Ladies, gentlemen and others! Roll up roll up! Prepare to be Amazed!! What we are about to experience today is something akin to the pyramids at Giza, or England's Stonehenge or, I kid you not the Inca temples in South America! Roll up and be astounded right here in beautiful Homestead!
The story goes that a Latvian stone mason known in the United States as Ed (pictured below), fell in love and was rejected so, as you do, he built a stone monument to his lost love. The thing is no one knows how the diminutive immigrant pulled off this slightly bizarre feat of construction.
Ed Leedskalnin stood five feet tall and weighed 100 pounds but managed to create a stone garden piling blocks on top of blocks and sculpting statuary weighing dozens of tons. All by himself he labored by night so no one could watch him work and when asked how he did it he said other people could figure it out just as he, and the builders of the pyramids had done.
If you take a turn off Highway One, a long strip mall of dreary modern shopping outlets and ugly used car lots leading out of Homestead and into the southern suburbs of Miami you will find a neat trim attraction that charges $18 for each adult to participate in the mandatory tour. No touching, no sitting and no leaving the tour group.
With the end of our time in Florida fast approaching we have a list of places we have managed to overlook among all our travels, and this was one such. I was last here forty years ago and mostly what I remember is a grassy field with weird coral structures and a giant slab of rock spinning on its axis. The rock is still there but the axis has seized up.
Ed was born in in Riga, the capital of Latvia in 1887 and at the age of 26 he chose to fall in love with the appropriately named Agnes Scuffs who rejected the advances of the man who decided to emigrate to the United States to get over the pain of being stood up at the altar by his Sweet Sixteen. He was actually ten years older than Scuffs who it is said never came to the US to see the monument built in her name.
He used hand tools still stored on the site to build Rock Gate Park in Florida City but before long he figured the new highway being built to Miami would attract traffic so he hired a youngster with a truck and moved his statuary up to the ten acres he bought in North Homestead.
Our guide Tom marched us through the various parts of the structure explaining Ed moved from California to Florida for his health as he had tuberculosis. He died at Jackson Memorial in 1951 after he closed the Castle to visitors and rode the bus to Miami, (he never learned to drive). He was 64 and he left the castle and thirty-five hundred bucks to his nephew who had no idea what to do with the castle and sold it to the family that owns it to this day.
The rock walls tended to funnel the persistent easterly breeze and in the bits where we were shielded it got quite warm. The umbrellas you see were offered to the guests to shield themselves a little from the sun and they were very popular much to my annoyance...but I waited at the back to try to snag a few unimpeded views of a place I probably shan't live long enough to see again if I come here every 40 years...
The big blockhouse in the corner became Ed's home after he moved out of a wooden shack he had built on the grounds next to his castle.
This place is modern and has you under observation. Don't sit in the seats! Tom pointed out coral rock (oolite and limestone actually) is sharp and will do you no good if you slip. Imagine sliding down a dirty ragged razor blade.
Ed had his own imagination and his own view of the world nicely expressed in rock with all sorts of oddities pointed out as we circled the place.
A stone in a heart shape:
An obelisk weighing 36 tons if I remember correctly winched into place by Ed with a masonic star on the top:
A hat surrounded by grass:
I told you this place was eccentric. Big moon, little moon Mars and Uranus shown in silhouette:
His first project was to build a well to get access to fresh water.
We tourists can be relied on to muck stuff up, leaning over the rail and dropping our lives into the void:
The chairs consist of a throne for the man, chairs for the family with the least comfortable reserved for Agnes' mother, harty-har-har for the mother-in-law joke:
There was also a sundial drawn to Ed's own specifications:
One true peculiarity that surprised me was that dogs are welcome in the castle. We left Rusty in the van on the bed under the air conditioner which runs off the batteries/ He was comfortable while we sweated. especially as he like me is not fond of crowds at the best of times.
A sightline to the North Star. I guess some days Ed had to keep himself amused doing some stone carving for fun:
And so we passed through, no returns allowed so I lingered for a second trying to capture the serenity that Ed must have enjoyed.
Tom the patient guide. He didn't even hang around for a tip which surprised me.
One last oddity: when engineers tried to replace the pivoting mechanism of the Rock Gate they failed, even after scraping the rock to allow the gate to resume swiveling. The gate is now locked in the open position.
Worth a visit. Almost as weird as the mermaids of Weeki Wachee.
Rusty hopped out after rubbing the sleep out of his eyes.
Then he dived for the nearest shade.
The journey resumed: