In Homestead, Fla., not far from Miami and off the South Dixie Highway, sits a world-famous structure called the Coral Castle. Though not really a castle — and not really made of coral — it is nonetheless an amazing achievement. More than 1,000 tons of the sedimentary rock (oolite limestone) was quarried and sculpted into a variety of shapes, including slab walls, tables, chairs, a crescent moon, a water fountain and a sundial.
“You are about to see an engineering marvel that has been compared with Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids of Egypt,” touts an information sheet available at the site. Many sources claim that the castle, originally called Rock Gate Park, is scientifically inexplicable. According to the attraction’s website, “Coral Castle has baffled scientists, engineers and scholars since its opening in 1923.” It has appeared countless times in books, magazines, and television shows. Rock musician Billy Idol even wrote a hit song about the place, “Sweet Sixteen.” The park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
For decades, the park featured a perfectly balanced stone gate that, despite its weight, would easily swing open with a strong breeze or the push of a finger. How it worked remained a mystery until 1986 when it stopped moving. When the gate was removed it was revealed that it rotated on a metal shaft and rested on a truck bearing.
As strange and amazing as the site is, its history is equally improbable. It was created by just one man working alone for 28 years until his death in 1951. He was a Latvian immigrant named Edward Leedskalnin who stood, it is said, 5 feet tall (1.5 meters) and weighed 100 lbs. (45 kilograms). Legend has it that he was inspired to build the structure after being abandoned by his 16-year-old sweetheart on what was to be their wedding day. Spurned by his lost love, he set out to prove to her — and the world — that he could do something remarkable, and make something of himself despite his poverty and fourth-grade education. And he succeeded spectacularly.