The fires and struggles of the 1905 revolution in Latvia made many Latvians to leave their homeland for the first time in masses. Some like Peter the Painter was known for his continued political struggle in the streets of London, but his compatriot and possible brother in arms Edward Leedskalnin is known worldwide for his Coral Castle made in Homestead, Florida. A temple like megalith structure, made from massive coral limestones each weighting several tons. There is many speculation how Edward Leedskalnin or Edvards Liedskalniņs managed to build this magnificent structure all by himself and his interesting theories about reverse magnetism that helped him to build this work of art. A work so famous that even punk rock star Billy Idol made a song Sweet Sixteen inspired by the Edward Leedskalnin legendary love story, about 16-year-old bride in Latvia who rejected him at their wedding and to her dedicated his castle. This article will not attempt to speculate about how Leedskalnin built his castle, its more about his Latvian roots and his connections to revolutionary movement of 1905.
The Liedskalniņš family came from the Latvian region of Vidzeme, around the Liede hills. That is how they got their surname. His father Andrejs rented farm house and land from local Baltic German baron von Wolf who lived in beautiful neo-gothic castle of Stāmeriena. Edvards as the fifth son in the family was born on 1887 January 12. (Other sources state that he was born on August 10 1887) The house was called “Namsadi”. Edvards learned the stone crafting and masonry. The Wolf family was rich and powerful related to count Potemkin of Russia and count Ferdinand Von Zeppelin. The castles owned by them at Cesvaine and Stāmeriena were the best examples of the neo-gothical architecture. Edvards might possibly inspired by these castles to choose the work of craftsman.
On 1900 Edvards brother Rūdolfs also craftsman lost his life in accident while building German church in Samara Russia. Later Edvards was known as atheist or at least anti-Christian. On 1902 his other brother Otto married Anna. On route to church the local pastor of Vecgulbene was halted by armed masked men threatening him. The revolution was coming close. On the spring of 1904 the old German baron Von Wolf died in Austria. His great funeral at Cesvaine signed the demise of the great baron family. At the same time Latvian Social-Democratic Workers Party was founded aiming to bring down the Tsarist regime supported by the Baltic German nobility. Edvards brother Ernest joined the local LSDWP group “The Gods Children”. Edvards also might possibly was involved. Agitators from Riga, possibly also Jānis Žāklis later known as Peter the Painter arrived to teach the local farmers the socialist doctrines. Secret meetings took place around Stāmeriena and called to end the war with Japan, the removal of Tzar Nicholas II, and end the church privileges. After another year of poor craft harvest a spring of 1905 came in troubles.
News about the bloodbath in Riga on January 13 1905 after guards fired at workers demonstration reached the Edvards home. To protect the barons a Cossacks from Caucasus were sent. All around the Jaungulbene are where Edvards lived peasants came to protest. Protests often turned into violence and looting. Churches were turned into revolutionary staffs and the harvest storages of the barons burned down. On June 16 nearly two thousand peasants marched towards the castle of Stāmeriena. The local police officer was beaten and then the crowd invaded the local Orthodox church and trimmed the beard of the church priest. Later at evening two masked man attempted to rob the baron Wolf, but were arrested. In struggle to liberate them more were arrested. Wolf’s barricaded their castle. Weapons were gathered and the armed Black Hundreds ride across the country to hunt revolutionaries.
As the autumn approached the relations between barons became more hostile. The baron Wolf of Vecgulbene opened fire on the peasant meeting summoned by himself. In return his red castle of Vecgulbene was burned down. On November 18 the Cesvaine castle was taken over by armed men. People joined the peoples militia and engaged the cossacks in battle. On December 1 the peasants joined to attack the Stāmeriena castle where many local barons had barricaded. A war camp gathered around the castle electricity was turned off, but cossacks managed to hold the castle. After a night of fire exchange the barons managed to escape. Despite deciding not to destroy the castle, some local youngsters, Edvards possibly one of them set the castle alight. Soon the dragoon division from Pskov came to stop the uprising. On December 2 both the white and red castle of Cesvaine was set alight. The spirit factory was also destroyed. On December 4 baron Wolf was arrested, but was exiled from Vecgulbene. However, at January the Punishment Squads from Russia came to finally stop the uprising.
18-year-old Edvards said to always walking with rifle behind his coats. The revolutionaries resisted, but were beaten. All year 0f 1906 went with reckless fight with Russian punishment squads and armed peasant gunman. Edvards as remembered by his nephew Arvīds remembers that Edvards was a convinced atheist who taught him godlessness. Edvards possibly took part in Forest Brothers movement the partisan warfare against the tsarist forces.
On 1910 he left Latvia, only one of the whole Liedskalninņš family to do so. And most of his family took action in the 1905 revolution. The popular explanation was that he was engaged with 16-year-old girl Agnes Scuff who rejected him and left him right at the wedding ceremony. The wedding according to Edvards relatives took place at Vecgulbene church, but no such wedding arrangement was ever found in the register. Many decades later it turned out that the sweet sixteen of Edvards was not Agnes but Hermīne Lūse the cousin of Ernests Brastiņs the Latvian religious leader. Brastiņš is known for his neo-paganic movement Dievturība (the Harmony with God). It was a religious movement based on ancient Latvian pagan beliefs. Hermīne was just 2 years younger than Edvards so she was not sixteen when she broke his heart. One of the reasons why the marriage did not take place was that her father demanded 2000 rubles, that Edvards could not acquire.
Was Edvards leaving his family to get the money, by means of expropriation or robbery as most his revolutionaries did or was he running away from tsarist secret police remains a question. Hermīne Lūse later married Fricis Kadiķis, but without deep mutual love. She never met Edvards again, and possibly waited him to return someday, for the money was the reason for they breakup.
Edvards on 1910-1911 lived in London. Not much is known what he did there. He might have been involved with local Latvian anarchists led by Peter the Painter, who used to drill holes in the shops walls to steal the goods. As craftsman Edvards Liedskalniņš could possibly assist the gang, but there is no proof of his involvement. But, its remains a fact that after 1911 when the Latvian Anarchist movement was stopped at the Sydney street siege, Liedskalniņš illegally entered Canada. He briefly stopped at Halifax, Canada and then for unknown reasons entered US on 1912. He was not registered and was illegal immigrant of US for more than thirty years.
For seven years Liedskalniņš was around the states of Oregon, California and Texas. According to what is known he made his living by working in the various lumber camps. According to other more romantic theories Edvards was involved with local anarchists from Mexico and took part in the Pancho Villa uprising. If so he then possibly gained inspiration for his future castle from the ancient Mayan and Aztec pyramids. Also one of the coral stones carved by Edvards called the “Sun Stone” resembles the traditional Mexican sombrero hat.
On 1920 January 1 he was registered in the US national census as Edward Leedskalnin a 32-year-old unmarried resident on Oregon, Douglas county. Worked in sawmill. At the same year he was found in Homestead, Florida by Ruben L Mauser, sick and almost close to death. He had tuberculosis and was rescued by Mauser who took him home. He was underweight and had spent a long time in closed spaces. Either the work in sawmill was too exhausting or he was hiding from something probably indicating his revolutionary activity. Also because of tuberculosis he moved to warmer place like Florida.
He soon recovered and bought land from Mauser in Homestead. His best friend was young Orwell M. Erwin. He was not working and claimed that he is provided by a “dividends from communal enterprises in California” never actually indicating what it means. Communal enterprise resembles communism and could mean that he gained his money by the means of revolutionary activities. For the low paid jobs in wood industry may not ensure his live long wealth.
In the land owned previously by Mauser Edvard started to build his castle. The land had rich recourses of coral stone and as educated craftsman he found how easy is to work with them. His first coral stone creation was a two ton couch. He worked with home-made instruments, and somehow managed to move large pieces of coral stones. He also made many do it yourself tools like crystal radios. Either he was inspired directly or indirectly by the work of the ancient builders in Egypt and Mexico who created a massive structures with no modern equipment. If so Edvards had learned the details of the ancient masonry and science still unknown to many.
Homestead a remote place in Florida devoid of tourist attractions soon became famous by his coral stone structures. Until 1936 fifteen thousand people visited his castle that he called Eds Place. To explain to curious people why is doing all this he always told the story of his sweet little sixteen in Latvia who deceived him in Latvia, but soon will come to him and he is building this castle for her. Was this a true devotion or it was a tourist attraction trick made by the clever revolutionary veteran? Since the girl he always named Agnes Scuffs or Agnes Skuvst never existed and her true bride was Hermīne Lūse. There was a symbolism in the name of Agnes Scuff. Scuvst is similar to Latvian name skūpsts – kiss and Agnes in Latvian means – innocent. “Innocent kiss”. Also as Hermīne Lūse was not sixteen when she left him it could indicate that there was a symbolism in the age of sixteen.
For twenty years Edvards inspired by the space science and other events, built many large objects like 24 ton Saturn and 23 ton Moon Crescent. Also a Star of David a dedication to his Jewish rescuer Ruben L Mauser was included. Maybe he was inspired by famous scientist Nicola Tesla who was known for many eccentric claims about his creations. Edvards gave lectures about astronomy and started to design his own ideas about physics. On 1936 he released his first book called “A Book in Every Home”. It contained his story about his sweet sixteen and and family and political values. A book with every left page leaven as blank for personal notes. His views on politics were hard to understand and probably written between the lines. Despite the obscurity of his book it was re-issued many times after.
On 1937 he celebrated his fifty birthday. And he decided to move his castle to newly acquired land ten miles from Florida City. In three years time he moved his entire castle to new and final location. Maybe he wanted to move to location more available to tourists. Or he again was trying to get away from something as he said himself that someone is trying to get in his way.
By then many people curious of how he all by himself builds the castle. Some said he uses magic powers, or he can alter the laws of physics. Edvards probably used similar ways like the builders of Stone Henge and the Pyramids. But, as the ancients he did not share his secrets leading to speculations. Possibly because of that Edvards later wrote more books about his reversed magnetism theories to boost the tourist attention, but also to mask the real way of how he created the castle. For the mystery was the thing that made attraction and adding more legends to it made his name everlasting.
The Polar star telescope, the Stone Gate and 30 ton altar and his own designed solar clock all was part of ancient symbolism. And all of these objects were made with mysterious precision. The Solar Clock was a of unique design not seen anywhere else. Somehow after the move to new place Edvards started to less mention his sweet sixteen. His castle was now more associated with mysteries of science. He created home-made tools, that could provide electricity also crystal radio receivers. After US joined the WW2 against Germany, his scientific experiments attracted the FBI. Reported as possible German spy he was visited by a FBI agent, who was curious about his copper wires. Edvards showed that his copper wires are actually antennas for his home-made crystal radio allowing him to listen to news and music for free. FBI agent was impressed by his antennas, but asked him to register his US citizenship. He sent application for US citizenship on May 17 1944, the application number was 7129, document number was 6105195 he inscribed both of these numbers on his room wall. It’s not known if his appeal was accepted. Apparently his illegal status did not bother much as he legally published books about the Magnetic Current.
After the end of WW2 some people started to connect his castle with the Bermunda Triangle mystery. Meanwhile Edvards sent on 1950 sent a letter to his brother Harijs in Michigan. The large Liedskalniņš family was spread all around the world because of the war. In short letter in grammatically incorrect Latvian he said he is brother Edvard and attached two photos with him in the castle. On November 9 1951 he attached note on his stone gate “Going to Hospital”. He never came back and passed away on December 7.
His last will was never found. None of his relatives were able to claim the castle. For many years castle was abandoned, the home-made tools by Edvards were gone. While the property was being investigated, $3,500 was found among Leedskalnin’s personal belongings. Leedskalnin had made his income from conducting tours, selling pamphlets about various subjects (including magnetic currents) and the sale of a portion of his 10-acre (4.0 ha) property for the construction of U.S. Route 1. Having no will, the castle became the property of his closest living relative in America, a nephew from Michigan named Harry. However, he took no care of castle and left it in decay.
On 1953 businessman from Chicago came to Homestead. He wanted to build a fuel depot, but local municipality instead showed him the Coral castle. The man called Julius Levin instantly loved the castle and bought it. The castle became a tourist attraction, the story about the sweet sixteen was picked up and used fully. Castle became a site for many eccentric sci-fi and erotic movies. The 1958 “The Wild Woman from Wongo”, the 1960 “Naked on the Moon” attracted thousands of visitors. Also because no one could properly explain of how the castle was built, it soon became a Mecca of esoterics, alternative scientists and ancient architecture explorers. The writings made by Edvards about magnetic currents were again published and studied with full seriousness.
On 1986 the punk rock star Billy Idol traveled to Florida to help gather charity for hurricane victims. Astonished by the Edvards monument to eternal love he made his most famous love ballad “Sweet Sixteen”. The video clip was made in the coral castle. On 1987 it was a top chart single played also in Soviet Latvia where many were completely unaware that this song has Latvian connection.
On 1991 for $175,000 the Coral Castle was sold to Coral Castle Inc. The work of art first known as Eds Place, the Stone Gate and after the death of Edwards Leedskalnins as the Coral Castle was added to National Register of Historic Places. Edvards Liedskalniņš is one of the most known and legendary Lavians of the XX century, that many in Latvia even have never heard off. But, his castle and books is an inspiration, a memorable place to visit to many across the world.
Stavro, Andris (2008) Koraļļu pils. Rīga. Lauku Avīze. Edvarda Liedskalniņa kopotie raksti. (grāmatā)
Leedskalnin Index Page – 10/25/97 http://www.keelynet.com/leed.htm