Sunday, April 28, 2013

South most Florida

One place in south Florida that has been spoken about in terms of its legendary and mysterious nature to me throughout my life is the Coral Castle in Homestead. A double whammy of theories reporting magical/superscientific construction methods and overall "Why build it?" surrounds this structure.
Sometimes spoken of as a tourist trap by cynical travel bloggers, this structure truly has some incredible achievements to hold even the most dismissive visiter in check. My first visit to Coral Castle came some months ago on a mad weekend sprint to Key West.
The site is not a sprawling structure but what counts is the sheer weight of the thing. Constructed from jagged coral limestone blocks cut into very near perfect fits is impressive enough but the sculpted elements are over the top. Inside the courtyard are the works of Ed Leedskalnin's lifetime. Tables, chairs, steps and ornamental celestial objects all share a common finish, expertly carved from the stone.
There is a sundial and a few very tall obelisks as well.

So how did one man do all of this? Legend never gives credit to the patient work that a sculptor does to achieve something like this. Legend suggests that Ed used levitation through magnetism to get it done. It is true that Ed Leedskalnin was keenly interested in magnetism and had created a few devices that explored his theories but other evidence at the site and old photos tell a different story. Ed was fond of using car batteries to display the effects of electromagnetism to back up his theories and wrote treatises on a "perpetual motion holder", "Mineral, animal and vegetable life", facial training for young people, and all sorts of other stuff in a purely instinctive fashion. This man was no scientist. I believe that Ed was really skilled as a sculptor and had learned to use rigging, levers, and blocking to get his stones in place. I will quote something ( a page I randomly opened to) in his book " A Book In Every House "

"My definition of right is that right is anything in nature that exists without artificial modification and all the others are wrong. Now suppose you would say it is wrong. In that case, I would say you are wrong yourself because you came into this world through natural circumstances that you had nothing to do with and so as long as such a thing exists as yourself, I am right and you are wrong."

No wonder Ed never married. I don't think that kind of inflexibility would make for a good relationship.

The Coral Castle is also home to many beautiful Agama agama lizards. They are everywhere in the walls of the castle. These lizards are exotics from Africa.

Close up of jagged stone used in Coral Castle construction.

A view of Ed's electromagnetic equipment for his experiments. Very interesting stuff. Lots of hand made solenoids and coils.

And chain lifts. There goes the levitation theory.

Ponce de Leon Hotel and one more odd thing- OLDFlorida 3

On the same trip to St. Augustine Florida we briefly stopped by Flagler College ( once Ponce de Leon Hotel). This place reminds me of the Henry Plant hotel in Tampa Florida but is a different flavor. The architectural detail on this building is incredible
The main courtyard and fountain are decorated with water spitting toads and turtles that surround a knobby central shaft. This water cascade pillar looks incredibly like the head and body of a tape worm.

Tapeworm pillar at the center of courtyard fountain.

Another strange detail at Flagler College are the evil looking chains that surround the place. Spiked chain links with spiked iron balls of different sizes droop between concrete supports. I learned that these chains were used in some way as another defense of the harbor against enemy invaders. Supposedly the chains lay in wait under the water and were hoisted in some way if enemy ships entered the harbor. This would damage the hull and sink the vessel. I will have to look further into this one. I am trying to imagine the mechanism needed to hoist these chains if they were across the mouth of the harbor- it would be quite an undertaking.
We left St. Augustine but traveled to another curiosity close by before heading back to Tampa.
About 20 minutes north of St. Augustine in a landscape overgrown by some strange choking shrubs that remind me of brazilian pepper trees is a castle on the shore. The Castle Otttis (yes that is three t's. Probably a typographical reference to the three crosses at Golgotha) is a monument to Jesus Christ and maybe the biggest landscape ornament ever made. The construction of this castle began in the early 1980's and took about a decade to complete. The builders ( who must also own the structure) are named as Ottis Sadler and Rusty with mention of a woodworker named Lee Carpenter. Sounds like a couple of these guys could be figments of Ottis's imagination. The castle is referred to as "a place of peace on Earth" and "a place for meditation". Right on.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

OldUSA- Day Two in St. Augustine

Bastion on bay side of the Castillo de San Marcos
Day two of the exploration of St. Augustine started with my partner Kym O'Donnell reading from our Florida travel bible "Weird Florida" by Charlie Carlson which describes strange things in the landscape to be seen or avoided. I learned that we had, in fact, avoided the pink carnivorous cloud of Tomoka. The stories about this flesh eating fog resemble a monster in a Star Trek episode I remember- but that was a blood sucking sparkly cloud.

The episode is called "Obsession" if anyone out there is interested in vampiric vapors and science fiction. Also on the interesting list was the fate of the Native American known as Osceola. Osceola was imprisoned along with many other indians at the Castillo de San Marcos while the US Navy held the fort. It seems that Osceola died in prison of an ailment (quinsy or malaria) but because of his notoriety his head was cut off and given to a local physician by the name of Frederick Weedon. Weedon embalmed the head and kept it, even using it to discipline his children by putting it on their bedpost at night when they were naughty.( remember the good old days when you could torture your children with severed heads if they didn't clean up their room?) The head eventually found it's way to one Valentine Mott in New York who placed it in the collection of the Surgical and Pathological Museum. The museum burned down at some point and the head of Osceola was presumably freed from this material dimension. Anyway, on to our second day exploring St. Augustine. We began at The Fountain of Youth.

I feel obliged to describe the area not through the natural beauty of the site but through the themed environments that describe the sites history. Unnatural beauty is much rarer. Here we see a Native American greeting a Spaniard at the Fountain of Youth.
There is also this great oil painting at the site. Ponce de Leon is pictured asleep against a palm tree dreaming of the fountain with naked young girls dancing around it. The painting is by Augustus Heaton, I do not know the date. We drank from the fountain and were informed that the water comes from the Floridan Aquifer which is basically common Zepherhills drinking water.
We then had lunch at the Santa Maria Restaurant where you can feed the sea birds through cool little trap doors at every table. The servers bring bread and you can either drop it through or, if you are brave, hand the bread directly to the hungry beak. Feathers float in through the door and land in your food- its great fun.
Octopus ceramic plate at the Villa Zorayda Museum
Our next stop was to view the Villa Zorayda Museum which is a monument to exoticism. It is collection of arabic and eastern furniture and objects that takes the breath away because of the attention to detail and beauty of the artifacts. We don't make stuff like this any more!
Monk lizard pitcher at Villa Zorayda Museum

One of the strangest artifacts at the museum is this Cat Fur Rug that hangs in an egyptian themed room.
Supposedly thousands of years old and made from actual cat hair, this rug also has a curse connected to it. Should anyone walk upon the Cat Fur Rug, well, that person is in big trouble. On a table beneath the hanging rug is a glass pyramid shaped curio with a mummy's severed foot in it. St. Augustine is sure fond of severed body parts. The museums staff assured me that a publication is pending which will list and show this museum's exotic treasures. I for one will have it in my library.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

OLDusa- Day One in St. Augustine FL

Recently I visited yet another Florida location that was a first for me. The oldest town in the United States of America, St. Augustine Fl. The historic district is now quite a tourist attraction and is geared to maximize the popular culture appeal of stuff like ghosts and pirates but there are many unusual rabbit holes to explore. Everything we passed as we walked from our hotel room on the first day had the word   "old" in it- oldest town store, oldest school house, and the old jail.

In front of the old jail is a sculpture of a chain gang which is amazing in how well it reads considering the crudeness of the plaster it is made from.

At sunset we arrived at the Castillo de San Marcos. This was one of the major sites in St. Augustine that I was interested in because of the construction materials and history. It was not a disappointment!
The castle is the oldest masonry building in the continental US- construction was started in 1672.
The actual town or settlement was established 107 years prior to the beginning of the fort's construction.

The structure is amazing. The fort is built with local shell infused limestone that, by it's nature, became one of the greatest engineering triumphs of it's time. By chance, the materials available were the exact prescription for an impenetrable fortress.

View of exterior mote wall
Detail of the Coquina "rock" used in the fort's construction.
The coquina masonry of the walls literally absorbed cannon fire into itself rather than cracking. This is evident on the bayside of the fort where the holes are plain to see. Years ago I became interested in this fort after reading about it's construction materials and came up with an idea for a sculptural installation called "Punching Bag for the Englishman with the Iron Fists" which would consist of a cast coquina punching bag suspended from the ceiling and two cast iron fists on the floor. I tracked down the sketch book drawing of this dated 6/12/2000.

I noticed an abundance of architectural phalluses at the site and all over St. Augustine in the older buildings. Each corner of the fort has a dick-like rampart tower. Around town there are numerous free standing structures like this that seem to serve no purpose or are connected to walls. 

The only structure in the fort that was made of cast concrete is an addition by the United States military when it controlled the fort. It is an oven for heating canon balls till they are red hot so that when fired they would start fires on the wooden vessels they struck. It is a very interesting structure resembling a kiln with a chimney and open end at both front and back.

Across from the oven is a wall that the US soldiers obviously used to try out their firearms.