Was one man able to move these huge coral blocks using some unknown technology?
April 14, 2009
Podcast transcript | Listen | Subscribe
By Brian Dunning, Skeptoid Podcast
Episode 149, April 14, 2009
In Homestead, Florida stands an oddity that is a favorite of paranormal enthusiasts: A sort of artificial rock park popularly called Coral Castle, though its official name is Rock Gate Park. Built from a total of 1,100 tons of locally quarried coral, the park is filled with astrologically themed structures like crescent moons, stars and planets, a sundial, obelisks, and a viewing port called the Telescope. The whole park is surrounded by an 8-foot wall of coral blocks weighing 15 tons each. The largest single block in the park weighs 30 tons, and two of the monoliths are 25 feet high. But the remarkable thing about Rock Gate Park is that it was built by a single man. Over a period of 28 years, from 1923 until his death in 1951, the diminutive 5-foot-tall Edward Leedskalnin, a Latvian, worked all by himself to quarry, cut, move, and position every single coral block. Coral Castle is almost always described as a mystery; a mystery that cannot be explained.
But that's where the story of Coral Castle only starts to get weird. Ed wasn't just interested in moving heavy blocks of coral, he also dabbled in electricity and magnetism. He built a hand-cranked electrical generator and wrote a number of short pamphlets, which he sold through local newspapers, on subjects as diverse as his own notions about magnetic current and the magnetic nature of life, as well as a political rant that sounds like it could have been written by Hitler. I've read his pamphlets on magnetism (they've available online) and to me they're quite childish, but perpetual motion enthusiasts and vortex energy believers have latched onto Ed as a great genius. One guy has even self-published an e-book called "Coral Castle Code" in which he believes Ed's writings unlock all the secrets of energy, life, and the true nature of the atom. They believe that Ed built Coral Castle using his unique insights into magnetism and electricity, perhaps levitating the blocks into place using magnetic vortices (whatever that means).
Very few people ever watched Ed actually do his work moving the blocks — more about this later — and so some believe that he deliberately worked in great secrecy to protect some presumed secret. Did Ed use some advanced technology to build Coral Castle? The first question a skeptic should ask is "Is it necessary to invoke a mystical or undiscovered technology as the only possible explanation?"
Meet Wally Wallington, a retired construction worker in Michigan. He's building a Stonehenge replica in his back yard, and he's using only levers and fulcrums. His equipment consists of sticks and stones. No wheels, no cranes, no pulleys, no metal or machinery. His favorite tool, and best ally, is gravity. There's a YouTube video of Wally raising a 19,200-lb concrete beam up into the air and tilting it up onto its end, just like at Stonehenge. He can also raise these beams horizontally into the air as high as you'd like, with little apparent effort. It's simply good old fashioned human ingenuity. All he does is lever the block enough to slide a fulcrum under its center, turning it into a giant teeter totter. Weight down the east end, and slide more wood in just west of the center. Move the weight to the west end, transferring the mass onto the west end of the fulcrum, and slide in more wood just east of the center. Back and forth, back and forth, going higher each time, rocking its way into the sky.
Wally takes a 1600-lb block and rolls it over the ground as easily as you'd roll a basketball. How? Imagine viewing the square end of a rectangular block. Now superimpose a circle over that square end, and imagine that circle rolling along. Visualize the path that the square would trace over the ground. Wally simply built a wooden roadway shaped like that trace — it looks like a line of half-circles placed next to each other, round side up — and he can give a 1600-lb block a shove and send it rolling down that path. It rolls smoothly about its center, just as if it were round.
Wally can also move a one-ton block 300 feet an hour by levering it up onto a pebble as a fulcrum, and walking it around onto another pebble a foot or so away.
Watching Wally move his blocks around looks so simple, the techniques seem so obvious, and yet I didn't think of them. I slapped myself on the forehead when I first watched his video. And, logically, I have to force myself to accept that there are other techniques, just as easy and just as inventive, that I also haven't thought of. Human beings have an annoying tendency to project our own ignorance. We tend to say "I can't think of a way to do this, therefore you can't either." As a kid I spent years with my LEGO kit trying to reinvent the automobile differential. I knew they existed, but I didn't know what the mechanism was. I finally gave up, and actually forced myself to conclude they were mechanically impossible, in dead opposition to the evidence. Then one day I finally saw one, and it was like watching Wally Wallington's video for the first time. I turned red as I realized I simply hadn't considered enough possibilities. I hadn't been innovative enough. Watching a simple, elegant solution to a problem we had ourselves considered insoluble can be a bitter pill to take, or it can be like opening a Christmas present and finding the perfect gift. It depends on your attitude.
It depends on whether you want there to be a solution, or whether you insist on a supernatural explanation and are predisposed to antagonism toward any notion that suggests otherwise.
We don't know whether Ed Leedskalnin used the same techniques as Wally Wallington, but we clearly have to acknowledge that there are ways to do it without machinery. When asked how he built his castle, Ed would answer "It's not difficult if you know how," and according to Coral Castle's web site, he said he was able to move the heavy blocks because he "understood the laws of weight and leverage well." Sounds to me like he figured things out the same way Wallington did.
Ed actually had a little more leeway than Wally, because Wally chose to use only technologies known to the ancient Britons, while Ed had no such restrictions. Remember how I said very few people actually watched Ed work? Well, some did, and some brought cameras. There are photographs of Ed at work on his castle, lifting his blocks with a large tripod made of telephone poles perhaps 25 feet tall, using chains and a block and tackle system. When he once disassembled and relocated Rock Gate Park a few miles from Florida City to Homestead to escape an encroaching subdivision, the blocks were moved on a flatbed trailer towed behind a rented tractor. But his use of tripod cranes and tractors don't seem to fit in very well with the magnetic energy vortex theories, and so you won't find references to these pictures on most Coral Castle web sites.
A Wikipedia author conceded the existence of the photographs of Ed with his boringly Earthly lifting mechanism, but then tried to debunk them saying that if you used a block and tackle in that manner to lift something as heavy as Ed's coral blocks, so many pulleys would be needed that the friction would make it impossible to move. This logic is exactly like saying that if you downshift your car into first gear, the additional friction would make it impossible to move. Basically, it's the opposite of what's true. Using a block and tackle in this manner is called mechanical advantage, and it's what allowed Archimedes to once lift an entire warship full of men using only a block and tackle and his own strength.
Other criticism of the photographs has pointed out that the two obelisks in Coral Castle look like they could be taller than the telephone pole tripod pictured, so it couldn't have been used to raise them to the vertical position. This is just silly. It's like saying you can't lean over, pick up an 8-foot 2×4, and stand it on its end because it's taller than you. But even if the tripods or block and tackles pictured could be proven to be mechanically inadequate for any of the tasks needed to assemble Coral Castle, that doesn't prove magnetic levitation was the only other possible agent. In the nearly 30 years that Ed worked, I'm sure the one rig in the picture was not the only time he ever set up such a system. It is reasonable to allow for the possibility that Ed set up other such rigs at times other than the day these particular photos were taken. There is no reason to conclude that the photographed rig represents his only capability or even his maximum capacity.
An extension of this same argument states that just because Ed used a tripod crane in this picture, doesn't mean that he didn't also use energy vortex powers. This is quite true, of course. It's also true that just because I can dig a hole with a shovel, it doesn't prove that I can't also dig one with my energy vortex powers.
Before Ed moved from Latvia at age 26, he grew up in a family of stone masons. Very little is known about what type of stone mason work he did in Latvia, but it probably explains his interest and knowledge of quarrying, cutting, and carving stone. He then lived in Canada and worked as a lumberjack, work which is largely about moving felled trees. A tree the weight of Ed's largest coral block, 30 tons, is not at all uncommon — some trees can weigh hundreds of tons. Before Ed ever started work on Coral Castle, he had a wealth of work experience that gave him all the knowledge he'd ever need to build his creation. It's simply not necessary to invoke made-up mystical powers, aliens, or magnetic vortex energy to explain Coral Castle.
© 2009 Skeptoid Media, Inc.
References & Further Reading
Arnold, Dieter. Building in Egypt: Pharaonic Stone Masonry. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.
Editors. "Who's Ed?" Who's Ed? - Coral Castle Museum. Coral Castle Museum, 1 Jan. 2008. Web. 16 Jan. 2010. <http://coralcastle.com/whos-ed/>
McClure, R., Heffron, J. Coral Castle: The Story of Ed Leedskalnin and his American Stonehenge. Dublin, Ohio: Ternary Publishing, 2009.
Stollznow, K. "Coral Castle Fact and Folklore." Skeptical Inquirer. 1 Jan. 2010, Volume 34, Number 1: 49-53.
Thomson, Peter. "Coral Castle." Ancient History, Fact or Fiction. Peter Thomson, 1 Jan. 2005. Web. 24 Jan. 2010. <http://www.peter-thomson.co.uk/coralcastle/coralcastle.html>
Wallington, W.T. "The Forgotten Technology." W.T. Wallington's Forgotten Technology Official Website. W.T. Wallington, 20 Jul. 2006. Web. 1 Mar. 2009. <http://www.theforgottentechnology.com/>
Reference this article:
Dunning, B. "Coral Castle." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, Inc., 14 Apr 2009. Web. 24 Apr 2014. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4149>
10 most recent comments | Show all 70 comments
Make a comment about this episode of Skeptoid (please try to keep it brief & to the point). Anyone can post: