He weighed only 100 pounds and stood a mere five-foot tall, but Ed Leedskalnin may have been the world's strongest man.
It's either that, or he was an unfathomable engineering genius. You can decide as you walk through his house. The house Ed built in the Florida Keys is certainly one of the man-made wonders of the world.
Let's start at the front door. It's a nine-ton block of coral and it rotates on two rusty iron spikes driven into the top and bottom of the stone. A child can spin the door with one finger, yet you can't slide this section of your favorite daily newspaper between the stone door and the wall in which it is imbedded.
Ed built his 2,500-square-foot house using only massive slabs of coral. But, he did it alone, only at night, and used only hand tools, which he built himself from scrapped auto parts. He used those same tools to build his furniture too, again out of blocks of coral. The house, called Coral Castle, stands in Homestead, Fla. It was the only building in that city left undamaged when Hurricane Andrew blew through in August 1992, destroying more than 5,000 homes, wiping out the Homestead Air Force Base and killing a dozen people. And it has merely laughed at the latest hurricanes that ripped Florida.
Engineers and scientists have never been able to explain how Ed built his house. He took the secret to his grave when he died in 1951 at age 64. He simply said that he understood leverage, balance and the energy of the universe. Nobody ever saw Ed building his house, even though he moved much of it 10 miles from Florida City where he first started building his castle in 1926. Ten years after starting, he learned a new subdivision would be built near him, so he picked up his house in pieces and moved it north to Homestead where he continued building. Neighbours saw him using a friend's tractor to pull the huge stone slabs along the highway on the back of an old inoperable truck, but nobody saw him load or unload the massive coral slabs, hew them out the ground, or erect them as a house.
The walls of his home are slabs of coral eight feet high, four feet long and three feet thick. His home weighs more than 1,100 tons. His chairs weigh a ton each and there is one rocking chair. His dining room table weighs five tons and is shaped like the state of Florida and includes a water basin where Lake Okeechobee is located on the map.
To refrigerate his food, Ed used the cool water of the well in the centre of his home. You walk down a winding coral staircase to reach the water. Ed's home even has a telescope, of sorts.
He erected a 40-foot-high obelisk that weighs 12 tons and has a small hole drilled near the top. Another obelisk standing 12 feet above the ground also has a small hole drilled near the top. When you line up the hole in the smaller obelisk with the hole in the taller rock you'll always be looking at the North Star.
Ed spent 26 years building his home. He didn't have a paying job, but supported himself charging visitors 25 cents to tour his on-going creation. There was no roof on Ed's house so he slept in a small room in the house, which had a roof of scrapped lumber. His tool shed and workshop are below his bedroom.
Ed laboured with a broken heart. He built his castle in hopes it would attract his true love to come and live with him. He was 26 years old and living in his native Riga, Latvia, when he proposed in 1913 to his 16-year-old girl friend, Agnes Scuff. Agnes rebuffed his proposal and Ed, broken hearted, left for Canada. He worked as a lumberjack in Quebec and was going to build his love castle there, but decided the natural energy wasn't right. He eventually found the correct energy flow in the Florida Keys. Agnes however never saw the castle, or Ed after breaking his heart. He died of cancer alone in a Miami hospital and his home was bequeathed to a nephew he rarely saw. It was soon sold to the people who now operate it as one of the most unusual landmarks on the continent.
It costs $9.95 US to tour Ed's house today and you'll come away marveling at the man, his house and his understanding of the energy of the universe.
Patrick Brennan is a veteran travel, business writer/photographer based in Guelph. His credits include writing for a chain of 60 newspapers with 1.6 million readers. He was a staff writer/photographer at the Toronto Star for 32 years.
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