Sunday, March 22, 2015

Coral fixation: Coral Castle of Homestead, Florida


 Ed welcomes you.




 This 9-ton gate moves with one finger.

 Coral stone, dense and heavy, man.

 Ed's homemade tools...that's all he used.


Ed's Florida table...

 ...complete with Lake Okeechobee.

 Ed's living quarters...a bit medieval-looking, if you ask me.


Yes, yes you will.

Ed Leedskalnin was an immigrant from Latvia born in 1887 who lived in Canada, California and Texas before moving to southern Florida to help get over a case of tuberculosis. When he was 26, he became engaged to marry his true love, 16-year-old Agnes Scuffs. She left him just one day before the wedding and, like the Taj Mahal guy, he devoted the rest of his life to building a shrine dedicated to his lost love, only Ed's material of choice was coral stone, and unlike the Taj Mahal guy, he built it all himself. Unlike coral from the sea, coral stone is incredibly dense and heavy and how a 5-foot, 100-pound man with a history of respiratory illness could spend from 1923 to 1951 building the amazingly complicated structures you see today by himself with only homemade tools has remained a mystery on the level of Stonehenge and the great Pyramids of Egypt. There is a two-story castle-shaped structure where Ed lived very spartanly, chairs, tables, planet sculptures and even a 9-ton gate that moved with the touch of one finger. Ed, who never got past the fourth grade, said he knew the secrets of how the pyramids were built and since no one ever saw him building anything (he worked at night by torch), many believed he had supernatural powers. He used to charge 10 cents for tours and sold pamphlets, all the while adding more structures to his obsession. And since the Coral Castle is in the town of Homestead, it's even more miraculous the place was one of the few spared the devastation of Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Ed died in 1951 at the age of 64 and the place has changed hands a couple of times over the years. Today, it is a museum open every day with tours and a swell gift shop. So, make the trip...you'll be bowl-Ed over, dumbfound-Ed and you won't be disappoint-Ed.

Monday, March 9, 2015

A little something to keep you posted: The country's smallest post office of Ochopee, Florida







 Postmaster Shannon Mitchell, at your service

 It really is a living, breathing post office



 One of the friendly neighbors along the mail route

 There is a glorious 264-mile stretch of Florida's old Highway 41 that runs from Tampa to Miami that is, appropriately enough, known as the Tamiami Trail. Predating the Interstate, it's still dotted with old fashioned tourist attractions and the kinds of oddities we eccentric roadside attraction fans pine for, not the least of which are real, live alligators you can see from your car window along the roadside canals. The Everglades stretch of the Tamiami is also the home of a magnificently unexpected roadside treat: the smallest post office building in the entire USA. In the early 1930s, the tiny town of Ochopee, about 36 miles southeast of Naples (Florida, not Italy, silly) was settled as a tomato farming community and once had a general store with a post office inside it on Route 41. In 1953, a fire destroyed the building, but quick-thinking postmaster Sidney Brown removed the postal records before they were damaged and set up shop in a nearby undamaged 7 x 8-foot shed formerly used to store irrigation pipes and hoses and the post office has remained there to this day. It's just large enough for one postal employee to sit and tend to the postal matters at hand, which include processing mail for a 132-mile mail route across three counties, and taking care of walk-up customers and curiosity seekers. We were lucky enough to catch postmaster Shannon Mitchell hard at work. She cheerfully answered our inane questions (Where do you use the rest room? Across the street at Joanie's Blue Crab Restaurant. How long have you worked here? Nine years. You must like all your coworkers, don't you? nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.)  She sold us a commemorative postcard with a one-of-a-kind cancellation for the low, low price of a dollar, too. Lots of tourists drop by to take pictures to make their friends back home envious, which does our hearts good and just goes to show you that good things really do come in small (postal) packages.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Big shoes to fill

There's nothing that gives us a kick quite like the sight of extra large footwear along the open road. We've been lucky enough to spot a few along the way, so try these on for size (I take a 9 1/2):

 The big boot of the L.L. Bean headquarters store, Freeport, Maine.

 An extra large Timberland Pro series with the Titan Safety Toe, Pompano Beach, Florida

The Haines Shoe House of Hellam, Pennsylvania (being worked on by cobblers, er, contractors when we were there)

The Silver Slipper (size 0...you know how it is with ladies' apparel), at the Neon Boneyard, Las Vegas, Nevada

Monday, January 19, 2015

How Swede it is: Jenguard, the Viking statue of Jensen Beach, Florida










For forty some-odd years, the Jensen Beach Elementary School, in the mid-eastern Florida coast town of Jensen Beach, has had an 18-foot fiberglass Viking warrior standing watch outside their front door. Jenguard, as he's known, has survived hurricanes and vandalism and stands looking every bit the ferocious Norseman, what with his horned helmet, blond beard and locks, blue tunic and yellow tights. And being a European visiting Florida, he's also wearing white tube socks with his calf-strap sandals. He started out as an employee of the Viking Carpet chain back in the 1960s. Back then, they used these longboating behemoths as eye-catching barkers for their flooring emporiums along the open road. Nowadays, the surviving statues appear mostly as Viking mascots in front of schools much like Jensen Elementary. You can get the whole saga here from road scholar Debra Jane Seltzer on her indispensable roadside architecture website.

And even though this is Florida and Vikings weren't known to winter or even summer here, Jenguard seems appropriate because Jensen Beach is named after John Laurence Jensen, an immigrant from Denmark who set up a pineapple plantation here in 1881. May the Norse be with you.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Swan song: RIP Rod Taylor


 An autographed photo of Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren at the Bodega Country Store. Wish we'd bought it when we were there.

 The Tides Restaurant, a crucial location in "The Birds." This is how it looks today.

 The Bodega schoolhouse...

...where everybody has to get into the act.

It is with sadness that we learned of the passing of the great actor Rod Taylor today. Among other roles, he starred with Tippi Hedren in Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds," which is one of our all-time favorite movies. So much so, in fact, that a few years ago, we made a special trip to the two California towns about an hour north of San Francisco that Hitchcock used for location shooting, Bodega and Bodega Bay. Both places are beautiful, rugged northern California villages that still revel in being part of such a classic film, even fifty years later. You can read our earlier post about them here.

As for Mr. Taylor, we're imagining he's being fitted for his own pair of wings right about now.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Playing ketchup with an old favorite: the world's largest catsup bottle is up for sale

 The Collinsville, Illinois tower dates back to 1949, and when the Brooks company relocated to Indiana in 1959, the bottle remained.

 In 1993, the bottle's owners wanted to sell the property and the Catsup Bottle Preservation Group was formed to keep it standing.


If you have $500,000 lying around and you're in the market for a 70-foot tall, 100,000-gallon water tower that carries bragging rights as the world's largest catsup bottle, have we got a deal for you. Bethel-Eckert Enterprises, the owners of the bottle, decorated in 1949 to resemble Brooks Old Original Rich and Tangy Catsup which used to be bottled at the plant next door in Collinsville, Illinois, just outside St. Louis, put the bottle and the property on which it sits up for sale last June and so far offers, much like ketchup pouring from a bottle, have been rather slow. It came as a surprise to us, and many other of the bottle's fans, that it was privately owned, as it has been on the National Register of Historic Places for some time and has been the source of a Catsup Bottle Preservation Group and yearly catsup festivals in Collinsville. A Mr. Mike "Big Tomato" Gassman, leader of the Preservation Group, is optimistic a sympathetic buyer will be found soon.

We hope so, too, because if the future of the bottle is in a pickle, we hope a buyer will mustard the strength to overcome doubt and relish it, if you catsup our drift.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Crocodile rock: The granite gator of Boynton Beach, Florida






Among the flora and fauna of the northern Everglades nature preserve known as the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Preserve in western Boynton Beach, Florida sits a decidedly more man-made bit of wildlife. Artist CR Grey of Key West has fashioned an alligator made out of stones and wire that looks quite real at a distance is very amusing up front. He sits sunning himself, as if to say "Welcome to the Everglades, y'all." Good on you, Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Preserve for throwing in a bit whimsy with the wildlife...you rock our world and that's no crock!