The wonderful world of Justice and Mommy aka Mary!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

A Trip To Solomon's Castle

The drive from Zolfo Springs to Solomons Castle was quite enjoyable even if there wasn’t much to see. The roads were long and lined with orange groves, cattle ranches and an occasional house. I didn’t think we were going to see anything surprising or eye catching until we came upon a one way bridge. Signs warned us to slow down and we approached cautiously.

As we came upon the bridge, my jaw dropped when I saw it was wooden and had two raised tracks, meant for our tires.. In all my life I had never seen anything like this. It was like something out of a movie. Regretfully, we had a friend following us, so I didn’t stop to take a picture; but, I wont make that mistake next year. In fact I’m looking forward to it.

We made the turn onto our final road and according to mapquest we had .9 miles to go. After a few miles, I realized mapquest was a bit off. I drove on for a bit, hoping for a country house where we could ask for directions; however, I didn’t see anything after another mile and decided to pull over and let Art, one of the Outlanders know what was going on.

He checked his atlas, which didn’t provide much help, then suggested we go back to the last turn and clock the .9 miles. We would try whatever driveway we reached at that point. It seemed like as good an idea as any, so we turned around and headed back. Suddenly I saw a man standing outside his truck at the gates to his ranch. I decided to stop and ask for directions.

The rancher could have jumped right out of a picture. His skin was weather beaten and he wore a cowboy hat. His jeans were blue and his button down shirt was typical. I pulled up behind him and he waited for me to get out of the car. “Excuse me, but we’re from out of town and we’re looking for Solomon’s Castle. Do you know where it is?”
He chuckled to himself and said, “You know where you was pulled over at….if you went another 400 yards you would have been there.” He was right and when we came up on the sign, I could see why he was laughing at us.

When we reached the parking lot, we quickly got out and walked towards the castle. Immediately I noticed the road had been painted yellow in the shape of bricks, no doubt a tongue in cheek reference to the yellow brick road. It felt somewhat magical to walk down that road with a shining castle in sight. I felt like Dorothy walking down that road. Just like her, I knew that castle held something special, just for us.

Solomon's Castle

Our first glimpse of the shinning masterpiece was resplendent in the Florida sun. The whole thing had been covered in shinny tin plates, discarded by the Wachula newspaper. They used the tin’s to print pages and after that, had no use for them. Howard Solomon took the phrase “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” to a whole new meaning when he recycled those tins and covered his castle with them.

Solomon's Castle

We walked through the front door and found ourselves in a small gift shop where we purchased a magnet, pet block and tickets to the castle tour. The next tour didn’t start for a few minutes so we looked around in amusement at the trinkets and artwork of Howard Solomon. It was just a taste of what was to come.

Soon the tour guide gathered us together and walked us into the first gallery. He told us the story of Howard Solomon and all about how he bought the land in Ona. When he purchased it, he didn’t realize it was a swamp. Being a resourceful man, he decided he needed to build up, not out, thus the castle was born. In addition to that he built a levy to pump the water out during the rainy season.

The galleries were filled with all sorts of art, mostly by Howard himself. Like the castle, his art is created out of discarded items, of no particular use to their previous owners. He often copies famous artists and pieced of work; but, always adds his own, unique flair to the finished product. His artwork is interesting and thought provoking to say the least. It also shows how much can be done with what most people would consider mere trash in this day and age of “Going Green” Howard Solomon should be a role model to us all.

During our tour I managed to take a few pictures of some of my favorite pieces. This one was entitled Where’s Waldo.

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I was also quite taken with “Do You Want A Hawaiian Punch”

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And my personal favorite, Howard’s Redneck Neighbors

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My favorite part of the tour took us into part of Howard’s personal living quarters. I found it wildly interesting to see where this artistic genius sat down after a hard days work or fixed a sandwich when he was hungry. The only modern thing I saw was a modest flat screen television. Everything else was somewhat older and there were signs of artistic inductions everywhere.

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Our favorite was the green lady under the stairs. The tour guide told us about Howard’s’ children and how they were told that they would have to go to the dungeon with the green lady if they misbehaved. He asked us all to step back and pulled up a section of the carpet. Below we could see the famed dungeon keeper and Justice’s eyes grew wide. I offered to buy her if Solomon was selling. Justice wasn’t too keen on that idea.

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The tour continued onto the grounds where we learned a bit more about the multitude of stained glass windows and the Boat In The Moat. We were taken through the boat and listened to the tail end of the tour while our nostrils filled with the sweet smell of warm apple and cinnamon mingled with home cooked pot roast and mashed potatoes‘. It was the perfect marriage of the sweet and savory.

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Art and I looked at each other and decided we were all hungry. The aroma of home cooked food and southern Florida kitsch was too much to resist. We decided to dine in the Spanish boat in lieu of the outdoor patio. As we sat down I was distinctly reminded of the many German club’s I used to eat at in Philadelphia while growing up.

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Both Art and I had chocolate Coke’s to drink and picked home cooked favorite’s. He choose the pot roast and I had the meatloaf. Justice was happy with the kids hot dog and chips. To my delight our food was served on green plates accented with scalloped edges and small flowers. I noticed the dishes on neighboring tables and realized that not everything matched. This only added to the feeling of a real “home cooked meal”.

We were all thrilled with the quality of the food. It was a nice change of pace from the typical Sysco branded chicken strips and fries served at most restaurants. It was country cooking at it’s best. The portions proved to be more than we could eat and I ended up packing up Justice’s food and mine for dinner later that night. We paid the bill, then decided to take a short walk to explore the rest of the grounds before heading home.

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As we headed down the short path, we came upon Howard’s large workshop. I was hoping for a glimpse of the famed artist; but, didn’t get what I was looking for. Next we came upon The Chocolate House, a soon to be open bed and breakfast run by Howard’s family. It was obvious that they were getting close to opening day and we could see random pieces of furniture inside the windows.

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Finally we reached “The Alishemoe”, which is Howard’s newest creation in the making. Apparently he took a trip to Texas and was quite taken with The Alamo and decided to make his own version of the famed historic site. It was in the construction stage when we visited; however, we are looking forward to visiting next year to see the finished product.

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The castle itself had a one bedroom suite, The Blue Moon Room which can be had for about $120 a night which seems to be quite charming according to the internet research I’ve done. I would love to spend one night there and one night in The Chocolate House before the next year comes and goes. It’s something we would really have to save for; but, I think it would be the opportunity of a lifetime- something to be treasured for years to come.

Here's Justice with Howard Solomon!

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As we headed back down the yellow brick road, which this time led to our dusty cars we were all happy with what we had seen. The side trip to Solomon’s Castle was well worth the time and money. I only wish we had more time to spend there and can’t wait to plan an overnight trip there in the next year!

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posted by Mary Gerber at 6/01/2008

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