Wauchula, FL - Event of Tuesday, January 31, 2017
We have been wanting to visit Solomon's Castle in Ona, Florida, ever since we first heard about it several years ago, but it was over two hours away from where we previously spent our winters at Blueberry Hill RV Resort. Our move to the SKP Florida co-op last fall put us only about 30 minutes from Solomon's Castle, so we definitely had it on our list of things to see this winter. In fact, we planned to visit Solomon's Castle with Roger and Paula when they stopped by on their way to Lakeland a couple of weeks ago. However, we ended up going to the Cracker Trail Museum instead because Roger and Paula arrived later in the afternoon than originally planned, and we were afraid we wouldn't have enough time at the castle since it is farther away and since it closes earlier than the museum.
Since the castle was still on our minds, we decided to head there last Tuesday. Solomon's Castle is a gleaming, 12,000-square foot, 3-story structure built by artist Howard Solomon. Admission includes a guided tour of the castle and costs $12.50 for adults (cash or check only - no credit or debit cards). Solomon's Castle is open from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. They are closed Mondays, and they are closed the months of August and September.
Howard Solomon, who passed away just last August (2016), started building the castle in 1972. The exterior of the castle is covered by used printing plates from the newspaper in Wauchula. The paper used the aluminum plates in their offset printing process up until about 6 months ago when they switched to digital printing.
Howard was a sculptor who liked to make things from discarded materials like car parts, bicycle gears and old oil drums...and from used printing plates. The castle has a museum on the first floor displaying some of his work. Living quarters that were used by Howard and his family are located on the second and third floors. Howard's widow recently moved out of the castle so parts of the second floor are now included in the tour. Overnight accommodations are available in the Blue Moon Room on the third floor.
Howard himself used to occasionally lead tours when he wasn't busy working in his shop. Howard didn't take himself too seriously as evidenced by the fact the tour consists of a continuous string of puns and jokes.
The first work visitors see right inside the door of the museum is called "English Barrister." The hair of the wooden statue is in ringlets that the tour guide says are made from curly maple.
Also in the first room is a metal sculpture of a fish whose title is "The One That Got Away."
Another example of Howard's humor is "The Tortoise and the Hair," which consists of a tortoise shell (actually, the shell is probably that of a sea turtle, but we can allow for artistic license) with a wig hanging out from below.
There is a motorcycle made from parts from a corn planter. The title of this work is "Evil Kornevil."
The jokes continue with a series of faux guns. The one at the top of the next photo has a clock set into the stock and designed to kill time.
Another gun with a square barrel is called "Square Shooter."
There are over 60 pictures made from painted wood pieces in the museum. Most of these are a little less tongue-in-cheek, but are still pretty whimsical like "Jack and Jill" shown below...
...and like the portrait Howard did of himself.
There are several animal sculptures like a giraffe made from coat hangers...
...and an elephant made from oil drums. The tusks of the elephant are manatee ribs and the toenails are seashells.
Although Howard Solomon did attend a trade school for a while after he was expelled from high school in the 10th grade, he was largely self-taught. He seemed to have an innate ability to make things. The first thing he made as a 4-year old child is a car and trailer that is on display in the living quarters of the castle. The car and trailer are only about two inches long. The wheels are made from pieces Howard cut from one of his mother's wooden knitting needles. He made the car and trailer using only a razor blade. One might wonder what his mother was thinking giving a 4-year old child a razor blade, but she must have been able to see his natural ability to work with his hands.
One interesting fact we learned on the tour was that all of Howard's designs were in his head. He never made sketches or put anything on paper.
On the grounds there is also a 60-foot replica of a 16th century Portuguese galleon that serves as the Boat in the Moat Restaurant. A 4-story lighthouse and an outdoor patio bring the total seating capacity of the restaurant to around 250 people. After our tour of the castle, we were hungry so we decided to give the restaurant a try.
Since it was a beautiful day, we opted to eat outside on the patio that is located beside the moat.
The restaurant has sandwiches that include potato chips and one side for $10 to $11, lunch salads for $9 to $10, and hot entrees with one side for $10 to $13. Like the castle itself, the restaurant is only open until 4 p.m. and it does not accept credit or debit cards either. There is an ATM machine available in the gift shop next to the courtyard.
Margery had a Reuben sandwich with spinach casserole as her side, and Paul had a corned beef sandwich with potato salad.
The sandwiches were good, but not terrific. Specifically, the corned beef on both our sandwiches consisted of round slices of pressed corned beef lunch meat rather than real, deli-style corned beef brisket. The sides, on the other hand, were excellent as was the atmosphere. There was live entertainment (a singer with guitar) and the surroundings under the shade of a big, live oak tree on the patio were very pleasant.
After lunch, we walked down the road a few hundred yards to see Howard's workshop. The shop isn't open to the public, but we could see some unfinished works still on the back porch.
Also down the road is a replica of the Alamo built by Howard.
To finish up our visit to Solomon's Castle, we followed the short nature trail that leads from behind the castle to the parking lot.
Part of the trail follows Horse Creek.
We really enjoyed our visit to Solomon's Castle. The tour with all its puns and jokes was a lot of fun, and it was amazing to see the creativity exhibited in Howard's many works of art.