Koreshan Unity: Living inside the World in South Florida

Cyrus Teed, a New York surgeon who served in the Civil War, had an active mind, perhaps too active. He also had a mission to change the world and tried to make it happen, as did others who were shattered by the nation’s recent carnage. (There are several competing versions of important events in Teed’s life but basically this is what happened.)

Around 1869 Teed experienced “a spiritual illumination.” He said that as “he was meditating, a woman appeared who revealed to him many universal truths. From that experience on he considered himself a prophet of God, an immortal healer and spiritual guide sent by heaven to lead humanity.”

Teed started his religious movement, the Koreshan Unity, in Chicago. He changed his name to Koresh, meaning Cyrus in Hebrew. There is no connection between this Koresh and the group in Texas led by David Koresh of the Branch Davidians near Waco, Texas. That religious cult was annihilated by Janet Reno, Attorney General of the United States, under Bill Clinton in 1993.

The Koreshan Unity was one of  “numerous” groups that appeared after the Civil War, all with the goal of making the world a better place, “a Utopian civilization that could right the wrongs of society and government.” Chad Gillis, Naples News, 05/13/01.

Koresh preached:

1. Reincarnation, communal living, celibacy and equity. (The equality of men and women)

2. Socialism was the key to eliminating the power of money and what he called wage slavery.

3. Heaven and Hell were not actual places but conditions of the mind. ( Pope John also said this.)

Women made up the overwhelming majority of his followers because of his belief in the “equality of the sexes and races well in advance of the rest of the country. The faithful were promised immortality through celibacy so the men and women lived apart and children were raised communally.” FloridaTraveler.com. See link below.

Teed eventually moved his operation to Lee County in Southwest Florida in 1984, near the town of Estero and began work on the commune. The new arrivals started off on a positive note when Gustave Damkoehler, the first homesteader in the area, gave the Koreshans over 300 acres, which quickly grew in size. Teed oversaw the construction of a self-sufficient community, soon to be the New Jerusalem with a population of ten million. The best they could do, though, was 200 faithful at its peak.

At its peak, “Koreshan business holdings extended from a furniture manufacturing plant in Bristol, Tenn. to a hotel in Costa Rica. At one point they were looking for land in Haiti because they knew they could manufacture there.”

The community was an excellent place to live. “Manicured gardens lined carefully planned streets. A bakery produced up to 600 fresh loaves a day. Recreational opportunities included tennis, baseball and boating. Arts and crafts flourished. A printing shop produced a weekly newspaper. A power plant provided electricity. In the evenings, the community enjoyed classical music and Shakespearean dramas in their elegant Art Hall. Fine oil paintings by community members decorated the walls.” (Most of his followers were educated and had assets.)

Teed had a unique view of the universe. Two explanations of his universe by two sources are:

“The universe is a cell…all of life existed inside a hollow sphere and…mankind lived on the inner surface of the globe. (bonitabanner, 01/05.)

“…the earth was a hollow orb containing continents and oceans on the inside. The sun, moon and stars were reflections in the ball of gas that comprised the earth’s core.”

To prove his belief that we are living inside the earth Teed completed an extensive geodetic study done in Naples, Florida. “The study was an elaborate experiment conducted on local beaches. Koreshans toted a long, straight board three miles down the shore, sighting it along the horizon line and making meticulous measurements and calculations every foot of the way.

“When they pronounced their theory proved on May 8, 1897, the plank was 75 inches closer to the ground from the point where they started, demonstrating to them that the earth’s surface curved inward, not outward.” Chad Gillis, Bonita Daily News, 05/13/01.

There are several versions about the brawl that led to Teed’s death but they all agree that there was a brawl. This version was done by a scholar using footnotes so we’ll go with it.

Essentially, the fight was the result of some disagreement between the Koreshans, who had formed the Progressive Liberty Party, and the established Democrats of Fort Myers. The resulting  street brawl was between “several Koreshan men, including Teed, and some citizens of Fort Myers, accompanied by the town marshall, on October 13, 1906. Soon after the fight, Teed’s health began to fail abruptly, and it was generally accepted, at least among his followers, that his death, on December 22, 1908, could be directly attributed to the injuries he received in the brawl.”

Teed’s illumination in 1869 included that after his death, “he would incarnate and reemerge immortal.”  His followers anxiously awaited his resurrection because they were told that if they remained celibate they also “would become immortal upon his resurrection.  (Dr. Cyrus Teed and the Koreshan Unity Movement, Catherine A. Anthony)

“His followers propped him up in a tin bath on the Art Hall stage, assuming he would resurrect himself after the customary three days and nights. Several days after Christmas, the Koreshans still remained hopeful.
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“Finally, the county health inspector said they had to do something,” according to Chet Perry, a volunteer docent at the historical site. They decided to put his body in a mausoleum by the beach.

Perry: “They still thought he’d come back–he was just being stubborn…They kept a 24 hour vigil at the mausoleum so somebody would be there to greet him.” The Koreshans kept the faith until, 13 years later, Cyrus Teed was washed out to sea by a hurricane. FloridaTraveler.com

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