Balts are hardly known for their fiery passion and grand romantic gestures, but one Latvian man nearly 100 years ago, built a mysterious monument to his lost love. A magnetic and supernatural mystery which still continues to this day, of all places, in Florida.
As you move south down Florida’s peninsula, you become more and more boxed in by the imposing Everglades National Park. By the time you reach Homestead, Florida you only have a few dozen miles of “civilization” from the Atlantic Ocean to about 200,000 alligators in the surrounding swamps. In this area of South Florida you have waved goodbye to the famous beaches full of suntan seekers in Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale, or Boca Raton. This is definitely not a retirement community made famous by hit television shows such as The Golden Girls or Seinfeld. This is also the area of Florida hit hardest by Hurricane Andrew more than two decades ago and, as you drive along, it is like much of southeastern America: full of houses, strip malls, and palm trees. Only about 8 percent of the population is over 65 and 51 percent of people in this region use Spanish as their first language. Homestead’s population has doubled in the past decade. Thus, this is truly a city of immigrants, making it all the more fitting that their most famous resident was born far across the Atlantic, in Latvia.
Edvards Liedskalniņš was born in the Stāmeriena parish in Vidzeme in 1887, back when the area was still called Livonia. In 1913, at age 26, he was left at the altar by his young, sixteen year-old fiancé, Agnes Skuvst. He would forever refer to her as “Sweet Sixteen.” Looking at the situation through a modern lens you cannot help but sympathize with Skuvst’s desire to not be married at such a young age to a much older man. Shortly after Liedskalniņš was left at the altar, he packed his bag, hit the seas for Canada, and became a lumberjack, as one would do with a broken heart! A few years later, he contracted tuberculosis, and as was the extent of medicine at the time, it was recommended that he move to a warmer, more humid climate, thus prompting his move to Florida and his date with infamy.
Now, I know a thing or two about making a grand gesture. I once tried to impress a girl I liked by telling her I was going to make a movie with her as a character, not knowing that this was literally the storyline of Dawson’s Creek. Years later I asked this girl, my future wife, to marry me on the steps of the Brīvības Monument on our spring trip to Riga. Liedskalniņš’ work makes those gestures seem as tired as a Hallmark card and a small box of chocolates on Valentine’s Day. Over the course of 28 years, from 1923 to his death in 1951, Liedskalniņš created a sprawling castle constructed from the limestone coral rock that dominates the South Florida geology, all in honor of his lost love, “Sweet Sixteen.” He carved walls, pillars, monuments, fountains, chairs, and a sundial out of the porous rock. Latvian folk symbols adorn the structure including an auseklis in the middle of one of the fountains. For the price of a dime the public could visit and pass by a carved sign that reads, in slightly broken English: “You will be seeing unusual accomplishment – ED.”
The most impressive single piece is a rotating door said to weigh three tons on its own. How was Liedskalniņš able to move that into place? It might have been possible for a large group of people to move it but could it be done by a single man, working only at night, without any modern construction equipment and few witnesses?
This is where the Coral Castle’s story gets a little weird. The castle was originally constructed in Florida City, FL and moved to Homestead in 1936, about three kilometers away. Liedskalniņš only moved the stones at night and without any assistance. When asked how he accomplished this, he would explain he was able to use magnets to transport and place the stones. He even wrote a short pamphlet, Magnetic Current, which explained his methods and his thoughts on magnetism and its properties. All this has given the Coral Castle a mystical feeling; as if you are visiting an American Stonehenge.
Some claim the castle is connected to one of the corners of the Bermuda Triangle. Other theories posit that the materials are part of the lost world of Atlantis. Still more theories suggest that Liedskalniņš had harnessed the powers of antigravity.
This mystery and Liedskalniņš’ compelling story has inspired the work of many artists. Billy Idol composed “Sweet Sixteen” about Liedskalniņš’ life and the accompanying video features images of the Coral Castle. The song “Latvian Bride” by the Brooklyn-based band, Piñataland, features audio of Liedskalniņš talking about the Castle. Interested in seeing the Coral Castle without traveling to Florida? Then check out the gloriously titled cavewoman adventure, The Wild Women of Wongo, which was filmed at the site in 1958. Clearly, the castle has influenced and entertained countless people through the decades but sadly it was never seen by the woman who inspired it all, Sweet Sixteen.
Photos by Matt Flaten