14 March 2015

The Outsider Art of Edward Leedskalnin, Coral Castle, Homestead, Florida

That Ed Leedskalnin (1887–1951) was a highly unusual character is without question, as is the fact that he had – or at least that he developed – a very sophisticated and original brain. Ed was born in Latvia, where he at the age of twenty-six was due to marry the sixteen-year-old Agnes Scuffs, who jilted him on the day before the wedding was due to take place because she considered him too old.

Agnes's decision left Ed so devastated that he left Latvia and started working in Canada and California, working in highly physically demanding jobs such as the lumber industry, although he was only five foot tall and weighed just one hundred pounds. Toward 1920 he moved to the south of Florida, originally buying very cheaply a small area of land in Florida City about ten miles south of the present Coral Castle, which was initially called 'Rock Gate Park'.

In Florida City Ed began making carvings out of the coral stone, supposedly dedicating his work to his lost Agnes, whom he named 'Sweet Sixteen'. He later received help from a man with a tractor in moving his carvings to their present location, although no one is known to have seen him working on the actual carvings, which he is said to have carried out in secrecy at night, often involving moving huge and very weighty blocks around. On his own. When asked how he could have achieved this, he simply said he had an understanding of 'the laws of weight and leverage'. When asked why he did it he seems to have gone silent. This I can understand: exactly what can a football lover, or a television addict, or a stamp collector, etc, give in reply to the same unanswerable question? But at least Ed Leenskalnin's work, even if essentially gloriously useless, is a wonderful testament to self-education and of course sheer eccentricity.

Ed also wrote several publications, the longest being A Book in Every Home: Containing Three Subjects: Ed's Sweet Sixteen, Domestic and Political Views (1936), plus several pamphlets on magnetism. Billy Idol's song 'Sweet Sixteen' was inspired by Ed's preoccupation.

Ed died in his sleep from a stroke at the Jackson Memorial Hospital, Miami, at the age of sixty-four, after leaving a note on his door saying that he'd gone to hospital. He never married.

A life-size cut-out photo of Ed Leedskalnin greets visitors to Coral Castle.

Ed charged a dime for entrance to his little domain.

And this is the Three-Ton Gate entrance to Coral Castle, the actual gate to which will be revealed very shortly after a brief digression.

Basking in the Floridian heat and barely visible in the previous photo at the top of the stone and immediately above the right of the window hole is an African rainbow lizard or amaga, which is not a native to the region but probably an escapee from  a lizard-dealing neighbour. The species has now established itself in the immediate area. A splendid creature this is, and no doubt very used to humans.

'NOTICE
BE CAREFUL
ANYTHING YOU
DO ON THESE
PREMISES IS AT
YOUR OWN RISK'
 
Just Ed trying to cover himself.

The Three-Ton Gate seen from the inside. The triangle weighs about six thousand pounds, and is easily revolved by hand. It is still lubricated through a hole in the center.

Nine-Ton Gate, on the other hand, has no such lubricating system, and although until a number of years ago – see the Jarvis Cocker Youtube clip – it could be moved with one finger, for the preservation of both any user's health and the preservation of the structure itself, this is now out of use.

The Polaris Telescope was built in 1940.

The crossed wires of the structure can be seen through a hole in the wall opposite, and apparently Ed built his sundial (see below) by means of his observations from the telescope. As the science is beyond me, I won't even attempt to explain. 

Ed's sundial, on top of which stands the piece of furniture of which he was very proud – the first coral rocking chair he ever built.

And the sundial itself, from which it can be seen that the time was about 12:30.

The Moon Fountain, with the crescent shapes (weighing eighteen tons each) representing the first and final quarters of the moon. The circular shape in front represents the full moon, and is lined with concrete to prevent the water seeping out of the porous coral stone.
 
The planets, perhaps the most photographed of Coral Castle's structures.

Ed – who had no electricity – positioned his reading chairs to gain full advantage of the sun. These structures look pretty uncomfortable, although I can say from experience of sitting in the one in the foreground here that it is amazingly relaxing to sit in.

The chairs around here were rocking chairs, until concern for safety decreed that they should be grounded: the previous danger to toes is perhaps best left unthought of. They are grouped around a representation of a rock map of Florida.

A clearer view of Florida, Panhandle and all.

That 'all' including Lake Okeechobee!

The Feast of Love Table, shaped like a heart. Coral Castle usually has a wedding on Valentine's Day, and although no lover of either weddings or Valentine's Day I fully support any revenue coming into Coral Castle, a feast not only of eccentricity, but also brilliance.

Ed's obelisk. Yeah, it's so easy (but so cheap) to see the phallic in this, so let's drop it. The top is in the shape of the star of Latvia, and the obelisk is sunk six feet into the earth.

'MADE 1928
MOVED 1939 [?]
BORN 1887
LATVIA'

Ed had no running water, therefore the need for a well, in which he also stored food.

Ed's bath, which is tiny to go with its occupant.

 
Some refer to this as his barbecue.


Ed's tool room beneath his living quarters.
 
 'THE MOST FREQUENT QUESTION OVERHEARD HERE IS "HOW DID ONE MAN WITHOUT
ASSISTANCE CONSTRUCT THE CORAL CASTLE?" THE ANSWER IS: WITH AN UNCANNY
KNOWLEDGE OF THE LAWS OF LEVERAGE AND BALANCE, ENGINEERING AND SCULPTURE
AND WITH THE AID OF SIMPLE TOOLS, METAL FALLS (BLOCK AND TACKLE),
ROLLERS, JACKS, WEDGES, SLINGS, CABLES, SLEDGES AND CHISELS – AND ABOVE ALL,
INFINITE PATIENCE AND TREMENDOUS IMAGINATION.
 
THE TOOLS DISPLAYED HERE – MANY MADE FROM OLD AUTO PARTS – WERE USED BY
EDWARD LEEDSKALNIN IN BUILDING THE CORAL CASTLE.
 
WHILE TODAY THE CORAL CASTLE IS A PRECIOUS WORK OF ART IT IS BELIEVED
THAT LEEDSKALNIN'S COST WAS MINIMAL SINCE HE EXCAVATED THE CORAL ROCK
FROM THE PREMISES AND RECYCLED OLD AUTO PARTS.
 
HE LIVED ON THE SECOND FLOOR OF THIS BUILDING IN A VERY SPARTAN FASHION,
HAD NO ELECTRICITY OR RUNNING WATER. HE SPENT TIME IN LATER YEARS IN THE
STUDY OF MAGNETISM, ATROMOMY AND RADIO, AND WAS SEEN OFTEN  IN THE
HOMESTEAD PUBLIC LIBRARY. HE DIED IN DEC. 1951 AT THE AGE OF 1964.
 
THE CORAL CASTLE IS PRIVATELY OWNED AND HAS BEEN OPEN TO THE PUBLIC
SINCE 1953.'
 
Sixteen steps lead up to Ed's sleeping quarters.


The bed is extremely primitive.

A child's wooden rocking chair.

The tube is where Ed kept his money, and on his death was found to contain $3600. Some of his money would have come from the sale of land.

His toilet arrangements were very basic indeed.

We were surprised and delighted to see that Coral Castle at the time  of our visit was attracting so many visitors. This is surely one of Florida's most essential places to see, much more interesting than the usual places people flock to.

My other Edward Leedskalnin post:

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Edward Leedskalnin: Magnetic Current

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