Koreshan State Historic Site: ‘The Ghosts of Florida’s New Jerusalem’

KORESHAN STATE PARK, FL — If the dream of Dr. Cyrus Teed had come true, the capital of the world would be located just south of Fort Myers, Florida. A century later, the fascinating remains of Teed’s failed utopia are preserved at the Koreshan State Historic Site — perhaps Florida’s most unusual ghost town.

The story began in 1869 when Teed, a 30-year-old Chicago physician, had a revelation that he was the Messiah. He changed his name to Koresh (the Hebrew form of ‘Cyrus’), and in 1894 he  lead his wealthy followers into the muggy wilderness of Estero, where they founded a commune called the Koreshan Unity.

“They wanted to recreate the Garden of Eden, and they knew they couldn’t do it in Chicago,” said Chet Perry, a volunteer docent. Estero was supposed to become the New Jerusalem, with a population of 10 million. During its heyday at the turn of the century, only about 200 people made their home here.

But for a while, Teed’s seemed to be coming true: From the bug-infested swamps, the Koreshans had carved out a thriving, economically independent community. 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 produce 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.

The sciences also flourished here–or at least Teed’s own peculiar brand of science called “cellular cosmogony.” Teed believed that 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.

In 1898, the Teed conducted an experiment on Naples Beach  that showed the horizon curved up eight inches every mile, thus “proving” that the horizon was concave, not convex. The rectilineater he used for the experiment can be seen in the Art Hall, along with a hollow globe.

“Supposedly, Hitler was also intrigued by this thought,” Perry said. “He thought if he built a powerful enough telescope he could see FDR over in the White House and watch what he was doing there.”

A Brief History of Koreshanity

In addition to his contributions to science, Teed founded Koreshanity, a religion which was to supersede Christianity. Many of the women became followers because Teed taught equality of the sexes and races well in advance of the rest of the country. Koreshanity also taught celibacy. Men and women lived separately, and children were raised communally.

“He thought the act of celibacy would create immortality,” Perry said. “Of course, it shot holes in that theory when he died,” Perry said.

Teed died three days before Christmas in 1908. 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.

“Finally, the county health inspector said they had to do something,” Perry said. So the Koreshans placed Teed’s body in a mausoleum by the beach. “They still thought he’d come back–he was just being stubborn,” Perry said. “They kept a 24 hour vigil at the mausoleum so somebody would be there to greet him.” The Koreshans didn’t abandon hope of their leader’s return until 13 years later, when Cyrus Teed’s body was washed to see by a hurricane.

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During the Great Depression, the community sold off the larger portion of its 7,500 acres. Advances in science, two world wars and the effects of celibacy gradually took their toll on the Koreshan Unity. In 1962, two members who remained deeded the land to the state. The last Koreshan, Hedwig Michel, died in 1982.

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Koreshan State Park Info:

Koreshan State Historic Site is located at 3800 Corkscrew Road Estero, Florida 33928. Phone: 239-992-0311. Fax: 239-992-1607.

Driving Directions: I-75 Exit 123 Corkscrew Road, head west 2 miles, cross U.S. 41 and continue on Corkscrew Road approximately 1000 yards to entrance of park. If traveling U.S. 41 (Tamiami Trail) Koreshan is located at the intersection of U.S. 41 and Corkscrew Road at Estero.

Admission: $4.00 for up to 8 people per car. $3.00 single occupant. Camping: All Year: $22.00 per night plus tax Guided Tours: Adult $2.00 – Children $1.00 Boat Ramp: $3.18 plus entrance fee Canoe Rental: $5.30 per hour, or $26.50 for all day

Is Koreshan State Park haunted? Find out for yourself. The park hosts Ghost Walks twice a year. For more information, see the links below:

Comments

  1. Shannon says

    couple errors in text
    In 1989, the Teed conducted an experiment…..
    …..Cyrus Teed’s body was washed to see by a hurricane.

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