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.)

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Museum of the City of New York
New York City Exhibition Celebrates the Rebellious Victorian-Era Women Who Made History
Museum of the City of New York
Museum of the City of New York

At a time when women wore corsets and hooped skirts, the American Jewish actress Adah Isaacs Menken caused quite a stir when she appeared onstage in men’s clothing. It was the early 1860s, and her portrayal of a man in the play Mazeppa saw her ride into the theater on a horse while wearing a flesh-colored body stocking. Critics were shocked, but Menken paid no mind. Both on stage and in her daily life, she continued to disregard the norms of that era by cutting her hair short and smoking cigarettes in public.

Menken is just one of the daring women featured in a new exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York. Rebel Women: Defying Victorianism celebrates the New York women who challenged the rigid expectations of the Victorian era, and includes a collection of photographs, clothes, and prints from the period.

A caricatures of the "Grecian bend"
Museum of the City of New York

The 19th century was a period of constraints for women. "During this era, a woman could be considered a rebel simply by speaking in public, working outside the home, or disregarding middle‐class morality or decorum," according to a museum statement. “Yet 19th‐century New York City was full of women who defied those expectations in both overt and subtle ways.”

The exhibit highlights the accomplishments of historic figures who contributed to the advancement of women’s rights, like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, but it also casts a light on lesser-known figures—many of whom history was unkind to.

A photo of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony
Museum of the City of New York

An illustration of women voting
Museum of the City of New York

There’s Ann Trow Lohman, also known as “Madame Restell,” who was dubbed “The Wickedest Woman in New York” for providing birth control to women. Similarly, Hetty Green earned the moniker “The Witch of Wall Street” for her successful career as a stock broker.

Visitors will also learn about a predecessor to Rosa Parks: Elizabeth Jennings Graham, a black New Yorker who refused to get off of a segregated street car in 1854.

Not all of the women had such noble goals, though, and the exhibition shows that men didn’t have a monopoly on crime. Notorious pickpocket and con-woman Sophie Lyons used her smarts and beauty to steal from wealthy men and earned a reputation as "the most notorious confidence woman America has ever produced."

The exhibition will be on view until January 6, 2019, and tickets can be purchased online.

Marshall McLuhan, the Man Who Predicted the Internet in 1962

Futurists of the 20th century were prone to some highly optimistic predictions. Theorists thought we might be extending our life spans to 150, working fewer hours, and operating private aircrafts from our homes. No one seemed to imagine we’d be communicating with smiley faces and poop emojis in place of words.

Marshall McLuhan didn’t call that either, but he did come closer than most to imagining our current technology-led environment. In 1962, the author and media theorist, predicted we’d have an internet.

That was the year McLuhan, a professor of English born in Edmonton, Canada on this day in 1911, wrote a book called The Gutenberg Galaxy. In it, he observed that human history could be partitioned into four distinct chapters: The acoustic age, the literary age, the print age, and the then-emerging electronic age. McLuhan believed this new frontier would be home to what he dubbed a “global village”—a space where technology spread information to anyone and everyone.

Computers, McLuhan said, “could enhance retrieval, obsolesce mass library organization,” and offer “speedily tailored data.”

McLuhan elaborated on the idea in his 1962 book, Understanding Media, writing:

"Since the inception of the telegraph and radio, the globe has contracted, spatially, into a single large village. Tribalism is our only resource since the electro-magnetic discovery. Moving from print to electronic media we have given up an eye for an ear."

But McLuhan didn’t concern himself solely with the advantages of a network. He cautioned that a surrender to “private manipulation” would limit the scope of our information based on what advertisers and others choose for users to see.

Marshall McLuhan died on December 31, 1980, several years before he was able to witness first-hand how his predictions were coming to fruition.

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