- To the Keys
- Highway 1
- Big Pine Key
- Key West 1
- Key West 2
- Coral Castle
- Lake Okeechobee
- Vero Beach
Florida: Coral Castle, As Unlikely as it Seems
Before arriving in Florida City on Friday evening, we drove into Key Largo to look for a place to stay so we could spend one more half day on the Keys before committing to the mainland. But it was not to be. We stopped at a motel recommended by our waitress at the Cracked Conch Cafe, but when we asked about availability and rates, they said $160/night (more than we paid in Key West) and when we said, "Oh, well, thanks, we think we'll just go on," the check-in gal got a little huffy and said we would never find anything cheaper because after all it was the Keys and it was the weekend. So we said the hell with it and drove on to the mainland.
Since we wanted to drive inland and up to Lake Okeechobee (along what in any normal state would be an agricultural valley, but there are no valleys in Florida, the highest point in the whole state is 345'), we just left Hwy 1 at Homestead and took our chances on a few obscure back roads to Hwy 27. The second motel we came to was a Rodeway Inn right on the highway we wanted to be on and it looked okay. It was run by an Indian family (from India, not Native Americans) and offered a continental breakfast and a pool. It was 50 bucks and we said fine. They recommended that we have dinner at the Capri, just 200 yds down the road. This was some of the best advice we had the whole trip.
The Capri Restaurant and King Richard's Room is a great old-style dinner house. Walking into the place in shorts and shirts -- clean, nice fabric, not trashily short or tight -- we felt underdressed, which is hard to do in South Florida (outside Miami). But the maitre d' was very kind and seated us right away and not even in a corner. Our waitress was Sue. She made us feel welcome and very smart. For every choice we made, she said sincerely, "Oh, good," or "Yes, excellent." She was particularly enthusiastic about the deep-fried alligator we ordered as an appetizer. She was right, it was very good. If you go there stick to the alligator and the Italian. The sausage and peppers were wonderful, the pasta excellent, but the fish I ordered was overcooked and dry. When we asked if they made their own sausage, it was that good, Sue said, "No, we get it from Bahston." Sheila assures me the Massachusetts city was perfectly pronounced.
The entertainment at the Capri, besides general people-watching, was a large, gregarious woman named Jackie Pepper in a red and black outfit. She was running for the school board and hustling her candidacy by handing out bottles of hot pepper sauce with her name on it at every table and to each person at every table. When we told her we couldn't vote for her, she still gave us a bottle of pepper sauce (we declined two), but skipped the campaign pitch which had to do with over-crowding and cultural sensitivity. If anybody on this distribution list can vote for her, we think you should.
Back at the motel, when we were looking through the room literature after dinner, we *finally* noticed an ad for the "Coral Castle: A Sculpture Garden and Tribute to Lost Love." We were very glad we didn't miss it entirely. Here's what the Rodeway's brochure said:
"Ed Leedskainin, a five foot tall Latvian immigrant, created the phenomenon that is Coral Castle. With homemade pulleys and elvers (?? - eels?? eel-catchers ??) salvaged from junk yards, he built a coral masterpiece that is one of the most amazing attractions in the world. Opened to the public in 1925, the Coral Castle is considered Florida's oldest operating attraction. Baffled engineers have compared Ed's accomplishment to Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids. In 1984, the inspiring vision of love and dedication was placed on the national Register of Historic Places. Self-guided tours."
How could we resist? Bright and early the next morning we were off to see Ed's masterpiece. It didn't take long to eat our continental breakfast because it was do-it-yourself balloon bread toast and jelly, coffee and tea. Was there orange juice? Can't remember.
It's hard to find words for the Coral Castle. It is certainly impressive. The mind and will of man is a constant source of wonder. Here's the story. Ed was engaged to a 16-year-old young lady -- sobriquet, Sweet Sixteen -- apparently as old as he was willing to consider, under the (tragically mistaken) assumption that at 16 young girls would be virginal and biddable and willing to share all his dreams and fantasies. On the eve of their wedding, she rejected him on the grounds that he was too old and not rich enough. Oh, these young girls!
So Ed spent the next 30 years building a dream castle to accommodate the life that he and Sweet Sixteen should have had. There is a bedroom, Feast of Love table and chairs, children's playground, bathtub, Throne Room (every man's home is a castle and every castle should have a throne room), barbecue, Repentance Corner (!) all carved from huge blocks of coral limestone. Words are just inadequate. The most impressive of Ed's accomplishments in my opinion, never mind all the block and tackle and fulcrum stuff, are the astrological. On the north wall, the "Polaris Telescope," a 25-ft high, 30-ton hunk of rock, is said to be perfectly focused on the North Star. We weren't there at night, but I'll take their word for it, doesn't look like Ed made many mistakes when it comes to rocks. Even better, was the carved bowl-shaped rock that is the Sun Dial. You can tell the time from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm year round. Because we're doing daylight saving time right now, we had to wait until 10:00 am to see it, but there it is, clean and clear. There's lots more, a 9-ton gate that swings at the touch of a finger, a 28-ton obelisk with a Latvian star at the top. Well, you just have to go.
Also, the grounds and vegetation are wonderful, I have to mention the 6-ft diameter staghorn fern display hanging from a tree, just so I have an excuse to post the picture. Also, the weirdest little ornamentals, I can only call them pineapplets. They look like a tiny, walnut-sized pineapple and grow sort of like a pineapple, but on a long, 18" stem. Mike? Anybody? What are these?
Then there are the activities held on the grounds. The day we visited there was a photography class and they advertise proudly that they host the Psychic Fair there the first Saturday of everymonth. AND Billy Idol (carefully listed as AKA William Broad) has done a video shoot in full leather, bare chest and multiple crosses on his song "Sweet Sixteen," reputedly inspired by Ed's wayward sweetheart. I bet Ed was SPINNING! Alas, there were no post cards or photos available and the Internet likewise didn't reveal much. Time for you imagination..
The place is just great and Ed was a nut and a genius. And a major idiot when it came to women and what makes the world go 'round, but good with rocks. God Bless Him.