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Cyrus Teed’s Shocking Revelation and Hollow Earth Settlement

If you’re looking for the center of the universe, look no farther than the Estero River just south of Fort Meyers in Lee County. This is the spot where Dr. Cyrus Reed Teed established his Koreshan Unity Settlement, an unusual colony of hollow earth followers. Cyrus Teed, who was born in 1839 near Trout Creek, New York, spent his younger years experimenting with alchemy, electrical phenomena, and seriously studying medicine with his uncle, Dr. Samuel Teed. Following a stint in the Union army during the Civil War, Cyrus Teed completed his medical studies and became a genuine doctor. However, still fascinated by electrical phenomena, Dr. Teed continued dabbling in physics and electromagnetism. In one of his electrical experiments he received a severe jolt that knocked him out. While unconscious he claimed to have experienced a divine illumination. We can believe that, just receive a surge of electricity and you’ll be illuminated too. Teed said that during this spiritual awakening, a beautiful woman revealed the secrets of the universe to him, and told him that he had a mission to “redeem humanity.”

Following his “shocking experience” Cyrus Teed’s scientific and religious theories began getting a little strange. He changed his name to Koresh, (pronounced ker-ESH) a Hebrew name taken from the Book of Isaiah 44:28. Then, in 1878, he joined a branch of the Shaker religious sect where he began organizing his own communal society.

Teed began promoting a pseudo-scientific notion that the Earth is a hollow spinning sphere and that we inhabit the inside held to the inner walls by centrifugal force. Actually, Teed went beyond just a run-of-the-mill Hollow Earth theory, he hypothesized that the entire universe was contained inside a super-size womb, called Earth, with the planets and sun suspended in the center, except the moon, which Teed said was just an illusion. Teed’s theory was appealing to many religious fundamentalists because no longer was the Earth just another tiny speck in the Universe, it was important because it contained the whole works inside and absolutely nothing on the outside.

What is even weirder than Teed’s theory, is that he was able to recruit a large number of educated people for what he called the Koreshan Unity. In the 1890s, the Koreshans claimed a following of 4,000 across the country. It was the beginning of a cult-movement based on what Teed called “Cellular Cosmogony,” a mixture of distorted science and religion. He preached that he had discovered the “vitellus of the great cosmogonic egg.” Translated that means he had found the bellybutton of the Earth, the epicenter of the second coming of Christ…which Teed calculated to be near Fort Meyers, Florida.

In 1894, the Koreshans acquired 320 acres of land on the Estero River for building a utopian settlement called New Jerusalem. According to an old newpaper article, the Koreshan colony at the time had the largest population of transplanted northerners than any other place in Florida. Koreshan-style socialism advocated communal living, sexual equality, and celibacy. They strongly opposed being slaves to a wage-earning society, yet they were self-sustained by a keen sense of business. The unusual settlement rapidly evolved into a prosperous community of homes with a three-story, communal dining hall, stores, post office, utility system, and several flourishing enterprises that included a printing plant, sawmill, blacksmith shop, boat works, bakery, concrete plant, tin works, a mattress shop, and a factory that turned out hats and baskets. In 1916, the Koreshans began generating their own electricity and even sold it to surrounding communities.

In an 1894 Chicago newspaper, Teed is described as “having a mesmerizing influence over his converts.” A 1907 editorial called him “A rascal using religion.” The movement promised its members immortality and a utopian paradise on earth...or according to their belief, inside the earth. Teed was often met with outside hostilities from skeptics who thought he was off his rocker, and was even sued in court a few times for trying to raise funds by claiming to be the second Christ. In order for Teed to maintain the allegiance of his flock, he had to dispel normal science as mere illusions while offering scientific evidence to support his Hollow Earth theory.

He preached, “To know of the Earth’s concavity and its relation to Universal form, is to know God; but to believe in the Earth’s convexity, [that is living on the Earth’s outside surface], is to deny God.”

Not many followers were willing to go against God by opposing Koreshan philosophy. Still Cyrus Teed needed to recruit more members and convince his pesky skeptics of his theories, so he called on Professor Ulysses Grant Morrow, of the Koreshan College of Life, to come up with an experiment to prove once and for all, that we live inside the Earth.

Proving Earth is Hollow with the Naples Experiment

To prove Cyrus Teed’s strange theory, Professor Ulysses Morrow devised a huge instrument that he dubbed the Rectilineator, which would measure the curvature of the Earth. The weird contraption consisted of ten huge, double T-squares made of seasoned mahogany, set horizontally on ten carefully balanced mounts. In January 1897, it took nearly a month for Professor Morrow and a dozen workers to setup and calibrate the big apparatus on a stretch of beach at Naples, Florida.

The experiment was called the Koreshan Geodetic Survey and if it worked, then it would show that the Earth’s surface curves upward at the rate of eight inches per mile. Morrow projected a horizontal line westward, and if his calculations were correct, this reference line would meet the water about four miles off shore in the Gulf of Mexico thus proving a concave surface. On the other hand, the Rectilineator would also indicate if the Earth’s surface was flat or convex. Since the contraption was only twelve feet long it had to be moved and calibrated section by section in order to repeat the experiment over the four mile distance.

It took five months to conduct the crazy experiment, but on May 5, 1897, Teed announced that the end of the instrument had touched the water, proving that we live on the inside of the Earth. Needless to say, the experiment has had no revolutionary impact on conventional science, however, Nazis in their attempt to control the world, checked out several crazy occult claims, including Cyrus Teed’s Hollow Earth theory. If by some remote chance Teed was correct, then they would be able to spy on the United States by pointing a telescope up. According to some unconfirmed reports, a secret mission of Nazi scientists briefly evaluated Teed’s far-fetched idea before tossing it out.

In 1904, the Koreshans tried to incorporate their community into a regular city. This did not go over well with local folks, who thought it would increase their property taxes. In spite of the opposition, the Koreshans won, and 110 acres of the Unity settlement became the town of Estero. Hoping to gain a political foothold around the Fort Meyer’s area, the Koreshans formed their own Progressive Liberty Party to oppose the established Democrats in the area. The politics and the prejudice of local folks who did not like Koreshan’s communistic lifestyle, led to many physical confrontations. In one altercation between some Fort Meyers men and several Koreshans, Cyrus Teed was injured. Koreshans always maintained that the injury led to Teed’s death on December 22, 1908. Dr. Teed had always told his followers that he was immortal, and that upon his death he would be resurrected. Koreshan members held his body until after Christmas, but nothing happened. The county coroner finally ordered that the body be buried.

Cyrus Teed’s passing, and failure to rise from the grave, was the great disappointment that began the downfall of the Koreshan community. The younger members began drifting off, and those who remained split up into factions over a struggle to see who would succeed Cyrus Teed. For the next 30 years the community was held together by about three dozen members. In 1960, a half-dozen Koreshan members still lived in the old settlement.

Most of the 250,000 historical records documenting Koreshan history have been kept at the Koreshan College of Life Foundation museum in a fire-proof vault. Few outsiders, including state archivists and historians, have seen this loosely organized historical collection. Hedwig Michel, former foundation president, spent most of her life keeping the collection private. Michel, a Jew who had fled from Nazi Germany in 1943, took over the foundation in 1960. When she died in 1982, her secretary, Jo Bigelow, a non-Koreshan, ran the foundation until 1999 when it was passed to Charles Dauray. At this writing, the public is still denied access to the Koreshan record collection.   

The Foundation is still active, however, the original 300 acre site of Cyrus Teed’s Utopian community is now owned by the State of Florida, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the “Koreshan Unity Settlement Historic District.”

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