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Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | Uncanny Gifts

Uncanny Gifts

Earlier this week, I was in Miami for a partly-expected but still surprising Christmas gift. Last fall, when I heard The Killers would be touring in January, I asked my husband to get us tickets. He did, but in a typical Bob-fashion, instead of buying them for our local Philadelphia show, he bought them for the Miami show and planned a mini-vacation around it.

The concert was AMAZING, but that’s not what I’m writing about today. The day after the show, with Change Your Mind and All the Things That I’ve Done still ringing in my mind, we visited Coral Castle in Homestead, Florida.

You may be familiar with Coral Castle, sometimes known as “America’s Stonehenge,” especially if you watch TV shows about unsolved mysteries. This bizarre rock garden, filled with carved stones weighing thousands of pounds each, was built in the 1930s by a single man using only handmade tools. Edward Leedskalnin, a Latvian immigrant who weighed less than 100 pounds and was only 5 feet tall, excavated these stones and assembled the structures by himself, working only at night and in secret. To this day, no one knows how he did it.



The stones aren’t actually made of coral; they’re a form of limestone that resembles coral. Leedskalnin himself called the place Rock Gate Garden, and the name was changed only after his death. The garden contains rocking chairs weighing 1000 pounds each that move with the gentle nudge of a foot. There’s a working, oblong gate weighing 9000 pounds that I, myself, rotated with one hand. And there’s also an 18,000 pound upright gate that used to rotate with the touch of a finger – until it fell out of alignment in the 1980s. A team of university engineers, using modern equipment, was unable to restore it.


I was familiar with pictures of Coral Castle before I went, but upon my arrival, I was struck by the unexpected beauty of the place. There’s no doubt Leedskalnin built his “castle” to impress, and also incorporated many intriguing astronomical and Masonic symbols, but it was first and foremost a garden. Today, it is possible to rent Coral Castle for private parties. Our guide told us there was a wedding there just two weeks prior to our visit, and I thought, What a lovely, other-worldly setting this would be for a small reception!


As for the question of how Leedskalnin built this place, our guide laughed at the various “out-of-this-world” theories regarding levitation, magnetism, and aliens. The staff at Coral Castle doesn’t know exactly how Leedskalnin lifted and moved these stones, but they take him at his word that it merely involved weight, leverage, and balance. Leedskalnin claimed that he could find the balance point of any stone, no matter how large or irregular, and all evidence suggests that he was telling the truth.

Throughout history, there have been individuals widely acknowledged as geniuses, whose talent crosses many disciplines – for example, Leonardo da Vinci and Nikola Tesla. These individuals tend to be well-educated and extend their knowledge through study and experimentation. However, I wonder if we have not given enough attention to people who seem to be born with a very narrow and specific – and often uncanny – ability that defies scientific explanation.


Edward Leedskalnin had a preternatural talent for understanding rocks. When you look at the giant structures he erected by hand, that is abundantly clear. While leaving his garden, I reflected on this and was immediately reminded of another individual with a similarly unexplained – and very narrow – talent.


Annie Oakley, by all accounts, was blessed with a miraculous talent for aim. Eye witness accounts of her feats often remark that her gift was unnerving, as if she simply had a sensory perception other people lacked.

So, help me out, readers. Can you think of anyone else who fits this description? Not a person with a brilliant mind – like Einstein or Hawking – or someone who made discoveries through hard work and trial and error – like Edison. But people who simply have one narrow gift or perception that defies explanation?

You can learn more about Coral Castle here.

14 Responses to Uncanny Gifts

  1. Sounds like an amazing place. Since some of the heavy structures still move, obviously he knew how to do it.
    Would you consider Chihuly someone like that? I’ve never seen anyone else create the glass artwork he does.
    And good to hear from you!

  2. Tiana Smith says:

    Fascinating. I can’t think of anyone off the top of my head, but will come back if I think of something. (I’m always intrigued by amazing talents, like watching those television shows where I’m always amazed by what people can do, often at really young ages).

  3. Hilary says:

    Hi Dianne – what an amazing place and how fantastic of your hubby to buy the tickets and make a special occasion (mini vacation) for you both. The show must have been lovely .. but learning and seeing the park such a fascinating place.

    I’d suggest South African Helen Martins – who made an incredible sculpture house – she was a reclusive artist … fabulous place to visit – see Wiki

    The other one is an American – I wrote about him and his hidden art … ‘New Jersey Lizard from the Swamps’ as he was apparently known – my story of seeking him out, is one story, … but his art and his story is quite another – so interesting …


    apologies – you got two … but I’d love to see Edward Leedskalnin’s works … extraordinary place …

    Thanks – a fascinating post and lovely tribute to your husband! Fun for you both – cheers Hilary

  4. mshatch says:

    I read about how they tried to repair that gate but couldn’t get it to work like it originally did. Glad you enjoyed your mini-vaca 🙂

  5. I’ve heard of the place, but it was so long ago that I’d forgotten, and I didn’t see as many pictures before. It looks fascinating.

    And while I can’t think of any people who fit the description, I like the idea of someone who just has an uncanny knack for something, just pure talent and/or skill. I think it’d be a lot more interesting to read about someone like that in a story than another “chosen one”. ^_^

  6. ChemistKen says:

    I’d heard of the place before too, although I think the author was trying to prove that the builder knew the same (otherworldly) magic secrets the builders of the Great Pyramids knew. Not sure about that last point, but he obviously had some special skills.

  7. What a beautiful place. No one comes to mind off the top of my head.

  8. Christian says:

    When will you be writing book 4 in the 8th day series

    • DianneSalerni says:

      Christian, I’m sorry to say that my publisher decided not to continue the series after Book 3. A bummer, I know. I’m disappointed too. But it’s all part of being an author. Sometimes you get good news. Sometimes you get bad news. But always, you keep writing!

  9. Christian says:

    couldn’t you show your publisher, on your blog, how many people want the 8th day series to continue? https://www.goodreads.com/author/903992.Dianne_K_Salerni/questions

    • DianneSalerni says:

      My editor knows how many fans the series has! But decisions like this are based on sales numbers. Publishing is a business, and they have to make a profit to stay in business (or they can’t publish more books and nobody wants that!). If the sales numbers change, I’m sure they might revisit their decision. Ultimately, this is part of what it means to be an author (or an agent, editor, or anyone else in the publishing business). We write the best stories we can and hope that readers love them, but also that they make a successful product that keeps publishers in business.

  10. Christian says:

    who is your publisher?

    • DianneSalerni says:

      HarperCollins. They’ve been a great publisher to work with. (I love the cover artist they assigned to my books!) I would be happy to publish with them again.