A Florida State Park Is Dedicated to a Cult That Believed Earth Was Inside Out

A Florida State Park Is Dedicated to a Cult That Believed Earth Was Inside Out
State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

Rapper B.o.B. is embroiled in a feud with astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson over whether Earth is flat, because we live in a very strange world. However, if you want to hear about an even stranger theory about the shape of Earth, you don't have to leave the state. Just head to Estero in Southwest Florida and visit the Koreshan State Historic Site, a park dedicated to the history of a turn-of-the-century cult that believed Earth was hollow. 

Yep, the Koreshan one-upped B.o.B.'s theory about the shape of Earth and landed on something even stranger. They believed that the planet was indeed a sphere but that humans lived on the inside of that sphere. The sun, they believed, floated in the middle of that sphere. 

Like most cults, the Koreshan was founded by a charismatic leader, Cyrus Teed. As a young man, Teed pursued various forms of pseudo-science that weren't quite considered totally crazy during his time, like eclectic physics and alchemy. During one experiment involving electricity in 1869, Teed shocked himself so badly he passed out. He claimed that while he was unconscious, he was visited by a spirit who informed him he was the messiah. He awoke and decided it was his mission to save humanity through his science. He promptly changed his name to Koresh (Hebrew for Cyrus) and started the Koreshan Unity organization. 

At the center of Teed's beliefs was cellular cosmogony. He believed Earth was hollow and the sun was a battery-powered contraption that floated in the middle of it. He theorized that stars were just odd reflections of light. He also preached a handful of other odd ideas like reincarnation, alchemy, and immortality; he also said he was the seventh messiah after Jesus. He told his followers he would live forever. 

A Florida State Park Is Dedicated to a Cult That Believed Earth Was Inside Out
State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

The organization also had three levels of membership, which allowed for various levels of sex. In the outer group were nonbelievers, who collaborated with the Koreshan but didn't have to abide by the group's ideas of marriage and celibacy. The middle group was allowed to have sex only for purposes of reproduction, while the central group practiced strict celibacy. 

Teed's Koreshan Unity organization had chapters in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, but by 1894, Teed decided to move all of his followers to the small town Estero in Lee County, Florida. By 1908, the group had 250 members living in the Florida commune and practiced collectivist living. Teed believed the Southwest Florida town would become a "New Jerusalem." 

By the end of that year, however, Teed died, striking a blow to one of the church's biggest beliefs: that Teed was immortal. His followers fully expected him to be resurrected. 

According to Lyn Milner's book The Allure of Immortality, his followers watched his dead body for five days as it sat in a bathtub and mistook decay as signs of his transformation into the Egyptian god Horus. Turns out he was just dead, which must have upset many of his followers who believed Teed's reincarnation would lead to their own immortality. 

Koreshan followers in 1916.EXPAND
Koreshan followers in 1916.

The group never fully recovered from Teed's demise, but members continued living on their plot of land in Estero for decades. The fact that its most ardent members practiced celibacy wasn't exactly beneficial to population growth. 

Industrialists Henry Ford and Thomas Edison kept neighboring summer homes nearby in Fort Myers and were said to have visited the group. According to one newspaper clipper, Ford went as far as endorsing the group's view on reincarnation but was hesitant about signing off on the idea that Earth was inside out.

The Koreshan Planetery Court as it stands today.
The Koreshan Planetery Court as it stands today.
Photo by Ebyabe via WikiCommons

In 1961, the group's last remaining member deeded the Koreshan's 135-acre plot to the State of Florida. In 1974, it became an official state park. It's used today for activities such as camping, fishing, and kayaking, but many of the Koreshan's structures remain. Visitor's can tour the group's artifacts and even see the globe used to illustrate's the group's odd ideas about Earth. 

It's an interesting episode in Florida history and a solemn reminder that this state has always attracted crazies. 

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