The Lost Lover and The Coral Castle

It’s your favorite child travel adviser, Tyler the Boy on the Move, once again bringing you the best in last-minute vacations. Your road trip planner for the weekend getaway to the coolest and strangest places in America. How do I know about them all? My parents are contract workers in the software industry and keep moving the family every 6 months…

After we lived in Gibsonton for a while, my parents got a new gig about four hours away in Homestead, Flordia. Just like in Gibsonton, as we were settling into our new home, I took a walk to explore. I ended up finding a crazy looking sculpture garden with little moons and planets!

Little did I know that I had just stumbled into the Coral Castle! Ed Leedskalnin’s Coral Castle!

Latvian immigrant Edward “Ed” Leedskalnin was born in 1887 to a poor farming family in Riga. He spent his childhood working in the fields with his older siblings before becoming a stonemason.

According to urban legend, Ed fell madly in love with a young Lativian lass (10 years his minor) named Agnes Scuffs (or Skuvst — the accounts vary). The two quickly became engaged despite the fact that Ed was 26 and Agnes, called his “Sweet Sixteen” by Ed, was only 16 (a bit creepy if you ask me). On the very day they were meant to be married, Agnes abandoned Ed at the alter, canceling the wedding. Utterly heartbroken, Ed became despondent and ultimately left Lativia for the U.S. in 1912. Ed’s grand-nephew Janus Leedskalnin said that “it is absolutely clear that Ed left for America because he was jilted by his bride.”

Even outside of Lativia, Ed was consumed by thoughts of his “Sweet Sixteen.” After moving to Florida in 1918, Ed began to think of how he might be able to honor his lifelong lost love. Unable to forget her, Ed — despite being chronically ill, 100 pounds, and only just over 5 feet tall — began building a monument to his lost lover…out of MASSIVE blocks of stone.

With only hand-held tools and his own strength, Ed moved over 1,100 TONS of “coral” rock (actually sedimentary rock or oolite limestone) under the cover of darkness. Each and every night, Ed would set out to work, undergoing a grueling task of hauling 30-odd ton blocks of sedimentary rock onto the site of his megalithic castle before sculpturing them. None of Ed’s neighbors ever seemed to witness his moving, placing, or carving. And he did all of this to honor his runaway bride…not the best inspiration in my opinion, but hey — he built a cool castle!

Some were suspicious of Ed’s nighttime activities. Certain onlookers thought the steadfast progress could only be the result of magic. Others believe that Ed’s backbreaking work could only have been done in one way: aliens. I kid you not: extraterrestrials in Florida (is it really that much of a stretch?)!

However he did it, when it was finally all done and finished, Ed offered tours to anyone who wanted them for 10 cents a pop. After 28 years of night-time work, I’m surprised he didn’t ask for more!

By the Winter of 1951, Ed’s life’s work caught up to him. He fell ill (perhaps his chronic “Lung Condition” aggravated by the years of hard work). Before leaving his epic monument to Agnes, Ed hung a simple sign on the entranceway to his testament of lost love: “going to the hospital.” He didn’t provide a return date. He simply took a bus to Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital and checked himself in. He died in his sleep three days later at age 64.

The Castle, an American Taj Mahal, was inherited by Ed’s nephew. The new owner sold the Coral Castle not three years after it’s maker died, and after that, it switched hands numerous times.

Today, the Castle remains to stand as a monument to love (kinda gross considering, you know, cooties) and a tourist attraction (it is sometimes called Flordia’s Stonehenge!).

You should stop by the next time you’re near the Everglades!

Until next time!

~ Tyler

To find out more about Tyler visit Salem House Press and buy Tyler’s latest book “Tyler Moves to Gibsonton Florida”. It is now available in paperback at most bookstores. Ask for it by name, and keep checking back for great cheap vacation ideas that might end up being the best vacation you ever had!

Great Stalacpipe Organ Making Music in a Cave!

It’s your favorite child travel adviser, Tyler the Boy on the Move, once again bringing you the best in last-minute vacations. Your road trip planner for the weekend getaway to the coolest and strangest places in America. How do I know about them all? My parents are contract workers in the software industry and keep moving the family every 6 months…So on this move, I got to hear the Great Stalacpipe Organ!

My parents just got a job down in Luray, Virginia, a sort of sleepy little town with some interesting history. While my parents were at work, I liked to walk around downtown to its cool shops and restaurants. The Page Theater is also pretty fun…

Cool Stuff in the Shenandoah valley

On the weekends we did some sightseeing together, checking out the Car and Carriage Caravan Museum, hiking up Stony Man Mountain, and exploring the Shenandoah Heritage Village. However, by far my favorite was the stop we made to the Luray Caverns — Luray is known as “the town where caverns meet the sky” after all!

 

The Great Stalacpipe Organ

 

Inside of the caverns (and covering just about 3.5 acres) is the world’s largest musical instrument. The Great Stalacpipe Organ! Whenever its played, little mallets strike different stalactites all over causing a beautiful and haunting tune. The whole cavern seems to pulse with the echoing sound!

The Great Stalacpipe Organ is technically not an organ at all (rather a lithophone)! Electric engineer and mathematician Leland Sprinkle, who worked at the Pentagon, designed it. When Sprinkle visited the caverns in 1954, the guides inspired him when they tapped the stalactites to show him their tonal range.

If you’re sold on hearing the “organ” but not on the tight spaces, you can always listen to recordings of the instrument (though it isn’t as cool as hearing it in person). However, if a giant musical cave isn’t for you (which I don’t know why it wouldn’t be because IT IS AWESOME), Luray does have plenty of other fun stuff too.  I mean, even the drive through the Shenandoah Valley is pretty amazing! You could also visit the Hawksbill Greenway, the Luray Rescue Zoo, the Warehouse Art Gallery, or the Luray Singing Tower.

Thanks for stopping by!

See you next time!

~ Tyler

To find out more about Tyler visit Salem House Press and buy Tyler’s latest book “Tyler Moves to Gibsonton Florida”. It is now available in paperback at most bookstores. Ask for it by name, and keep checking back for great cheap vacation ideas that might end up being the best vacation you ever had!

Watch Out Grand Canyon, Here Comes Palo Duro!

It’s your favorite child travel adviser, Tyler the Boy on the Move, once again bringing you the best in last-minute vacations. Your road trip planner for the weekend getaway to the coolest and strangest places in America. How do I know about them all? My parents are contract workers in the software industry and keep moving the family every 6 months…

When my parents got a contract in Amarillo, I talked to my friend Sadie Hofmeester because I knew her grandma came from down there. And she told me all about Palo Duro Canyon in Canyon, Texas outside of Amarillo. She even sent me this neat photo of her grandma when she was around my age horseback riding, cowboy style, in the canyon!

After seeing that, I knew I needed to plan my own adventure! I talked it up to my parents, and they agreed to make a weekend out of it. For just under $25, we had our campsite in the middle of the canyon, the second biggest in the country!

If you look carefully, animals seem to be everywhere in and around the canyon! Driving into the canyon, we had to stop short to avoid a greater roadrunner crossing the road — I guess he isn’t as clever as he seems on TV (meep meep)! As we set up a quick base camp amongst the cactus and sagebrush, my mom and I found a Texas horned lizard sneaking around our newly erected tent hunting grasshoppers! A few minutes after that we heard a tap tap tapping and turned to see a golden-fronted woodpecker! It was really cool!

After our camp set-up, I set out to explore (and to see if I could find any more creatures). I’m pretty used to exploring tight spaces like urban tunnels and maybe an underground bunker or two, so the vastness of Palo Duro was striking. Even though you’re so far down from the top of the cliffside, almost everywhere you go within the canyon, you can see brilliant blue sky offset by flaming red stone.

Wandering on one of the innumerable trails, I found a plaque explaining Palo Duro’s history. The canyon has been home to Indigenous Peoples for over 10,000 years. About 12,000 years ago, the Clovis and Folsom People lived in the canyon, hunting herds of North American mammoth and giant bison. In more recent history, the mighty Apache, Arapaho, Comanche, and Kiowa Peoples lived in and used the canyon’s numerous resources. As settler-colonists moved into the area, violence erupted. Though some chiefs called for peace and signed treaties, U.S. troops repeatedly broke their promises and attacked to seize the land. From 1874 to 1875, U.S. American soldiers attacked the Native Peoples to gain the use of Palo Duro Canyon in the bloody Red River War. Perhaps this violence is what stained the soil red.

After I walked around for a while, I got pretty hot (the sun sure is strong in the panhandle!) and headed back to camp for a well-deserved dinner: some barbecued brisket. At sunset, we managed to see a ram on the top of the ridge which was pretty cool. My parents and I roasted marshmallows under the stars that night. Looking up, the stars seemed so brilliant…somehow both close and far away. It looked like a giant quilt of the night sky.

When I woke up the next day, I went exploring again. I wanted to see if I could find an artifact, maybe an arrowhead from the War, but all I found were a lot of yucca plants and red dust. Just as we were leaving, I saw a bunch of collared lizards scurrying off of the rocks, they were sunning themselves on. I bet if you keep your eyes peeled, you can spot some collared lizards too — and if you’re fast like me, you can even catch some of them.

I hope you go and have as much fun as I did!

~ Tyler

 

To find out more about Tyler visit Salem House Press and buy Tyler’s latest book “Tyler Moves to Gibsonton Florida”. It is now available in paperback at most bookstores. Ask for it by name, and keep checking back for great cheap vacation ideas that might end up being the best vacation you ever had!