Doctor Cyrus Teed believed he could use electricity to achieve alchemy. Electromagnetism was a new and exciting technological frontier in the latter half of the 1800s, and Teed, a physician and an amateur scientist, was obsessed with the age-old quest for the Philosopher’s Stone. His experiments involved applying high-voltage currents to lumps of lead.
In the fall of 1869, Doctor Teed had an accident in his upstate New York lab, receiving a powerful shock that knocked him unconscious. While he was out, Teed had a vision of a beautiful woman who told him she was God, and that she had a message. She told him that everyone was perceiving the universe wrong; that God is both man and woman at the same time, and the surface of Earth is the inner wall of an 8,000-mile-circumference sphere, with the sun sitting at the center and all of Creation contained within.
Teed regained consciousness a Hollow Earth conspiracy-theory convert. He gave up his alchemical research and began working to prove that the world was inside-out. Soon, his message turned evangelical, labeling his movement “Cellular Cosmogony.”
An Unwelcome Reception
“We live on the inside” was the motto of Teed’s potpourri of mysticism, Socialism, Christianity, and science. Determined interpret the Bible through the lens of science, Teed set out to undermine the Copernican model of the solar system, as well as the works of Aristotle, Kepler, and Newton. This didn’t go over well with the science community, and his outspoken opinions about celibacy, social egalitarianism, and the hermaphroditic nature of God didn’t fare so well with the local Christian community either. His inability to keep his beliefs to himself began to have a negative impact on his medical practice. His views scared off patients. People subjected him to ridicule. He became known about town as the “Crazy Doctor.”
Undeterred, he continued to promote Cellular Cosmogony, eventually finding a listening ear with the North Family Shakers in Lebanon, New York. For the Shakers, the idea of an 8,000-mile-wide universe encapsulated within the Earth fit their interpretation of the Bible better than the Copernican model. Earth regained the importance it had lost as a tiny ball orbiting one star among billions and became the boundary of the universe itself.
With his new followers, Teed changed his name to Koresh, the Hebrew version of Cyrus. He called his new religion Koreshanity. He established his first Koreshan commune in Moravia, New York in 1880. The original members included his parents and his sisters, their husbands and children. The endeavor was plagued with misfortune. Money problems and legal issues followed Teed as he tried to spread the word of his religion across New York, moving from Moravia to Syracuse to New York City. He was sued twice by men whose wives had sworn to celibacy after joining his group, and later by two Camden women who sued him after he convinced them to give him $25 on the grounds that he was Jesus Christ. In court, Teed told the judge that he considered the money a donation, and returned the sum without complaint, but the scandal was enough for Teed to pack it up and move away from NYC, and out to Chicago.
In Chicago, Teed bought a home called Beth Ophra and began having success with his vision of a new society based on his interpretations of the Bible and the universe at large. At Beth Ophra, the Koreshan community grew to 110 members.
The Koreshan Cult in Florida
In 1894, Koresh Teed bought 320 acres of property in Estero, Florida. He called it the “New Jerusalem,” and planned to accommodate 10,000 Koreshans on his promised land. A boat works, steam laundry, printing house, concrete works, post office, and general store were all constructed for the commune.
Between 1904 and 1908, the commune grew to over 200 members and Teed successfully got Estero to be classified as an incorporated town, allowing them to collect taxes on local county roads. This angered the nearby Fort Meyers, who’s politicians felt that the tax revenues were rightfully theirs. Teed, ever the diplomat, responded to this with his own foray into politics, forming the Progressive Liberty Party to run against the Democrats in 1906.
The election campaign was ugly from the start. Personal enmity and poor communication ultimately led to a brawl between Teed’s supporters and the people of Fort Meyers. The town marshal pistol-whipped Teed him in the head and had him arrested for inciting a riot.
Death of a Sect
Cyrus “Koresh” Teed never recovered from the beating he received, and neither did the Koreshan movement. The colony at Estero topped out at about 250 cult members, and even before Teed died in 1908 after suffering for two years from his head injuries, membership had dwindled. Before his death, Teed prophesied that he would return from the grave. His followers kept a vigil over his body for four days before local health authorities forcibly removed the corpse and had it buried.
Without a leader, and with no incoming members, the Koreshans went the way of the Shakers. In 1961 the last four members gave their land in Estero back to the state of Florida. It exists today as Koreshan State Park; preserved as a historical curiosity.