"" Writer's Wanderings: February 2023

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Coral Castle--The Tower, The Gate and The Tourists

While all the furniture it seemed Ed Leedskalnin would need he made out of coral rock, his tower housed his bed and a few other necessities. While we couldn't go up the sixteen stairs (carved from a single stone) which some think are for his sweet sixteen almost bride, I have seen pictures of the bed he used. It was a few board wrapped in burlap and suspended by chains from the ceiling and had a pulley that allowed him to raise the bed out of his way when not in use.

The first floor of the tower contains the tools that are left with which he did his work. Apparently some were stolen after his death before the castle was secured. 

Also in the tower was a radio made by Ed out of copper wire and mason jars. While at that time period there were not many choices of stations to listen to, Ed was able to zero in on a few with his primitive set up. Because there was always suspicion and mystery surrounding him, some thought he might have been communicating with the Russians during the war using the radio. 

The nine ton gate used to move at
the touch of a finger.

He had a small "perpetual motion machine" as he called it that was really a generator using magnets and round flywheel he rigged from old car parts. It was part of his work with electromagnetism. Some believed it could generate enough electricity to help in the lifting of his huge coral rocks.

Somehow Ed could figure out the perfect balance of his coral rocks. Two of the greatest examples are a small rotating gate and the larger nine ton doorlike gate at the rear of the castle. Ed found the center balance of the huge stone, cut a hole down the middle and inserted a rod through it. The rod balanced on a bunch of ball bearings from an old Model T Ford that sat on a pie shaped wedge at the bottom. For over 50 years, that nine ton gate could turn with the push of a single finger. I've included a short video below from YouTube that shows it turning. 

In November of 1951, Ed checked himself into the hospital suffering from a kidney infection. He died on December 7, 1951 from what was described as kidney failure and a stroke, a cerebral hemorrhage. His only next of kin in the US was a nephew, Harry Leedskalnin, who lived in Detroit. While it was bequeathed to him, he had no money to run it or even to pay the taxes on the property. Eventually it was sold to Julius Levin who discovered the castle on the property he purchased without knowledge of its existence.

Levin fell in love with the castle, cleaned out all the overgrowth, did some landscaping and once again opened it to visitors. At the time someone who helped him run it began to collect affidavits from those who had known Ed Leedskalnin or visited the castle when he gave tours. Some of those people are featured in the video at the beginning of the tour. It was Levin who dropped the Rock Gate Park name and called it only Coral Castle, something more attractive and attention-getting for tourists.

In 1981, Levin whose health was failing sold the castle to Coral Castle, Inc. It became a National Historic Landmark in 1984 and is still a work of wonder for any who enter its gate.  

Monday, February 27, 2023

Coral Castle--The Stars, Moon and Planets

Ed Leedskalnin, the architect, designer, engineer and builder of the Coral Castle was also an astronomer of sorts. He was fascinated with the moon and stars and planets so much so that he has a wall dedicated to the crescent moon and two of the planets.

On one part of the North Wall Ed has carved and mounted a crescent moon. Actually there are two crescents but the smaller of the two was described as another planet, something I have not been able to find in researching it. The two planets to the left of the large crescent moon are Saturn (easily recognized by its ring) and Mars.

The telescope sits next to the swimming pool
(fountain added in later years)

While those structures are impressive even more so is what is called the Polaris Telescope. It stands twenty-five feet high and weighs twenty tons. The hole at the top is fitted with metal crosshairs as if you were sighting through a rifle. Each quadrant represents a season of the year. Now the amazing thing is in the rock near the base.

Ed put a hole in another rock at the base that is lined up with the hole in the telescope when you look through it. What you will always see at night in the clear Florida sky through the telescope is the North Star. The star will be positioned in one of the quadrants that represents the season of the year and will move within the circle of the telescope as the year progresses. The North Star, the never wavering directional star, is always in the sight of the telescope.

Unfortunately the crosshairs didn't show 
in my picture.

Because of his interest in the planets and stars and the symbols of them he has included in his designs (excepting the ones that seem to represent the Masons), those who theorize an alien influence feel justified in their suspicions--even suggesting that perhaps Ed was an alien himself.

Whatever the case, his other amazing "gadget" is a peculiar sundial. The squiggly lines not only represent the time but also indicate the months or at least seasons of the year. The time indicated in the picture by the pointed shadow was precisely the time it was when I took it. As the shadow moves up and down, the other little indicator, the squarish one, indicates the time of year. 

Next: The place where Ed actually lived.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Coral Castle--The Bare Necessities

 In addition to the "kitchen" cooking area and the well to draw water from the earth below, Ed Leedskalnin also had a bathroom of sorts. From the coral rock, he fashioned a bathtub and coated the inside with cement so that it would hold water. He would fill it earlier in the day and let the Florida sun warm it up for a bath to enjoy later in the evening. 

Lots of people notice the small size of the bathtub but remember we are talking about a man who was no more than 5' and only about 120 pounds.

There was no toilet in the bathroom it was literally only a room for bathing. His necessary facility, an outhouse, was set up outside the castle. 

Next to the bathroom is the bedroom. There was a bed for his wife and himself and two beds for children along with a crib for a baby. Since Ed never married the bedroom would not be used. Ed himself had his own bed in his dwelling in the tower which I'll talk about later.

The tables I mentioned in my previous post mostly have stone chairs around them that at one time also rocked. He must have really liked the idea of rocking chairs. One table in particular is heart shaped and fits in with the legendary love story that surrounds Agnes, his sweet sixteen bride who abandoned him at the altar (or so the story goes). 

A large round slab of stone that looks like a table but has three different bumps in the top of it was Ed's sun couch. A firm believer that the Florida sun was going to cure his lung problems, tuberculosis or not, he spent time laying on this "couch" often. The three bumps were his pillows and positioned so that he could face the sun as it moved through the day. 

Last but not least, if his home is truly his castle, a man needs to have a throne room and be king of his castle. Ed had two thrones he made from stone. The larger one obviously for him and a smaller one for the woman who would be his wife. 

Let's see. Stone beds, an open air castle/home, primitive cooking utensils, and lest I forget, the repentance corner where an errant child would put his head through a hole in the wall while Ed could sit and lecture him for hours about his wrongdoings. Add to all that, another hole in the wall for the wife in the repentance corner and you can understand why he never married. Perhaps little Agnes had a foreshadowing of what life might be like with him. Run, Agnes, run.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

The Coral Castle Or Rock Gate

The sign carved into stone says "Adm. 10¢" but that was a long time ago and applied to Ed Leedskalnin's Rock Gate which is what he called his creation honoring his lost love. Today's price is $18 and well worth it. We had a guide named Andrea (originally from Chile) who had us in stitches most of the time but was so well versed on the details and history of Coral Castle that it was almost overwhelming. 

After a movie that runs in a loop we never finished due to the fact that it was too hard to hear with traffic noise from the outside and because Andrea called out that the guided tour was about to begin. We hadn't realized that we would have a guide. As she joked, "We're going back in time. We have real people now instead of audio machines." I liked the real people.

Just inside the entrance there is a bell hanging on a coral stone wall. Back in the day when Ed began taking people on tours, you would pay your entrance fee and ring the bell twice for him to know you wanted a tour. Ring it once or more than twice and he ignored you.

To say the least, the more I learn about Ed Leedkalnin, the more I understand how people were so fascinated with him. All of the work he did was at night. Everyone says it was because he didn't want anyone to see how he did what he did. Do you suppose the Florida heat was also incentive to work in the cool of the night? 

Ed's oven

Almost all of the chairs (that weigh tons) you see in the Castle could rock and they did so until just a few years ago. Weather and erosion have changed the dynamics a bit. Ed had chairs for all sorts of reasons. My favorite was the one that looked like a recliner. It was one of his reading chairs. He did a lot of reading, gleaning from the scientific magazines he would bike to the store to purchase. Although there is some thought that the reason he read them was to disprove the theories they presented.

There are several different areas of the Castle or Rock Gate that were like rooms only not separated by walls. One area was the kitchen where Ed had a fire pit with a closed kettle that hung over it to cook meals in. If I remember correctly, our guide said it was made from motor parts of an old car. She called it the "original crock pot." She also said that Ed would sometimes cook hot dogs in it and sell them to tourists for twenty cents each. Bob ordered two but she just laughed. 

The Florida table

There are several tables scattered around, One is in the shape of a heart and another that stands out is in the shape of the state of Florida complete with Lake Okeechobee although the lake is not round as it is in the table. 

Of course if you are going to cook and live in the Castle, you need water. Ed dug a well that looked to be about 6-8 feet deep. It had steps leading down to it because that was also where he kept his food cool. He rigged a winch to draw water up from below. The pole and handle were hewn from a tree and its root.

Ed worked and lived without electricity and running water but that doesn't mean he didn't have a bathroom. I'll show you that in the next post.

Friday, February 24, 2023

The Coral Castle

 Since this is the last year for us to stay in Key Largo I wanted to be sure we didn't miss seeing the Coral Castle in Homestead. We never seemed to get around to it before. I'm so glad we didn't miss the chance. Now, where do I begin?

The Castle is really not a castle in the usual sense. You might call it an open air castle. Everything in it is made of coral rock quarried from the area around it. The whole thing was built by Ed Leedskalnin, a Latvian immigrant who arrived in the states around 1912. Much of his life is a mystery as is the amazing feat of constructing his castle.

Ed started out on the east coast, moved up into Canada and over to the Canadian Rockies. From there he got involved in the logging business in the Northwest, or so researchers believe. His heritage however was that of stonemason and had been handed down for generations. 

This is not a moat. It's the quarry.

Somehow he managed to make his way to Florida. Many believe it was because he had been diagnosed with tuberculosis and he was seeking sunshine and fresh air as a cure. By the time he reached southern Florida he was emaciated and weak. He wasn't a big man to begin with although it seems he tried to appear so with filling in some of his immigration documents and others with his height at 5'6" or 5'9". Anyone who saw him in person would say he was only around 5' and 120 pounds at best.

Sometime in 1922 or 1923 a man from Florida City, Ruben Moser, found Ed lying alongside the road. He revived him and brought him to his home where Ed lived in the tool shed for a time and Moser's wife and daughter ministered to him until he was back on his feet. 

It is believed that either Ed made a miraculous recovery or his diagnosis of tuberculosis was wrong. Back in the 1920s TB was a death sentence. No matter, he recovered enough to purchase two acres of land from Moser that was not fit for farming and that is where he started his original coral castle. 

Ed's tools.

The castle, he told everyone, was a work of love or rather a lost love. The story is that he was left at the altar by his sixteen year old bride. Heartbroken but unable to put it behind him, he made his way to the States and eventually to Florida to begin building his castle for her. Speculation is that Agnes, the name he called her, was perhaps not real or it was a fictitious name for someone else he'd loved (maybe the Moser daughter?). Others say he built the castle hoping to entice Agnes to join him. 

Whatever the case, he quarried, carved, and erected all that is the Coral Castle today and even moved his original pieces from Florida City all on his own. A five foot, 120 pound man, all by himself--except it turns out that he hired a truck to move some of the pieces since he couldn't drive. His engineering skills were unique, so much so that to this day it is difficult to say just how he managed it all with tools made from junk cars and a primitive block and tackle, pulleys, and wedges to lift the heavy stones all weighing tons.

Some believe he had the help of the supernatural. Someone once reported him walking with a divining rod like you use to find water but could also be used to detect magnetic pulls in the earth. Because of the mystery surrounding the construction and the unique function of the pieces, the Castle has been featured on believe it or not type shows as well as those associated with alien visits. I prefer to think the man was a remarkable engineer, artist and craftsman but then one point of the Bermuda Triangle is not far off.

More pictures and stories about the furnishings to follow. Stay tuned. 

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Fascinating Glow Worms of Florida Bay

In the past I have posted pictures of what we call the glow worms that appear in the waters of Florida Bay three days after a full moon. Ever since Hurricane Irma hit the Keys in 2018, we have not seen as many. I can recall one night where they were so abundant that it looked like someone had sprinkled sparkling blue gems all over the top of the water.

When we returned from our Gulf Coast visit, it was exactly three days after the full moon. We had dinner, went down to the gathering to watch the sunset and returned to the condo for dessert. It was about 50-55 minutes after sunset that we went down on the dock in front of our condo. A small group had gathered to wait the appearance of the fascinating little critters.

Before long, we heard, "there's one!" "There's another," someone else called out. 

It was a perfect night to observe them. The water was calm so we could watch their dance in the water as they lit up.

I managed a coupe of pictures that turned out fairly well and one video. It's hard to capture the little critters since they only glow at the surface for a few seconds at a time. The female worm emits the glowing substance to attract the male and when he finds her, he emits a glowing mucus that contains the cells necessary for reproduction. It does look sometimes like a mating dance.

The phenomenon lasts about fifteen to twenty minutes and eventually they all fade away to wherever they go between full moons. 

Hopefully we will still be here in Florida for the next full moon.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Sunset On The Gulf

One of the evenings we spent visiting with our kids on the Gulf Coast of Florida we drove out to the Boca Grande beach. To get there, you have to cross a toll bridge, $6 per car. As Bob would say, the toll cuts down on the riff-raff. 

The island is not as busy as Manasota Key and there are beautiful homes (some very large) and condos everywhere. A little town we passed through had shoppes and restaurants and did not look nearly as chaotic as we'd seen in Manasota.

We followed our daughter in law's car to the beach. (The grandkids are too big now to squeeze eight of us in an SUV that seats six.) She and the kids had already explored all the nearby beaches and they really liked this one especially for the shells and sharks teeth.

The sand is very fine on the beach, sort of a grayish white. It kind of reminded me of dry cement and it readily stuck to our shoes and feet. While we waited for the sunset, the kids explored the beach and picked out nice looking shells. Excitement climbed when they discovered some shark teeth.

Soon the time came for the sun to rest for the day, at least in our part of the world. The sunset did not disappoint. Rarely does a sunset in Florida disappoint. 

Restaurants on the island are a bit pricey so we drove back past the lighthouse and across the bridge to a place our son knew of where we could afford to feed all of us a little better. 

A few rousing rounds of UNO at their house and we headed for our hotel. That in itself was quite an experience. 

We couldn't find any reasonably priced Hampton Inns (tis the tourist season) and we settled for America's Best Value Inn. It may have been the best value but... All I can say is it appeared clean but the phone sat on the shelf above the clothes rack, unattached, where the smoke detector should have been was a scared hole with something stuffed in it. Add to that a missing plug in the bathtub/shower that exposed a green moldy drain and the fact that the roof needed repairs from the hurricane accounted for the workmen who showed up at 6 in the morning. Like I said, the beds and floor and the rest of the bathroom looked clean. 

Next trip Bob has decided he doesn't car what the Hampton costs. *smile*

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Gopher Tortoise Challenge

 The Cape Haze/Englewood area where our Florida kids are planning to build their house is also an area where there are a lot of gopher tortoises. What are they? Good question.

The gopher tortoise is an endangered species and is protected in Florida. Its origins go to back 60 million years and it is one of the oldest living species on the planet. They are known for burrowing into the ground. They have large hind legs and flattened forelimbs that are shovel-like, perfect for their digging. Their burrows can be 40 feet long and up to 10 feet wide and are known to provide shelter for 300 other species such as rodents, snakes, and the gopher frog.

The main threat to the gopher tortoise is loss of habitat and with all the development in Florida, it is a major concern. For that reason, there are restrictions on moving or even touching a gopher tortoise. Now with all of that said, let me take you to the lot our kids are planning to build on.

They knew up front that the gopher tortoises were in the area and on the lot. One in particular is burrowed into a spot where the foundation will be. Our son is undaunted by obstacles and has begun to learn what needs to be done to relocate the tortoise. A permit has been purchased and he is in the process of learning exactly how to move the tortoise without touching it as to touch it is illegal. Hopefully they will be able to use the bucket method which is to dig in front of the burrow and place a bucket into the ground, covered lightly with paper and dirt and wait for the tortoise to exit the burrow and fall into the bucket. There is a little more involved over the course of relocation but the tortoise will be moved to the back of the lot where there is more room to burrow away from the house building area. Since a gopher turtle lives 40-60 years or longer, they will be neighbors for a long time.

Our son and his family are very concerned with conservation and protecting natural species so I'm sure their gopher tortoise is in good hands. We did meet one out of his burrow in a park area where we walked a trail and I was able to grab a picture of it.

Hopefully the house will be built before another tortoise decides to move in.

Friday, February 10, 2023

Road Trip To The Gulf Coast

 Some may think the only reason we are snowbirds is because of the weather. It's not. The other half of the reason to come to Florida is to be able to spend time with our Florida kids. This year they have moved from the Miami area to the Gulf Coast area of Florida between Venice and Fort Meyers. So, we made the four hour trek from Key Largo to where they are to see them and explore the area looking for a new place to rent that isn't a four hour drive to visit. 

Our son always likes to take scenic routes. Bob prefers straight and fast. We compromised with a plan to do scenic on the way over and the faster route on the way back. Actually they both work out to be about the same.

The scenic route is the Tamiami Trail (Route 41). The route goes from US 1 in Miami to SR 60 in Tampa. It was the original "Alligator Alley" and opened in April of 1928. When it was built, not enough consideration was given to how it would affect the ecosystem of the Everglades. It became essentially a huge dam crossing the Everglades and slowing the flow of water. 

While the Everglades may look like just an immense field of tall grass, it is actually a very wide flowing river of fresh water that feeds estuaries where wildlife needs it to survive. Some of that problem is being corrected in a project that will allow water to flow underneath some places of the highway. 

Yes, it is scenic. As you cross the Everglades the grassy river/land stretches for miles. In places where there is more water, scores of birds like herons, egrets, cranes, anhingas and the like can be seen fishing for their meals or drying out in the trees or bushes with their wings spread. 

We did not see one alligator however. Of course we didn't have the advantage of our sharp-eyed grandkids traveling with us. They probably would have spotted a dozen at least. There were plenty of airboat places that featured rides into the glades and guaranteed sightings of gators. 

There are several signs along the way as well warning of panthers crossing. We've never seen one and that could be because they're mostly out at night. Still...eyes open for the possibility

Along the trail there are also several Indian villages and one that is open to tourists, the Miccosukee Indian Village. I've always wanted to stop there but it wasn't going to happen this day. In addition to the Indian villages, we passed several trailheads for hikers and a few places where small boats could be launched into the canals to go fishing. 

It was a pleasant journey and it ended with a visit to Manasota Key, a place we were considering for our winter stay next year. 

Thursday, February 02, 2023

From Darkness To Light

There is absolutely nothing more beautiful than a Florida sunset unless it's a Florida sunrise. Our condo is on the fourth floor so we have an expansive view facing the Florida Bay, facing west. The mornings are usually calm and there is a peace that I just want to drink in and savor, that and the beautiful skies that God paints as the sun rises somewhere behind me on the ocean side of Key Largo. 

My Bible open for morning reading I can also watch the osprey fly in for his morning catch and with any luck he will pass by the lanai with his catch in hand as if to say, "I've got my breakfast. How about you?"

On occasion there will be a nose that pops out of the water, a manatee taking a short breath before diving down to the grassy reeds again to enjoy his morning snack. A fin signals a special pass by of a dolphin.

The dawn comes slowly, a little gray light changes to a light purple and pinkish sky. Sometimes it's a bit hazy with humidity and it's like looking through pink cotton candy. Some mornings I watch the clouds become coated with the pink sugary light.

Gradually the light grows and the skies become tinted with a pastel yellow so light it is almost white. All the while the myriad of colors are reflected in the waters expanding the serene canvas. 

When next I look up from the pages before me, I see bright blue skies dotted with a few white clouds. Now it's truly time to begin the day. Time for me to forage for my breakfast.

Not too long ago I found a passage in Acts 26 where Paul is describing his Damascus road experience. In an instant a light was blazing around him and the voice of Jesus called to him. His was an immediate acknowledgement of Jesus, an immediate conversion. There are many who do not have a Damascus road experience, a day, a specific time, where they become a believer. Many experience a dawning, a gradual awakening to Jesus.

In that same chapter Jesus tells Paul that he is sending him "to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light.(v. 18)" Somehow that comes to mind when I watch the darkness of night fade to the beauty of the morning and the brilliance of the day ahead.

Wednesday, February 01, 2023

A Desperate Journey

 In the past years we have occasionally encountered evidence of Cuban migrants who were able to make the long journey by water to the Florida Keys and the refuge of the United States. I can't be certain but I believe many are still under the impression that the "wet foot, dry foot" regulation is still in effect.

The "wet foot, dry foot" was a regulation that said as long as those migrating from Cuba could make it to dry land, they would be eligible to apply for legal residency. The law was abolished in 2017 but you still see Cubans setting out in boats that are less than sea worth to make hundreds of miles of journey across open ocean waters. 

A few years ago we crossed US 1 to the ocean side to see a boat that had been abandoned. We were told there were a half dozen men who had made the journey in it. They had a motor that they took with them when they were met on dry land but the boat was left behind trailing its loose duct tape in the water.

Over the New Year's weekend it was estimated a total of 500 Cubans landed on the shores of the Florida Keys. Many relatives in the states follow the landings and the immigration buses to see if their relatives have made it.

A couple of weeks ago, we went to a park on the east side of Key Largo, the ocean side. It's a place that we like to walk around when it's too windy on our side, the bay side. We were very surprised to find four boats abandoned that were obviously from Cuban refugees. One was by itself near a home. By the way, until just recently a homeowner was responsible for disposing of an abandoned boat on their property and cleaning up the fuel leakage. 

A little ways down our path we found three more boats that were clustered together and must have been recent arrivals since we could still smell the diesel fuel that was leaking from somewhere.

Those of us who have lived our lives in the freedom of the United States are truly blessed to not have to make such a desperate journey.

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