Before "Cradle of Love," the song that introduced Billy Idol to a generation of '80s babies (this writer included), the shock-haired singer already had one song about a heart-stealing young vixen under his belt. Since the moment we heard "Sweet Sixteen," it's been our favorite piece of Idol's solo work -- but it's the backstory, not the melody, that makes the 1986 tune interesting.
One weekend several years ago Rocks Off, a B-movie aficionado, watched a film with the most-excellent title Wild Women of Wongo. The plot is your typically weak Corman-esqe storyline, the sole purpose of which was to facilitate the on-screen antics of young loincloth-clad actresses: a tribe of men who live on a deserted island discover a tribe of women living on another island. Late-'50s risqué sexiness ensues.
As we were watching the film, Rocks Off's partner, who grew up in Florida, immediately recognized Coral Castle from this scene.
Coral Castle is a roadside attraction just outside of Miami that was built in the first half of the 20th century by a Latvian immigrant named Edward Leedskalnin. Seeing as how cheesy mid-century roadside attractions are another of Rocks Off's obsessions (and Florida has a wealth of them) we soon made it our mission to learn everything we possible could about the Taj Mahal of the South Dixie Highway.
Turns out, the real history of Coral Castle is pretty hard to uncover. Leedskalnin was a pretty freaky, private dude, and the museum that now holds his work in trust does everything it can to perpetuate the myths he developed about the project. Here's the "official" story:
Leedskalin was engaged to a 16-year-old girl in Latvia named Agnes Scuffs, ten years his junior. She left him a day before they were supposed to get married. Brokenhearted, he emigrated to America where he spent 28 years building the castle out of giant blocks of limestone as a dedication to the only girl he ever loved.
Carrying a flame for a 16-year old for nearly 3 decades after you last saw her seems a little weird, right? The story gets weirder. As the website says, "prepare to be amazed."
Leedskalnin came down with a nasty bout of pneumonia when he first got to the US, and he credited the magic of fuckin' magnets (how do they work?) with saving his life. He later claimed to have built a "perpetual motion machine" to help him move the 1,000 tons of giant limestone blocks that make up Coral Castle. He also claimed to have knowledge of "the secret of the pyramids."
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Leedskalnin refused to let anyone see him while at work, though some teenagers said they spied on him moving objects telepathically.
Coral Castle's notable features include a 9-ton gate that revolves on a single balancing point, a water well, a table shaped like Florida with a large fingerbowl representing Lake Okeechobee (Leedskalin envisioned world leaders meeting here), several heavy limestone rocking chairs, a sundial and a royal throne, used in the film for the Queen of Wongo's seat.
Rocks Off made it a mission to visit Coral Castle last summer. Here's how it looks now:
But we weren't the only ones obsessed with the story of Leedskalnin's own obsession. Billy Idol's song, "Sweet Sixteen," is about Leedskalnin's lost lover. Here's hoping he plays it tonight at his House of Blues show.