©05 The Media Desk
One is on the East Coast, another on the West. One is a true mystery that confounds experts fifty years after its builder died that is all but forgotten and stands as a local tourist attraction. The other appears to be all hype and wishful thinking as it books tours and hosts TV shows about hauntings.
In Brief: The Coral Castle was carved by one man over the course of several years of blocks of solid fossil coral from a massive deposit under the Miami area with a working budget of almost nothing. The builder was known to have extensive mystical grounding although only had an elementary grade education. His cause was to show his undying devotion to his 'Sweet Sixteen' former fiancé who had dumped him before their wedding in Latvia.
Also: The Winchester House in San Jose was constructed by the widow of William Winchester, developer of the Henry Repeating Rifle. She was convinced the ghosts of those killed by her husband's product would seek revenge on her. She conducted many séances and 'tea parties' to placate the some of the spirits and turned her home into an elaborate maze of 160 rooms and passages to confuse the rest, and spending a large chuck of the family fortune in the process.
Today both places are open to the public for tours. See websites below for more information.
Let's first look at who built them, and maybe a little bit of why.
What drives some people to do things to extremes like this? Are they just mad in the classic sense? Or maybe they just liked to have something nobody else did.
In the case of the Coral Castle, old Mr. Ed was demonstrating that he could DO something nobody had done for thousands of years. Part of his explanation for doing it was to espouse his love for a woman he had left in the old country years ago.
Ed Leedskalnin was born in 1887 in Latvia. He was engaged to his one and only life's true love then she pulled out of the marriage the day before the ceremony. Ed never got over it.
After some time of hacking around the US in various capacities he settled in south Florida, Florida City to be exact, and decided to build his lost love a castle.
Then when civilization encroached upon him he moved it ten miles south to a tract of land near Homestead, FL. Where it still stands today, just off US 1, and tours run daily year round for about ten bucks each.
The facts are there.
One short and slightly built man mined, carved and then moved blocks of solid coral stone with only minimal hand tools and no power equipment during a period from around 1920 to the fifties. Ed was not known to have much formal education and worked alone, usually at night, had very limited resources and no known outside funding. Yet he built his fortress to love to match various astronomical events and constructed the features within remarkable tolerances and balances to where a child can rock a stone chair weighing thousands of pounds.
Some of the blocks weigh many tons and are placed with remarkable precision. When you read about the construction one is immediately reminded of sites such as the Inca city of Cuzco or their retreat Machu Picchu. Or maybe it would be something like Baalbek, in Lebanon with the largest stone block foundation in the world which incorporates the three 1000 ton each Trilithon, with possibly the single largest stone ever quarried lying nearby (at 12000 tons, the 'Stone of the South' was cut, but never moved to the temple). Or maybe the temples at Angkor in Cambodia with their innumerable relief carvings.
But Rock Gate Park, as Ed called it for awhile, wasn't built in the dark past by monks or thousands of slaves or even space aliens. It was built by a man who is best described as a 'reclusive Latvian eccentric' during the lifetime of some of the people still in the area.
He claimed he used the ancient secrets of those that built the pyramids to move his stones around. Other claimed he has supernatural or mystical powers. One theory that seems to have some traction is that he used his hand built A/C generator to create an immense electrical field around the stone to nullify gravity. But that would bring us to another of the articles in this series about the Hutchison Effect.
However he did it, his secret appears to have died with him in 1951.
Witnesses recall going to the site at night to try to catch him in the act of summoning demons or angels to help him move his stones. Only he would seem to sense them sneaking up on him and be waiting there to pass the time with them.
When he had to move the castle he loaded the stones on a trailer at night, then he had a friend tow it to Homestead, where Ed would unload and set the pieces, again, working at night.
After everything was in place Ed built the castle wall.
According to the Coral Castle people, the fossil coral stone weighs 125 pounds per cubic foot. Each wall stone is eight feet tall, four feet wide, and three feet thick. Making each one weigh on the order of fifty to sixty- Tons.
Ed did it all himself, without a steam shovel or crane other heavy quarrying equipment.
And thereby comes the mystery. How'd he do it?
To this day, nobody knows. Although theories, both plausible and half-baked, abound.
In the end- His dedication to the memory of his lost love is monumental. As is his monument to that love.
Another monument comes from Sarah L. Winchester, heiress to the Winchester firearms fortune who spent nearly forty years building her house in the middle of San Jose, California.
Whether or not she was insane isn't even worth talking about. If she wasn't she did a marvelous impression of it.
The house started off in 1884 as a standard Victorian Mansion, maybe a dozen rooms, porch, a bit of fancy wood trim and there you have it. But she didn't stop there.
Her carpentry crews worked day and night, around the clock, for years.
By her death in 1922 the house had about 160 rooms scattered across seven stories (until one of the towers collapsed in the 1906 earthquake, four stories survived), nearly fifty fireplaces and more. There are those famous fully finished stairways that go nowhere. The number thirteen figures into everything from window panes to those stairways with thirteen steps. The place has three elevators, a greenhouse (with 13 cupolas), and rooms within rooms. There are doorways that open to the outside twenty feet from the ground, and others that open onto a bare wall or the window from another room.
The house is remarkable in that although it is listed as having 160 rooms, which includes two ballrooms, forty bedrooms, and five or six kitchens, nobody knows for sure how many actual rooms there are. You see, there was never a construction blueprint. Mrs. Winchester would sketch things out on paper, or napkins, or even a tablecloth and her construction foreman would go from there. Sometimes stopping an addition in mid-construction and changing it or boarding up a room and working around it with her latest design in hand.
The goal here was to confuse and confound the spirits of those killed by her family's product whom she was convinced were out to get her.
Mrs. Winchester was a great believer in séances and communicating with the dead. It was through a medium that she got the idea for the house's never-ending construction. She would stay up at night having tea with the friendlier spirits and playing the piano for them. And she remained involved with the ongoing work on the house until she died in her sleep at age 83, after another séance in an especially dedicated spirit room.
After her death the family found that the project had seriously depleted the fortune. And a rumored golden dinner service and various jeweled pieces were never discovered. They may still be concealed in one of the many dead spaces and cut off rooms in the house.
So much for the facts.
It is obvious that the widow lady thought the house was haunted even while she was still living there. So it wouldn't take much to build on that reputation and market the place as the 'largest haunted house in the world'. And so they have, complete with high quality four color logo of the 'Winchester Mystery House' ready for printing.
Now the house has a staff that gives tours, there is a gift shop and café on the grounds, and they welcome TV shows to try to prove that it is or even isn't haunted.
All they have proven is that the public enjoys a mystery and every time the house is on TV or in a magazine attendance goes up for their tours at about twenty dollars a head.
So, what do Mr. Ed with his stone cutting tools and Miss Sarah with her checkbook have in common besides the fact that they both left us their houses to marvel at?
Well. Both were making a statement in their lifetime that has lasted long after their deaths. (For those supernatural conspiracy theorists in the audience, Ed was just getting started when Sarah was declining and had passed the running of the estate on to her niece.)
Ed claims to have delved into the secrets of the Ancients for his insight into moving massive blocks of limestone, coral is after all- limestone. Sarah believed she was getting her blueprints from the Beyond.
Ed did work alone, but opened his creation to the masses during his lifetime, charging a dime a person for a personal tour. Sarah believed her audience was already in attendance and played her out of tune piano to them in the middle of the night.
And both have left something that we, today, marvel at and wonder what possessed them to construct it.
Well. For his part Ed was possessed by a love that would not die.
Miss Sarah was possessed by...
Let's just leave it at that. She was possessed.
Links are to the 'official' sites for both houses and both will open in a new window. www.coralcastle.com
The Winchester House http://www.winchestermysteryhouse.com
For any number of other sites, drop the name of the place into a search engine and see what comes back (for "Coral Castle", in quotes to return that exact phrase, it was 66,000. For "Winchester House" it was 216,000. Without the quotes, both go well above that.)
The above mentioned article about Hutchison Effect and The Philadelphia Experiment.
The Desk's Non-Fiction Articles
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