Failed Utopia: Koreshan Unity Settlement

Cyrus Teed was a bit of a kook. Born in 1839, he became an eclectic physician and established a laboratory in which he carried out alchemical and electrical experiments. After one particularly notable experiment in 1869 (of which there are varying accounts: one says he turned lead into gold; another claims he was shocked to within an inch of his life), Teed saw a vision of a beautiful woman who revealed the secrets of the universe to him. After this experience, he changed his first name to "Koresh" and established a rather odd cult (ahem, I'm sorry, utopian community) based on the principles of Koreshanity.

The most salient principle of Koreshanity was a belief in a variant of the Hollow Earth theory, which can basically be summed up by saying that the world in which we live, and indeed the entire universe, are all contained within a sphere -- and we live on the INSIDE of the sphere, with centrifugal force holding us down, rather than gravity. Oh, and the sun is actually a giant battery in the center of this giant sphere. And alchemy works; Teed claimed to have discovered the Philosopher's Stone. But anyway, here's a snippet from Teed's Cellular Cosmogony:

"The sun is an invisible electromagnetic battery revolving in the universe's center on a 24-year cycle. Our visible sun is only a reflection, as is the moon, with the stars reflecting off seven mercurial discs that float in the sphere's center. Inside the earth there are three separate atmospheres: the first composed of oxygen and nitrogen and closest to the earth; the second, a hydrogen atmosphere above it; the third, an aboron (sic) atmosphere at the center. The earth's shell is one hundred miles thick and has seventeen layers. The outer seven are metallic with a gold rind on the outermost layer, the middle five are mineral and the five inward are geologic strata. Inside the shell there is life, outside a void."

Teed established various settlements but his crowning achievement was his "New Jerusalem," also known as the Koreshan Unity Settlement, in Estero, Florida, near the city of Naples. It was founded in 1894. About 250 residents followed him to the settlement and constructed various buildings, including a print shop (where they published a newsletter called Flaming Sword), a post office, an early power plant, and the World College of Life. Residents used a sort of tagline, "We live inside," to denote their belief in the hollow-earth principles of Koreshanity.

On December 22, 1908, Teed died. His followers, who believed in reincarnation, left him in a bathtub awaiting his second coming -- which logically would happen on Christmas day. When no reincarnation occurred, local authorities forced the corpse to be buried (on December 27), and that marked the beginning of the end of the Koreshan Unity Settlement -- although it would survive more than 50 years past Teed's death.

In 1961, there were just four colony members left. Their leader, Hedwig Michel, deeded the 300 acre utopia to the State of Florida. It is now the Koreshan State Historic Site, an area of just 135 acres in which, as the Florida State Parks Information Center puts it, "visitors can fish, picnic, boat, and hike where Teed's visionaries once carried out survey experiments to prove the horizon on the beaches of Collier County curves upward."

Further reading: RoadSide America's write-up, official Florida State Parks site, and an unofficial site which includes tons of information (check out the art collection, bio of Cyrus Teed, and an essay on Teed and the Koreshan Unity Movement).

(Photo courtesy of Flickr user Genista, used by Creative Commons license. Check out more photos of the site on Flickr.)

Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism
The POW Olympics of World War II
Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism
Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism

With the outbreak of World War II prompting a somber and divisive mood across the globe, it seemed impossible civility could be introduced in time for the 1940 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan to be held.

So they weren’t. Neither were the 1944 Games, which were scheduled for London. But one Polish Prisoner of War camp was determined to keep the tradition alive. The Woldenberg Olympics were made up entirely of war captives who wanted—and needed—to feel a sense of camaraderie and normalcy in their most desperate hours.

In a 2004 NBC mini-documentary that aired during their broadcast of the Games, it was reported that Polish officers under German control in the Oflag II-C camp wanted to maintain their physical conditioning as a tribute to Polish athlete Janusz Kusocinski. Unlike another Polish POW camp that held unofficial Games under a veil of secrecy in 1940, the guards of Woldenberg allowed the ’44 event to proceed with the provision that no fencing, archery, javelin, or pole-vaulting competitions took place. (Perhaps the temptation to impale their captors would have proven too much for the men.)

Music, art, and sculptures were put on display. Detainees were also granted permission to make their own program and even commemorative postage stamps of the event courtesy of the camp’s homegrown “post office.” An Olympic flag was crafted out of spare bed sheets, which the German officers, in a show of contagious sportsman’s spirit, actually saluted.

The hand-made Olympic flag from Woldenberg.

Roughly 369 of the 7000 prisoners participated. Most of the men competed in multiple contests, which ranged from handball and basketball to chess. Boxing was included—but owing to the fragile state of prisoners, broken bones resulted in a premature end to the combat.

Almost simultaneously, another Polish POW camp in Gross Born (pop: 3000) was holding their own ceremony. Winners received medals made of cardboard. Both were Oflag sites, which were primarily for officers; it’s been speculated the Games were allowed because German forces had respect for prisoners who held military titles.

A gymnastics demonstration in the camp.

The grass-roots Olympics in both camps took place in July and August 1944. By January 1945, prisoners from each were evacuated. An unknown number perished during these “death marches,” but one of the flags remained in the possession of survivor Antoni Grzesik. The Lieutenant donated it to the Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism in 1974, where it joined a flag recovered from the 1940 Games. Both remain there today—symbols of a sporting life that kept hope alive for thousands of men who, for a brief time, could celebrate life instead of lamenting its loss.

Additional Sources: “The Olympic Idea Transcending War [PDF],” Olympic Review, 1996; “The Olympic Movement Remembered in the Polish Prisoner of War Camps in 1944 [PDF],” Journal of Olympic History, Spring 1995; "Olympics Behind Barbed Wire," Journal of Olympic History, March 2014.

 All images courtesy of Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism. 

Getty Images
President John Tyler's Grandsons Are Still Alive
Getty Images
Getty Images

Here's the most amazing thing you'll ever read about our 10th president:

John Tyler was born in 1790. He took office in 1841, after William Henry Harrison died. And he has two living grandchildren.

Not great-great-great-grandchildren. Their dad was Tyler’s son.

How is this possible?

The Tyler men have a habit of having kids very late in life. Lyon Gardiner Tyler, one of President Tyler’s 15 kids, was born in 1853. He fathered Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr. in 1924, and Harrison Ruffin Tyler in 1928.

We placed a somewhat awkward call to the Charles City County History Center in Virginia to check in on the Tylers.

After we shared this fact on Twitter in 2012, Dan Amira interviewed Harrison Tyler for New York Magazine. Lyon Tyler spoke to the Daughters of the American Revolution a while back. They were profiled by The Times of London. And Snopes is also in on the fact.


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