Sunday, April 12, 2015

Coral castle

Coral Castle is a stone structure created by the Latvian American eccentric Edward Leedskalnin (1887–1951) north of the city of Homestead, Florida in Miami-Dade County at the intersection of South Dixie Highway (U.S. 1) and SW 157th Avenue. The structure comprises numerous megalithic stones (mostly limestone formed from coral), each weighing several tons. It currently serves as a privately operated tourist attraction. Coral Castle is noted for legends surrounding its creation that claim it was built single-handedly by Leedskalnin using reverse magnetism and/or supernatural abilities to move and carve numerous stones weighing many tons.



According to the Coral Castle's own promotional material, Edward Leedskalnin was jilted by his 16-year-old fiancée Agnes Skuvst in Latvia, just one day before the wedding. Leaving for America, he came down with allegedly terminal tuberculosis, but spontaneously healed, stating that magnets had some effect on his disease.


Edward spent more than 28 years building the Coral Castle, refusing to allow anyone to view him while he worked. A few teenagers claimed to have witnessed his work, reporting that he had caused the blocks of coral to move like hydrogen balloons. The only tool that Leedskalnin spoke of using was a "perpetual motion holder".


Leedskalnin originally built the castle, which he named Rock Gate Park, in Florida City, Florida around 1923. He purchased the land from Ruben Moser whose wife assisted him when he had a very bad bout with tuberculosis. Florida City, which borders the Everglades, is the southernmost city in the United States that is not on an island. It was an extremely remote location with very little development at the time. The castle remained in Florida City until about 1936 when Leedskalnin decided to move and take the castle with him to its final location on 28655 South Dixie Highway Miami, FL 33033. The Coral Castle website states that he chose to move in order to protect his privacy when discussion about developing land in the area of the castle started. He spent three years moving the Coral Castle structures 10 miles (16 km) north from Florida City to its current location in Homestead, Florida.


Leedskalnin continued to work on the castle up until his death in 1951. The coral pieces that are part of the newer castle, not among those transported from the original location, were quarried on the property only a few feet away from the southern wall. When Leedskalnin became ill in November 1951, he put a sign on the door of the front gate "Going to the Hospital" and took the bus to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. Leedskalnin suffered a stroke at one point, either before he left for the hospital or at the hospital. He died twenty-eight days later of Pyelonephritis (a kidney infection) at the age of 64. His death certificate noted that his death was a result of "uremia; failure of kidneys, as a result of the infection and abscess."


While the property was being investigated, $3,500 was found among Leedskalnin's personal belongings. Leedskalnin had made his income from conducting tours, selling pamphlets about various subjects (including magnetic currents) and the sale of a portion of his 10-acre (4.0 ha) property for the construction of U.S. Route 1. Having no will, the castle became the property of his closest living relative in America, a nephew from Michigan named Harry.

The Coral Castle website reports that the nephew was in poor health and he sold the castle to an Illinois family in 1953. However, this story differs from the obituary of a former Coral Castle owner, Julius Levin, a retired jeweler from Chicago, Illinois. The obituary states Levin had purchased the land from the state of Florida in 1952 and may not have been aware there was even a castle on the land. The new owners changed the name of Rock Gate Park to Coral Castle and turned it into a tourist attraction.In January 1981, Levin sold the castle to Coral Castle, Inc. for $175,000. The company retains ownership today.In 1984, the property was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was added under the name of "Rock Gate", but the name on the list was changed to "Coral Castle" in 2011 .

The Castle


The grounds of Coral Castle consist of 1,100 short tons of stones in the form of walls, carvings, furniture and a castle tower. Commonly referred to as being made up of coral, it is made of oolite, also known as oolitic limestone. Oolite is a sedimentary rock composed of small spherical grains of concentrically layered carbonate that may include localized concentrations of fossil shells and coral. Oolite is found throughout southeastern Florida from Palm Beach County to the Florida Keys.Oolite is often found beneath only several inches of topsoil, such as at the Coral Castle site.


The stones are fastened together without mortar. They are set on top of each other using their weight to keep them together. The craftsmanship detail is so skillful and the stones are connected with such precision that no light passes through the joints. The 8-foot (2.4 m) tall vertical stones that make up the perimeter wall have a uniform height. Even with the passage of decades and a direct hit on August 24, 1992, by the Category 5 Hurricane Andrew, the stones have not shifted.


Many of the features and carvings of the castle are notable. Among them are a two-story castle tower that served as Leedskalnin's living quarters , an accurate sundial, a Polaris telescope, an obelisk, a barbecue, a water well, a fountain, celestial stars and planets, and numerous pieces of furniture. The furniture pieces include a heart-shaped table, a table in the shape of Florida, twenty-five rocking chairs, chairs resembling crescent moons, a bathtub, beds and a throne.


Tree Circus

The Circus Trees were originally grown and created by Axel Erlandson (pictured at right in his Living Chair), who was born in 1884 to Swedish parents. They immigrated to the United States in 1886. During his early years he grew up in Minnesota but by age 17 his family had moved to the Hilmar Colony near Turlock, CA. Newcomers to the area faced many problems including dry, desert-like land and little water. However, canals soon brought water and a new need arose for the land to be level for irrigation. Erlandson taught himself land surveying, among other skills. If he had continued with this line of work, the Circus Trees may have never existed.


Tree Circus circa 1957This botanical adventure began in Hilmar, CA a little before Axel’s daughter, Wilma, was born in 1928. The “Four-Legged Giant” four Sycamore saplings grafted into a 6 foot square cupola, was his first major project.


Inspired by observing a natural graft between two trees, he began to shape his trees. Erlandson’s intricate grafting techniques resulted in woven wonders made from threads of living wood. Straight tree trunks and branches were carefully bent, rather than cut, and became complex and compound designs in shapes like hearts, lightning bolts, basket weaves and rings. Erlandson claimed to be divinely inspired and spent over 40 years of his life shaping and grafting the bodies and arms of trees. He could control the rate of growth, slowing it down or speeding it up to blend his designs to perfection.


Mark Primack & the Commando Gardeners July 1983In 1945, Wilma and her mother, Leona, took a trip to the Santa Cruz area and during their stay visited the “Mystery Spot”. When they returned home Leona suggested Axel’s trees should be moved there. He must have thought this a grand idea, for he soon bought a ¾-acre lot in Scotts Valley.


The following winter Erlandson dug up his trees, pruning the roots severely and wrapping them in peat moss and burlap sacks to prepare them for the move, over 100 miles away. Replanting in Scotts Valley was complete by April 1, 1946. A year later Axel opened the “Tree Circus” so locals and tourists could experience the wonder of the “World’s Strangest Trees.” It’s said that when children would ask him how he made the trees, he would say “Oh, I talk to them.”

Moving the Four-Legged GiantBy 1957, Erlandson had created more than 70 unique trees. Ripley’s Believe it or Not featured them in the 1940’s and 50’s. In 1957 a LIFE magazine article gave the trees notoriety. The collection of unusual trees appeared in publications often in the United States and other parts of the world.

Moving the Double SpectacleIn 1963, Axel sold his beloved Circus Trees, and after that his health declined. He died of congestive heart failure in 1964. The trees had many owners after Axel’s death. For a while, the trees were part of a Scotts Valley attraction known as “The Lost World”. At one point, even Disney became interested in them. But the tree’s owner asked such an enormously high price that they declined the sale. Imagine if our trees had ended up in Disneyland!

Around 1976, a local Santa Cruz architect, Mark Primack, heard about the ailing trees and eventually led an effort to save them, even risking arrest for trespassing in order to water and feed them. In 1977 the property was again sold with only 40 trees surviving. Pictured above right are the Commando Gardeners with the "Double Spectacle" tree in July 1983. Keeping as many alive as he could, Primack’s efforts finally took root when they attracted the attention of tree lover and Gilroy Gardens founder, Michael Bonfante.

Moving the Basket TreeDue to Michael's creative vision, 29 of the remaining coiled, scalloped and spiral shaped Sycamores, Box Elders, Ash and Spanish Cork trees were saved. During the winter of 1984 they were carefully hand dug and boxed, their roots trimmed, then watered and fertilized to revive the trees. On November 10, 1985 during the "80-Ton Tree Caper", they were hauled over 50 miles of mountains. More than 20 municipal, county and state agencies were involved in the permitting process and the ultimate move to their final home at Bonfante Gardens Theme Park, now known as Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park. Pictured being loaded for the left is the "Basket Tree"; above left is the "Four-Legged Giant" and above right is the "Double Spectacle".

Moving the Double SpectacleThere are 25 Circus Trees still alive today. Ten of these amazing natural wonders are featured in Dixie Cup Plaza near the turnstile area at the front entrance of our Park. Nine of them are planted in various areas inside the Park. The remaining six trees are behind the scenes and most are not viewable to the public. Recently, the "Needle & Thread", "Almost Circle Cage" and "Flat 3/4 Round Fan" were planted near the Operations Building, and can be glimpsed when leaving the Park or if parking in Lot B. Pictured to the right is Michael with the "Four-Legged Giant".

For more information on the life and tales of the Circus Trees or Axel Erlandson, visit our gift shops for a copy of My Father Talked to Trees, a special publication written by Axel's daughter, Wilma Erlandson. If you would like to see each of our trees in person, pick up a Guide to the Circus Trees brochure from our Welcome Center, located in Sugar Plum Plaza.

These trees represent one of the most visible demonstrations of the love of nature by man—first to create and nourish, then to maintain, and finally to preserve and cherish these stunning creatures. With a lot of love and a bit of luck, Axel Erlandson's Circus Trees will continue to awe children as well as adults who can appreciate the time and talent involved in creating this tribute to nature.

For More information


Born: 25 December 1861 in Allahabad
Died: 12 November 1946 in Varanasi
Award: Bharat Ratna in 2014
Known for: Role in Indian independence movement, President of Indian National Congress, Founder of Banaras Hindu University (BHU), One of the founders of Scouting in India, Founders of English-newspaper ‘The Leader’
Profession: Educationist, Journalist, Lawyer, Politician, Freedom Activist.


Born  in a family of six brothers and two sisters. His grandfather Pt Premdhar and father Pt Baijnath were Sanskrit scholars. His father, Pt Baijnath, was also an excellent Kathavacak (narrator of the stories from Bhagawat). After initial training in Sanskrit, Malaviyaji joined the Saraswati School for study in English. He passed his B.A. from Muir Central College in 1884. He was married in 1878 to Kumari Devi of Mirzapur.


Initially, Malaviya wanted to be a good Kathavacak like his father. However, due to poverty in the house, he was forced to join the government school as a teacher. After completing his graduation and the job of a teacher in 1884, he pursued his education from 1889 and passed the LLB course in 1891. He practiced in the district court and then in the High Court. He was the Congress President for a record of four times- in 1909 (Lahore), in 1918 (Delhi), in 1930 (Delhi) and in 1932 (Calcutta). He was catapulted into the political arena immediately after his first moving speech at the second Congress session held in Kolkata in 1886.  

An educationist with a vision, Malaviya's main achievement was the establishment of the Banaras Hindu University. Today, Malaviya is most remembered as the founder of the university, the largest residential university in Asia and one of the largest in the world, having over 12,000 students across arts, sciences, engineering and technology at Varanasi in 1916. Malaviya is also remembered for his stellar role in the Independence movement and his espousal of Hindu nationalism. He was one of the initial leaders of the right-wing Hindu Mahasabha.

Malaviya was an important figure in the non-cooperation movement, but he was opposed to Congress' participation in the Khilafat movement. In April 1932, he was arrested along with 450 other Congress volunteers in Delhi while participating in the civil disobedience movement. In the same year, he also initiated a manifesto urging the "Buy Indian" movement in India.However, a disenchanted Malaviya then left the Congress party to form the Congress Nationalist Party along with Madhav Shrihari Aney. The party contested the 1934 elections to the central legislature and won 12 seats. He bid farewell to active politics in 1937. 

Malaviya has also worked towards the eradication of the caste system, and for this he was temporarily expelled from the Shi Gaud Brahmin samaj. He even organised a mass of 200 Dalit people, including the Dalit leader PN Rajbhoj to demand entry into the Kalaram Temple on a Rath Yatra day.  Malviya was one of the founders of Scouting in India. He was also the founder of the highly influential English newspaper, The Leader, which was published from Allahabad in 1909. He was also the Chairman of Hindustan Times from 1924 to 1946. His efforts resulted in the launch of its Hindi edition in 1936. 


Incidentally, Malaviya's grandson, J Girdhar Malviya, was one of the proposers of Narendra Modi's candidature from Varanasi during the Lok Sabha elections. Soon after Modi became prime minister, Malaviya's Varanasi-based relatives had thanked Modi for considering to confer the Bharat Ratna on him.