later, in 1936, Leedskalnin moved to Homestead where he purchased a plot of 10 acres and spent the next three years relocating, a distance of some 10 miles, using a friend’s tractor to transport each of his coral structures.

Leedskalnin was known to be a very private person, and his methods were a closely guarded secret. In 28 years he refused to allow anyone to watch him work – carving the stones by night, while a series of lookout posts along the castle walls provided an extra defence against prying eyes.  Measuring only five feet in height, and weighing just 100 pounds, he slowly built his fortress from the inside out using blocks that weighed an average of 14 tons a piece.

By the 1940s Leedskalnin, who lived in a room inside the single castle tower, had opened the park up to paying visitors. He installed a bell, and carved a sign into rock by the entrance that read, ‘Adm. 10c Drop Below’. He took a great pride in showing off his creation, but when asked about his methods Leedskalnin would always dismiss the question with something like, “It’s not difficult if you know how.”

Edward Leedskalnin died in the winter of 1951, aged 64. He closed the castle with a sign that read, ‘Going to the Hospital,’ then took a bus into Miami. He wouldn’t return – first suffering a stroke, before later dying in the hospital from a kidney infection.

Leedskalnin’s Rock Gate Park was left to his closest living relative, a nephew in Michigan. The nephew only kept hold of the folly for a short while though, before selling it to a family from Illinois. It was during the handover that a set of instructions were discovered pointing the way to Leedskalnin’s life savings: $3,500 in hundred dollar bills, accrued from tour fees plus the sale of books and land. In time the Rock Park Gate would be renamed ‘Coral Castle’, and its last change of hands saw it sold to the Coral Castle, Inc. in 1981 for a sum of $175,000. Three years later the site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it has been managed as a tourist attraction ever since.

A Tour of Rock Gate Park

Pulling up into a parking space beside the Coral Castle, it wasn’t hard to see how Edward Leedskalnin managed to maintain an air of mystery about his work. The place was a fortress – high walls of pinkish-grey coral rearing up on all sides, while the square shape of a tower, complete with battlements, peered out over the top.

By the time we’d passed the turnstile however, through the wall and into the ornate gardens beyond, it was clear that the place had been dressed up somewhat since Leedskalnin’s day. There was a gift shop built into one of the outer structures, while a patio inside the castle walls had been decked with a cluster of chairs and tables arranged beneath a large awning to form a café. Beside that, a life-size black and white print of the architect stood cable-tied to a post, inviting us to join a tour of his domain.

We found our guide – or rather, he found us – floating about what ought to have been the ‘nine-ton gate’; except on this occasion the gateway was bare, the gate itself having been removed, the guide explained, for repairs. “An eight-foot chunk of rock, weighing nine short tons,” he says. “Fitted in place so perfectly that you can barely see the cracks around it… but this gate was so well designed, that a child could turn it with just a push of their finger. Imagine that!”

And of course, imagining it was all we could do for now. The gate stopped working in 1986, and it took six men and a 45-ton crane to remove the block and reveal the trick itself: Leedskalnin had drilled a hole down the centre of the slab, inserting a metal shaft which sat in the bearings of an old truck. The parts were replaced, and for a time it worked again… until seizing up again in 2005. Now, in 2014, it had once again stopped working.

By the time a small group had gathered, the guide began his tour around the park.

Walking us through the wonders of the Rock Gate Park, he led us first to the ‘telescope’: smooth holes drilled through two nearby blocks and set with crosshairs to focus on the North Star. We saw a barbecue built from old truck parts, a heart-shaped ‘lovers’ table’, a bathtub, two beds and an obelisk – all hand carved out of coral. Leedskalnin had built a total of twenty-five rocking chairs too, each one formed from a single piece of coral and set with smooth, curving tracks beneath to allow for a gentle rocking motion. One of these – apparently, his favourite – was positioned up high, offering a panoramic view over the park.

We were shown a sundial next, with markings that could be used to deduce the time of day, the season of the year. Another table nearby, meanwhile, had been carved into the shape of Florida state.

Many of the features, our guide informed us, had been designed as an imaginary home for the family that Edward Leedskalnin never had. His twin chairs, twin beds, and heart-shaped table were intended for himself and his Sweet Sixteen; other features included a water well dug into the centre of the park, as well as a sound-cancelling ‘punishment room’ for use in disciplining mischievous children.

The building blocks of the Coral Castle were mostly sourced close to the site, harvested from a sedimentary layer of oolitic limestone which can be found just beneath the topsoil throughout large areas of southern Florida. The blocks were then shaped, and stacked together without the aid of mortar – their weight alone serving to hold the structures in place.

Seeing these blocks up close, touching them, really brought home the incredible feat of engineering that had been involved in the 28 years of construction. The walls alone, 8 foot high by 4 foot thick, were said to weigh 58 tons per section. Each block around the park weighed an average of 15 short tons, and as much as 30 tons for the larger items – while some of the taller monoliths measured anything up to 25 foot in height.

“Do we have any freemasons in this group?” our guide asked in his Southern drawl, as he rounded the corner of an ornate pool set with a six-pointed coral star.

Up until this point I had sensed a certain symbology about the park; a proliferation of pentagrams and the six-pointed Seal of Solomon, combined with prolific astrological themes. From the Polaris telescope on the north wall, to the throne, placed symbolically in the east – and surrounded by carved-coral figures of the planetary bodies – up until now the Coral Castle had felt very much like the blueprint of an otherworldly temple. When our guide revealed that Edward Leedskalnin had indeed been a committed freemason, pointing out details such as the stars, the throne, the set square carved atop an obelisk, the hidden workings of the park suddenly began to fall into place.

It was perfect, of course, that this architect and stone mason was himself a student of freemasonry; a system which purports to teach ancient mysticism through the allegorical study of the tools and techniques of stone masons. There are those who claim that freemasonry’s secrets date back to the architects of King Solomon’s Temple – secrets which had originated in Egypt and supposedly been instrumental in the construction of the great pyramids themselves.

The official website of the Coral Castle states, “if anyone ever questioned Ed about how he moved the blocks of coral, Ed would only reply that he understood the laws of weight and leverage well.” Meanwhile, another source quotes him as saying he had “discovered the secrets of the pyramids”.

Our tour rounded up with a look at Leedskalnin’s own living quarters: inside the two-storey castle tower that stands in the corner of his park. Here a flight of stone steps led up and into the architect’s chamber, a simple wood-floored room that looked out over his creation from on high. Our guide showed us the hanging chair in which Leedskalnin had slept, as well as a selection of tools – saws, scythes and chisels – used in fashioning the features of the Rock Gate Park.

Perhaps most interesting of all these relics, however, was the crude device lurking in one corner of the mason’s quarters which was identified as a ‘magnetic flywheel’ – a mechanism which, as I’d later discover, some contemporary theorists believe Leedskalnin used to bend the laws of physical reality as we know them.

The Secrets of the Pyramids

The most remarkable thing about the Coral Castle is that to this day nobody knows exactly how Ed Leedskalnin did it. In 1986 it took six men and a crane to repair the nine-ton gate; and yet this single man, and a small man at that, had been able to stack 14-ton slabs unaided. While many of the theories floating around may sound somewhat far-fetched, the castle nevertheless stands today as evidence to Leedskalnin’s ingenious design.

Some of the more outlandish theories – supernatural powers, alien technology – are further fuelled by an account from several local teenagers who claimed to have spied on Ed working, and witnessed coral blocks floating into the air “like hydrogen balloons.”

It is known that Leedskalnin used little more than hand tools in his work, although he did sometimes make reference to a device he referred to as his “perpetual motion holder.” In his 1945 pamphlet on Magnetic Current (available for free download here), Leedskalnin hypothesised that gravity was an illusion masking the true nature of magnetic attraction between all objects. In his own words;

[Because] the magnet can be shifted and concentrated… you can see that the metal is not the real magnet. The real magnet is the substance that is circulating in the metal. Each particle in the substance is an individual magnet by itself, and [contains] both North and South Pole individual magnets. They are so small they can pass through anything. In fact they can pass through metal easier than through the air. They are in constant motion… running one kind of magnets {sic} against the other kind, and if guided in the right channels they possess perpetual power.

Developing this idea, the documentary series Extreme Mysteries offered one possible solution to the puzzle. It suggested that Leedskalnin had found a way to reverse the magnetic pole within individual objects – causing them to be repelled, rather than attracted, by the earth itself.

This process, they explained, might have been achieved using a system of flywheels, radio transmitters, relay boxes and charged electrical coils wrapped around the blocks. I won’t explain the full workings of the theory here, but if you’re interested I suggest you watch the video for yourself.

The theory would answer the supposed eye-witness reports of levitating blocks, while the reports of neighbours, who had allegedly heard Leedskalnin ‘singing’ to his coral, might be explained then as the sound of high frequency radio transmissions. One theorist interviewed in the program suggested that Ed’s ‘punishment chamber’ with its sound-cancelling walls had been designed to test such noise emitting devices.

Others have speculated that an answer to the riddle might be found in Ed Leedskalnin’s own writings. During his life he produced and sold five pamphlets: three on the subject of magnetism; one, titled Mineral, Vegetable and Animal Life, detailing his thoughts on biological processes; and the third pamphlet, A Book in Every Home. This final volume was broken down to cover the topics of his Sweet Sixteen, plus commentary on Leedskalnin’s Domestic and Political views.

In these pamphlets, pages were often left blank with an invitation for the reader to make their own notes. Some have seen this as indicative of a code or cipher in the text itself; an idea that finds support in the cryptic nature of Leedskalnin’s writing, which features suggestive lines such as: “This writing is lined up so when you read it you look East.”

Even Leedskalnin’s stated inspiration – his Sweet Sixteen – has been brought to question by those investigating his work. One Jon De’Pew has speculated that the title is not a reference to any lost love, but rather its significance can be found in sacred geometry; after all, in his own writing Leedskalnin had described the words as more of a theme, an ‘ideal’, than a physical, human reality.

I rather liked this idea, so I did some research of my own into the sacred and esoteric connotations of the number 16. I found that in many numerological studies of Biblical scripture, the number 16 has been associated with themes of ‘love’. There are 16 names given for God in the Old Testament, for example, which expressly signify His love for the children of Israel. Meanwhile, when Paul writes his first letter to the Corinthian church he lists 16 distinct qualities to God’s love.

But there are rational explanations for the work, as well. For example, in 2012, John Martin released a book titled Coral Castle Construction: How One Man Created a Megalithic Wonder, which set out to debunk all of the myths surrounding the Coral Castle and explain how Edward Leedskalnin was able to move all 1,100 tons of coral into place using only fundamental engineering principles.

Whatever the truth of the matter though, whatever technique was employed and regardless of the significance of Leedskalnin’s own pseudo-scientific and esoteric ramblings, one thing is for certain; the motto he carved into stone above the entrance to the Coral Castle all those 60 years ago, is as true today as it was back then.

“You will be seeing unusual accomplishment,” it reads.