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Koreshan “Monthly” Features

I realized that almost 20 years of work is located in the “blog”, which wasn’t available back in the mid-1990’s when I started working at the Koreshan State Historic Site, now known at the Koreshan State Park. Since that time, the holdings of the Park have been moved to Florida Gulf Coast University, which is a far safer and accessible place for them to be. However, the “former” holdings of the Park Service have yet to be cataloged and put online. Thus, I maintained and continue to maintain the “virtual” holdings.

You can, of course, search these former holdings at on this site. However, I also invested a considerable amount of time researching these holdings and posted a ‘monthly’ (and sometimes more often) blog which featured various aspects of Koreshan life.

With that in mind, I decided to re-open the blog. I have no plans to add to it, but with six years of postings, I thought perhaps the information herein my be useful to someone. This includes the postings as well as other pages containing genealogy links, etc.

So, here you go…

Categories: Posting.

July 2016

        In this posting we want to highlight and publicize some of the other sites and resources that are available for studying the Koreshan Unity. In this day and age of “Googling” everything, it is nice to know that there are some solid resources available. One of the irritating things about “Googling” a subject like this is that you always seem to get something about Vernon Wayne Howell, a.k.a. “Koresh”. Thank goodness that Google and other search engines have begun to improve their algorithms so that when you use a better search term, such as Koreshan (rather than Koresh) you will see links to the Koreshan Unity and not Waco Texas.

        That is not to say that the term Koresh is exclusive to Cyrus Teed nor is Cyrus Teed anymore important in history that Vernon Wayne Howell. It is just that having done this for almost 25 years it is a little frustrating to try and do some serious research only to have the tragedy at Waco coming up all the time.

        All that being said, there are some great resources here on this website, directing you to other websites that can help in the study of Koresh – Koreshan – Communal Societies, etc. etc.

        Besides the so-called “Inside Links” that you see in the right column of this page, there are also “Outside Links” (how profound!). These take you to various places, some serious, some not so serious. After the link to the Park Service’ official Koreshan State Historic Site you will find a link to a bibliography created by a librarian at Mansfield University of Pennsylvania named Sheila Kasperek. This source first appeared in 1998 and was updated in 2006. It is filled with a number of familiar and not so familiar sources. It is a great starting point if you are beginning to investigate the history of the Koreshans and the Koreshan Unity.

        The second link is one of those more “touristy” sites called Atlas Obscura. It is NOT one of those “off of the wall” sites. The whole mission of Atlas Obscura is to point out places on the globe that they consider curious. The State Historic Site can easily fall into that category. It is, as far as this website is concerned, a great way to introduce one to what goes on here. They have maps, directions, other curious places in the area (including the Bubble Room on Sanibel).

        The next site on the list is Roadside America, “Your Online Guide to Offbeat Tourist Attractions”. It has the usual uninformed line about Teed being a “nut”, but worth looking at. If nothing else, it is good publicity, albeit somewhat bizarre itself.

        The last links we will look at this time–and we are lumping two of them together–is one of the most, if not THE most important. They would be the PALMM site, or Publication of Archival Library and Museum Materials. They have an entire section devoted to the Koreshans, which is basically the holdings of the State Archives — at least the photos. Many of those photos are located on this site, but many are not. It is a fantastic resource. The related site is the Florida Memory Project which is the real gem. This is the State Library and State Archives site which takes you into the holdings of the Koreshan Unity. These materials were kept inside the Unity building across the street from the State Historic Site and were is a state of disarray until the Unity donated the holding to the State and they, in turn, organized them. Yu can read about this on the pages entitled About the Collection. Included there is a link to the Guide to the Collection which gives you the basics of what they have. Very few of the manuscripts from the collection are online, so a serious researcher would still have to make a trip to Tallahassee, but just like the PALMM site, the photographs are a real asset.

        These sites, and others, are, at least in my way of thinking, a testament to the value of the Internet. In 1992 all we had was an ancient IBM XP machine with a copy of dBase-II. Getting the word out about the Koreshans, the State Historic Site and the history of Estero and this area of Southwest Florida was difficult at best.

Categories: Monthly Feature.

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June 2016 – Page-3

From the Koreshan Archives —

About a month early, but in this post we find the birthday of a Koreshan who rarely gets mentioned, but one who contributed a great deal to the cause of the Unity. I’m speaking of Nancy Cornelia Hawes Critcher She was born July 26, 1842,((1)) in Norwich Connecticut. She died on 11 October 1917. She was the youngest of four children born to Madison Hawes and Nancy Nelson Dam.

When she was 9 years old, she traveled with her mother to California. The three month ocean voyage around the Horn brought them to San Francisco in 1852 where they joined Nancy’s father, Madison, who had made the same trip in 1849. At this time Nancy was the only surviving child of Madison and Nancy. They lived on Taylor Street between California and Pine in San Francisco. Nancy went to a private school, to a Mrs. Purkitt, and she graduated from the Bush Street Denman School in San Francisco at the age of 12.

When she was almost 15 years old, on July 1857, she married Henry Critcher in San Francisco. Henry and Nancy lived in San Francisco from 1852 to about 1864 when they moved with her father, Madison, to the Octagon house in Brooklyn (now Oakland) in the East Bay.

They lived there until sometime after the 1868 earthquake during which the house was badly damaged. Henry and Nancy and their children returned to San Francisco where they lived in the home built in 1854 at the corner of Taylor and Pine. Henry died there in 1904. The house was destroyed in the earthquake and fire of 1906, and later that year Nancy joined the Koreshan Unity.

She was on the editorial staff of “The Flaming Sword” and was considered to be one of the best posted writers in Scientific religion in the United States. Her death was caused by an accident when she fell and broke several bones. She retained her mental faculties until a few hours before she died. She was buried at the Horseshoe Bend Cemetery.

Writing in “Folks We Knew in the K.U.” Marie McCready wrote that Cornelia Critcher: “Had an almost bass voice; was for a short time caretaker at the children’s cottage in Estero; was the mother of around a dozen children.(–Rosalea McCready) I remember somebody asked her why she did not live with one of her children and she replied that they all had big families, and children’s activities were too much for her.”(–Marie McCready.) She did, indeed have 14 children, born from 1858 thorugh 1880. She wrote a number of articles for the “Flaming Sword

Here are some excerpts from Nancy C. Hawes Critcher’s letters:

Estero, December 28, 1906; Dear Children: The sisters wear a kind of combination corset cover and skirt, which takes the place of the usual skirt and is cooler than wearing so many garments. Moreover, as each one does her own washing and ironing, it is very desirable to have as few pieces as possible! They should be made of some thin material, not necessarily very fine. I suppose you know what thin material will wear best as you have lived in a hot climate so long…….You asked me to describe my room, etc. Everything here is very primitive and pioneery; the rooms are in dormitory fashion divided by sheets…..I have a very pretty little dresser that I bought in Chicago, and a single iron bed – a nice little rocker and the usual toilet articles, and am very comfortable….We quite often have visitors……I need a little money to supplement the diet, which is sometimes not quite up to the standard, especially in sweet things, which you know I am very fond of.

Estero, August 6, 1907; Dear Grace: ….I never knew time to fly so fast. I help in any way that I can – principally in the sewing line. Then I think I told you that, for a novelty, I preside (?) over a table of boys. I wish I could send you a photo of some of the features of the place. We have some beautiful bamboo trees and China Berry trees. The park is really beautiful.

LETTER, May 4, 1917; written to Grace V. Critcher Belshaw from Nancy Cornelia Hawes Critcher (signed “Mother”): Nancy tells about life in the settlement:
Estero, May 4, 1917; My dear Grace: ….You ask about our membership here and the work…We have about a hundred brothers and sisters here, (have not the exact numbers) and work of many kinds is carried on. We have a very well equipped printing establishment, where our two papers, The Flaming Sword and The American Eagle are published. The Sword is our religious and scientific magazine, a monthly, and the Eagle, a weekly secular paper, absolutely independent of politics, and advocating all measures for the public welfare….The printing office also does job work for outsiders, besides printing our own tracts and leaflets. We have a saw mill, carpenter shop, machine shop and an electrical shop; also a laundry where all who wish can have their washing done. Many, however, myself among the number, prefer to do their own; the ironing of the sisters’ things is done by themselves. I have become quite an expert laundress! We have an agricultural dept, and a dairy, which supplies milk for the family; pigs and fowls, dogs and cats! Our park is greatly admired by visitors; it is the finest in the county. The recent freeze did a great deal of damage to our ornamental shrubbery, and some of the less hardy trees, but the general effect is as good as ever. I miss the fruit of California. The semi-tropical fruits such as guavas, mangos, papaws, etc. do not suit my taste like the pears, peaches, plums, etc. of the old time. But as I did not come here for the luxuries of the palate, I do not complain. I am satisfied that this is the best place for me, where all are agreed upon the religious plane, though still showing all of the human frailties on other lines! I read the articles in your papers, and found many good points in them. Where we differ fundamentally, however, is in our estimate of the Lord Jesus, who, to us, is all the God there is. We take for our standard the first chapter of John’s gospel which makes that fact very plain. Our life here hinges entirely upon our belief in the fact that uses to the neighbor are the real test of all religion. Love to God and the neighbor is shown by the performance of uses of daily life, done unselfishly from love. That is the aspiration, not always successfully carried out, but always the aim. To return to the enumeration of our equipment, I find that I failed to mention two very important items, our boat and autos. We have two autos and many boats. One, a large freighting a passenger boat, runs to Ft. Myers three times a week, as a common carrier for the neighborhood. The others are used between our Mound Key place, and Estero Island, both for pleasure and service. On Mound Key our vegetables are raised by a brother who lives there, and the Island is very much appreciated as a place of rest and recuperation. A brother lives there, also, and raises vegetables and chickens, besides keeping the place in beautiful order. There is fine salt water bathing to be enjoyed there, also……..We have in the river any amount of oysters, to say nothing of some very fine fish among which are mullet, which I consider as fine as any fish I ever ate with the sole exception of salmon. I believe I have now pretty well covered the subject of our numbers and resources. None of them are developed to the limit of their possibilities, because we have not enough men to fill so large a requirement. This reminds me that I have not told you much about the work of the sisters. The sisters and the children of whom there are ten, do the dining-room and dish-washing work; they, also (not the same ones) do mending for the brothers, and others sew for such of the sisters as cannot do their own. One sister makes shirts and overalls very expertly. Others make sheets and bed screens, etc. Many of the sisters are like myself……and cannot do very strenuous work, although not by any means deficient in power to do mental work. Our old ladies would be a credit to any Old Ladies’ Home! The brothers, as a rule, are nearer middle age.

OBITUARY; Mrs. N. C. Critcher (Newspaper and date omitted):
Mrs. Nancy Cornelia Critcher, relict of the late “Forty-Niner,” Henry Critcher, known as the Admiral, who was one of the organizers of the San Francisco Stock Exchange, died today October 11, 1917, at the Koreshan Unity, located at Estero, Florida, a religious organization founded by the late Dr. Cyrus R. Teed. Mrs. Critcher was on the editorial staff of “The Flaming Sword,” the organ of the community, and was considered by those who knew her, to be one of the best posted writers on scientific religion in the United States. She left a family of seven sons and four daughters,–Mrs. Charles H. Crowell, living in Spain; Mrs. Grace V. Belshaw at Antioch; Mrs. Virginia C. Brittson at Vallejo; Mrs. Reginald Atthowe of San Anselmo, all in California, and a granddaughter, Mrs. Engracia F. Freyer, wife of Lieut. F. S. Freyer of the United States Navy, of Washington, D. C. One of her sons, Edward Payson Critcher of the Chicago Herald, was at her bed-side when she passed away. Her death was caused by an accident several weeks ago, when she fell and broke several bones. She never recovered, but retained her mental faculties until a few hours before she died. She was buried at the Koreshan Unity Cemetery at Estero. She was 76 years of age, and lived in San Francisco from 1852 until 1905, when she moved to Estero, Florida.

  1. (please note that our genealogy pages show her birth in 1841. This has not yet been corrected) []

Categories: Posting.

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June 2016 – Page 2 – Frank Lewis

In this post we take a closer look at Frank S. Lewis, husband of Anna Welton Lewis, who was also the sister of Rose Welton Gilbert. Frank, as far as we can tell, was never a believer, although as time passed after the death of Dr. Teed, I would suggest that there weren’t too many “believers“, but that the Koreshans were more of a “community” — that is, a group of like minded people who had been through a great deal of history together. This is, of course, not to say that there were still many believers, especailly among the early followers of Dr. Teed. But I believe that even they had a stronger tie to the community.

Frank Lewis c.1880's-90's

Frank Lewis c.1880’s-90’s

Frank and Anna are listed in the Claude Rahn Membership List, but it was Anna who was (at least at first) the Koreshan. Her mother joined the community at Moravia New York, one of Teed’s first attempts at forming a community. It seems clear, however, that Anna Lewis’ connection to the Koreshans became more of a “family cousins” kind of relationship.

Frank was a telegrapher (among other things). He worked for the Lehigh Valley Railroad at one time. He was born in Port Dickinson New York, just outside of Binghamton, on July 3, 1869. It is about 60 miles to Moravia, so it is unclear just how he and Anna met. They were married in 1896 and in 1900 they were living in Moravia((1)) (but not in a community) where Frank was a railroad station agent. In 1910 they were living in Jersey City, New Jersey((2)) where, once again, Frank was working as a telegraph operator. They were mentioned in the March 1916 “Community Current Events” column.

We are pleased to have with us Mr. and Mrs. Frank Lewis of Jersey City, N. J.
Mr. Lewis could only stay. a week, as business called him back to New York; but Mrs.
Lewis will remain some weeks. She is a sister of Sister Rose Gilbert, whom she
hadn’t seen for twelve” years. Their mother, Sister Ada Welton, was among the
Master’s early disciples, and helped him to establish the first Koreshan Home at
Moravia, N. Y.

In a 1923 “Community Current Events” column it was said:

Mr. and Mrs. Lewis of Jersey City, N. J., accompanied Sister Evelyn on the
return journey, traveling by water from New York to Jacksonville. The Lewises expect
to remain South for some time, and have taken up their abode in one of the Boomer cottages on Mirasol grove.

By 1940 Frank and Anna were living in Everglades City where Frank continued as a telegrapher and Anna was the Postmistress. In 1931 they built a home in Estero, which was dubbed “El Retiro”. The October 1931 “CCE” said:

The cottage on our grounds belonging to Mr. and Mrs. Frank S. Lewis has been completed and they spent their two weeks’ vacation there. The house will be occupied when they leave by Sisters Rose Gilbert and Florence Graham.

In 1923 Frank Lewis was a member of the Tamiami Trailblazers, a group that drove across south Florida from Naples to Miami to promote the building of the road (US-41) which was completed in 1928. Frank Lewis was a member of that group (as was Allen Andrews, Charles Hunt and Alfred Christensen). Frank maintained a diary of the adventure.

Frank Lewis died on December 7, 1945 and was buried in the Koreshan (now Pelican Sound) Cemetery. The January 1946 “Community Current Events” said:

Frank & Anna c.1923

Frank & Anna c.1923

“Brother Frank S. Lewis died at Lee Memorial Hospital, Ft. Myers, Friday, Dec. 7. The deceased was born in Port Dickinson, a suburb of Binghamton, N. Y., July 3, 1869. He became a telegrapher by profession, serving first with the Lehigh Valley Railroad, and several years later with the Western Union Telegraph Co. in New York City with whom he remained until coming to Florida in 1922. In 1923 he participated in the now historic Tamiami Trail Blazing trip with a party of men who took the first cars across from Ft. Myers to Miami before the Trail was completed. Shortly thereafter he became associated with the Barron Collier organization at Everglades, serving as telegrapher and accountant in the general offices until he retired and moved to Estero in December 1943. He was also secretary of the Tamiami Trail Masonic Lodge in Everglades. For nearly two years past he had served as bookkeeper and treasurer of The Koreshan Unity at Estero. He left no immediate family, other than his widow, Mrs. Anna Lewis. Mr. Lewis was a man of genial and kindly disposition whom to know was but to admire, and leaves a host of friends to mourn his loss. Burial was in Estero.”

  1. “United States Census, 1900,” database with images, FamilySearch (, Frank S Lewis, Moravia Township Moravia village, Cayuga, New York, United States; citing sheet 11B, family 353, NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 1,241,013. []
  2. “United States Census, 1910,” database with images, FamilySearch (, Mira W Lewis in household of Frank S Lewis, Jersey City Ward 8, Hudson, New Jersey, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 153, sheet 9A, NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 1,374,904. []

Categories: Monthly Feature.

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June 2016

With this first posting of the month, I want to, once again, mention another Koreshan, but in this case, the post will be a bit disconnected becasue, ironically, this person seems to have been lost to most Koreshan history. Or, perhaps she “left” Koreshan history…

Mary Mills, secretary to “Victoria” an early Koreshan was very active in the early days of the Unity. She was one of the women who accompanied Dr. Teed to Florida to search for land for the New Jerusalem.

Lyn Millner, in her book The Allure of Immortality talks about Mary Mills dedication to Victoria in the early Chicago days, but there is very little about her after this. She wrote:

Mary Mills (Courtesy of Florida Memory)

Mary Mills or Elizabeth Robinson? (Courtesy of Florida Memory)

More trouble among the women came to a head that winter, when Teed was out of town. Most of the women accepted Victoria’s leadership, though some did so grudgingly Others openly defied her. The question that came up at a meeting while Teed was away was a theological one: was Victoria divine? Two women believed she was—that the spirit of God had already entered her body. They were Berthaldine Boomer and Mary Mills. Boomer claimed to have had a private conversation with Teed on this very issue and that when she asked about Victoria’s divinity, Teed had bowed his head and told her it was so. But most of the women—even those who obeyed her, as Teed commanded—did not believe Victoria was divine. Teed had taught that she would not become divine until after Teed’s translation or theocrasis. Jennie (Andrews) knew this, but she also knew that Victoria was powerful, and she had seen what happened when women defied her. Jennie diplomatically suggested that the women wait until Teed returned so that he could solve the question for them. Victoria did not want to wait. At the next meeting of the women’s mission, Victoria presided as the mission’s president. One can imagine her, tall and poised in the dark Victorian clothing she favored, her wavy hair swept into a low chignon, surrounded by the more plainly dressed women. Mills and Boomer testified to her divinity. Jennie, who was expected to say something, arose and diplomatically told the group they should honor Victoria as their empress because she was appointed by Teed. At the end of the meeting they stood together and prayed; Jennie wrote that it was like a Methodist prayer meeting except that “the Lord God Almighty’s name was left out and another one substituted. But after the meeting, things got ugly. Boomer and Mills insisted that the ascending spirit of the Lord Jesus was in Victoria. Jennie hadn’t wanted to cause trouble, but someone needed to speak up, and it fell to her. She told Boomer and Mills that if Victoria were divine, it went against everything she had ever heard Teed teach. Mills, normally graceful and refined, became enraged. “[She] turned furiously with arms outspread and eyes blazing” and told the women that a devilish spirit was trying to defeat Victoria and eat away at their Unity. “You may eat yourselves up if you want to,” she said, “but don’t you dare to lay a hand on her.” The disagreement continued for two months, a crisis in their history, Jennie wrote. “It seemed to be a resistless tide that would carry all sense and reason before it . . . and if not checked would do great harm.” When Teed returned, he did not answer the question of Victoria’s divinity in words. Instead, there was a ceremony at Beth-Ophrah during which he crowned her with a wreath of laurels and said that her leadership represented an important era for the world: the age of womanhood and the power of women. One Koreshan read a paper she had written about the importance of obedience to Victoria. Then, in April for Victoria’s birthday, the Koreshans held a “coronation” for her at Beth-Ophrah. This was the first Lunar Festival, what became an annual celebration of Victoria’s birthday, the counterpart to the annual Solar Festival held to commemorate Teed’s birthday. There were music and speeches, and the Koreshan drama troupe performed the trial scene from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. Souvenir programs were printed in gold and blue, held together by gold cording. The front of the program showed a delicate crown with “coronation” printed across the headpiece.
From the Park Archives

From the Park Archives

One Koreshan described this as the most solemn and impressive occasion in the history of the movement to that point. He recorded what transpired: everyone gathered in the parlors of Beth-Ophrah to witness Teed’s confirmation of Victoria’s position as “Pre-Eminent.” Teed explained that she was the head over all orders. He bestowed upon her a new last name, Koresh, making her official name Victoria Gratia Koresh. He also formalized the appointments of the women of “The Triangle”—Victoria, Berthaldine Boomer, and Mary Mills and he created “The Planetary Group,” seven leading women in the movement. He told these women, “Stand by Victoria at all hazards as her cabinet.” He cautioned the other followers not to criticize the appointments, as they were made from the throne of Almighty God, with Teed simply as the messenger.“

So, Mary Mills was a member of the so-called “Triangle” and she certainly demonstrated her allegiance to Victoria. Note the two photos above. The first comes from the the Florida Memory Project, and is identified as Mary Mills. However, this photograph looks nothing like the photograph that we have identified in the Park Archives. The Florida Memory photo looks more like Elizabeth Robinson.

After the return to Chicago, there is no evidence that Mary went back to Florida. Other researchers have found census records which show a Mary Mills living in Chicago. Perhaps she remained a Koreshan believer, as did many, without living in the Unity. After that, all we can find is a death record for a Mary C. Mills in Chicago in 1921.

    Name Mary C Mills
    Event Type Death
    Event Date 27 Sep 1921
    Event Place Chicago, Cook, Illinois, United States
    Address 9832 Charles Street
    Gender Female
    Age 79
    Marital Status Widowed
    Race White
    Occupation at home
    Birth Date 11 Jun 1842
    Birthplace Brooklyn, , New York
    Funeral Home W. C. Walsh
    Burial Date 01 Oct 1921
    Burial Place Chicago, , Illinois
    Cemetery Oakwoods
    Father’s Name David Collier
    Mother’s Name Catherine Davidson
    Informant’s Name M Foster

Why did Mary Mills not return to Estero? Or, did she return? Why is she not mentioned in virtually any of the published material that has been collected? Did she have a change of heart?

Categories: Monthly Feature.

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May 2016 – Page-3 – Peter Blem

In the “whatever happened to”, or perhaps in this case, “who is…” department we want to take a close look at another member of the Unity. This time it is Peter Blem (1880-1936).

Peter Christian (or Kristian) Blem was born in Svaneke, Denmark, the child of Jeppe Hansen Blem and Anine Kirstine Ipsen. The town of Svaneke is described as:

Svaneke (Swencke in 1410, from old Danish swan swan and *wīka inlet) is a small town on the eastern coast of the Baltic island of Bornholm, Denmark.

It is Denmark’s easternmost and until few years ago the smallest and now the second smallest (only Ærøskøbing is smaller) chartered town with a population of 1,059 as of 1 January 2014.[1] With its charming half-timbered houses and narrow streets, it is one of the island’s most cherished beauty spots((1))

Peter sailed from Copenhagen on the S.S. United States on April 8, 1909. He apparently lived in California for a time before coming to Estero. It is unclear just how he heard about the Unity. Peter is one of those Koreshans who joined the Unity after the death of Dr. Teed which seems, in my way of thinking, to make for a more dedicated believer. Peter’s skills were in art and painting. He served the community by creating backdrops for the many plays and presentations in the Art Hall. He also spent time helping with the bee colony. The July 1916 “Community Current Events” column mentioned Peter’s talents not only with scenery, but with the painting of Unity buildings.

The Planetary Court has been transformed in its appearance by a coat of paint;
the body color is yellow, the trimmings green, and the screen doors and window screens black. Brother Peter Blem, our painter, is busy at present painting “The Estero,” which is now being over-hauled. The next big job of painting will be the dormitory; with good walks, a new bridge, and newly painted buildings, the esthetic appearance of things here will be greatly enhanced.

Beside the “regular” painting, Peter also did some paintings that were placed in the Dining Hall. This excerpt from the November 1922 “Community Current Events” said:

Another excellent contribution before the Birthday was two paintings.; one of the Log House (the first dwelling house put up at the Unity) and one of a cypress scene, both done by our local artist, Brother Peter Blem. We are not an authority ,on painting, but it is hard for us to conceive how these paintings could be improved upon. Brother Peter has produced two paintings that surely meet with the general approval. They grace the walls of our Dining Hall, and, like everything that is done well, are exceedingly restful to the eye.

Peter began getting ill about a year or two before his death on May 12, 1936, just a few weeks shy of his 56th birthday. He was buried in the Korehan Cemetery (now the Pelican Sound Cemetery). After his death, his sister placed a stone on his grave, which is still here (unlike many of the other Pelican Sound graves). The October 1936 Community Current Events column wrote:

Peter Blem Grave (from "Find-A-Grave)

Peter Blem Grave (from “Find-A-Grave)

Peter Blem had loved ones in Denmark, who, since his passing, wish to commemorate his memory by placing a marker on his grave, and which his sister, Miss Ellen, made possible by furnishing the wherewithal. Miss Blem had promised to visit her brother here, and now she writes of the strong attachment between them. To know Brother Peter was to love him, for he was unquestionably one of the finest characters we have ever known and was universally liked by all who came to know him. To say that he is greatly missed, and particularly at this time, does but half express it, for he eagerly looked forward to the Master’s Birthday and took the lead in decorating the Art and Dining Halls for the occasion.((2))

  1. From Wikipedia []
  2. Flaming Sword, October 1936 []

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May 2016 – Page-2

Annie Ray Andrews (courtesy of Florida Memory)

Annie Ray Andrews (courtesy of Florida Memory)

In our last posting, we looked at the life of “Bertie” Boomer. In this posting we are looking at another member of one of the “Charter” families of the Koreshans, the Andrews family, and in particular, Annie Ray Andrews, the daughter of A.W.K. Andrews and Virginia Harmon Andrews. Annie Ray was one of those “second generation” Koreshans. May 6th marked Annie’s 137th birthday. She was born in Binghamton New York, the family home of the Andrews family. It was in Binghamton where her father and mother decided to leave everything behind to follow Dr. Teed. The book, “Folks we knew while in the K.U.”, written by Marie McCready says:

“Dr. Andrews, a physician and surgeon from New York state, and Virginia of southern birth, were among the first converts. Virginia, with her white hair and soft voice, was the typical “southern lady” type. …Annie Ray’s hair turned white while she was still young, which, with her black brows and lashes gave her a distinctive appearance.”

The photograph above shows Annie as many have remembered her. She always dressed very well. Here she is in one of her many hats.((1)) Although there is no documentation to verify, it appears that Annie dropped out of the Unity shortly after Dr. Teed’s death. Whether or not she was ever a “believer” could probably be debated. She was a member of that second generation of Koreshans which included the likes of Claude Rahn, Laurie Bubbett, Allen Andrews and others. Annie lived in several places, including New York City. There does not seem to have been an animosity between her and the Unity, or her family. But, like many, after the death of Dr. Teed, she moved on. Take a look at this photograph taken in New York in 1912. Laurie Bubbett, Annie Ray and Clause Rahn are seen enjoying New York. She apparently stayed away from the Unity for some time as the May 1916 “Community Current Events” mentioned her visit with her mother and brother after a five year absence.

Annie Ray Andrews Death Certificate

Annie Ray Andrews Death Certificate

THE FLORIDA State Press Association held its annual convention this year at Kissimmee. The American Eagle, our weekly publication, was represented by its editor, Brother Allen Andrews, and THE FLAMING SWORD by Sister Berthaldine; Sisters Virginia Andrews and Bertie Boomer taking advantage of the trip also. At Kissimmee they were joined by Miss Annie Ray Andrews of Brooklyn, N. Y., who had not seen her mother and brother in five years. Sister Bertie continued her journey on to New York, but the rest of the party arrived home on Sunday the 16th, reporting a most enjoyable time.

She died in 1928 from complications after surgery. See the copy of her death certificate above.

  1. Portrait of Koreshan Annie Ray Andrews. 18–?. Black & white photoprint, 7 x 5 in. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. []

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May 2016

Many Koreshans have sunk into obscurity. One can go through the Rahn Membership List and see many, many names of people that we know very little about. On the other hand, some of the earliest members of the Unity and their families are well know. One of those would be Bertha May Boomer, known to the world as “Bertie”. Her mother, Bertha Sterling Boomer was one of the original Koreshans who accompanied Dr. Teed to Estero in his hunt for the New Jerusalem.

Bertie Boomer Passport Application 1917.

Bertie Boomer Passport Application 1917.

Bertie May was born May 1, 1882, despite the fact that her gravestone in the Pelican Sound Cemetery says 1880. The 1882 date is confirmed by Bertie’s 1917 Passport Application, one of two found online. The first one, from 1917, shows that Bertie was living full time in New York City and that she planned on visiting Panama and Jamaica.

The second application, from 1920, shows that she had lived in Cuba for two months in 1917 and that her permanent residence was back in Estero. On this trip she planned on visiting Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Peru.

Bertie appears to have spent most of her time living with her mother at the home across from the Unity, known as Mirasol Grove. She also lived, for a time, in Fort Myers. Somewhere along the way, after 1920-1930, Bertie’s life seems to have changed, at least it appears that way thanks to the collection of papers that the archives obtained from the estate of Harry Manley. See the Manley Collection here.

Based on what is in this collection there seems to be some sort of “fringe” that Bertie appears to be tied into. There is not enough known, however, so one cannot say for sure. You can read more about the Bertie Boomer-Harry Manley-Hedwig Michel-Peter Bender relationship by revisiting the February 2014 posting.

Bertie died in 1941 in a freak accident. She was on the beach and accidentally run over by fellow Koreshan Harold Case. Here is the entry from the October 1941 Flaming Sword.

FLAMING SWORD–v.55, n.10, October 1941 — “Estero residents were shocked on Wednesday evening, September 3, to learn of the sudden death of Miss Betha M. Boomer, who was run down by a truck at Fort Myers Beach. Miss Boomer, who had been in swimming with a party of friends, left the water to get her bathing cap which she had forgotten. A glaring sun was low in the horizon and it is supposed that she failed to see the approaching truck which was driven by Mr. H. C. Case of Fort Myers. Miss Boomer was for many years a member of the Unity in Estero. She was an accomplished artist, being a graduate of Chicago Art Institute, and had a wide circle of friends. She is survived by her brother, Mr. L. M. Boomer, President of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel Company of New York, and a married sister, Mrs. Walter Thomas, living in a suburb of Philadelphia.

There is a new book out about an important member of the Koreshan Unity, Jeannie Fox Miller. The book, entitled Jeannie’s Journey: Great Grandmother’s Pioneering Tale is by Linda Tilson Davis. Click on the link for purchase information. Here is a description of the book:

Born in the mid-Victorian era, Jeannie Fox shuns her Quaker heritage to take an unusual, circuitous journey through life. Her ambition to become a teacher is realized but societal norms and laws force her to give up teaching when she marries. After having two children she begins to question her obligations and rights as a wife and joins a religious-scientific cult and commune in Chicago in part to escape her uncomfortable marriage. When she is threatened with losing her daughters, she leaves the commune and resumes her career as a teacher but maintains allegiance to the cult leader and his followers. A temptation to rejoin the commune is not as strong as the attraction to move to Oregon’s Hood River Valley and become a fruit rancher. Relations become stressed with her oldest daughter over her younger sister’s choice of a husband and lifestyle. A life-long dream to take a world tour turns into tragedy forcing her home prematurely to face the consequences and the remainder of her life.

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April 2016 – Page-3

This post ran in 2012. Since 2016 is an election year, we thought it fitting to revisit an election year in Koreshan history. The year was 1906 which became, in some ways, a turning point for the Koreshans. The whole notion of taxes, representation etc. has obviously continued 110 years later…

In his 1978 article in Florida Historical Quarterly, Elliott Mackle wrote:

The removal of Unity headquarters to Estero was in fact a consolidation. Furniture and personal goods of Chicago Koreshans were brought south in carload lots. Printing presses used for the production of tracts and magazines were installed in a print shop near the river and publication resumed. The population grew to about 200, a peak never significantly surpassed during Dr. Teed’s lifetime. Meanwhile, however, the Koreshans’ relations with nearby property owners, which had been relatively free of friction since 1894, began to change. Neighboring small farmers, alarmed at the influx of people into a sparsely populated district, began to speak out against Koreshan plans to build railroads and elevated boulevards through their fields. As a precaution against interference, therefore, Dr. Teed decided upon municipal incorporation of Estero. A meeting of registered voters and affected property owners was held on September 1, 1904. Incorporation was approved, municipal organization and ordinances voted, and officers, all of them Koreshans, were elected. The town’s corporate limits conformed to plans for New Jerusalem:
110 square miles were contained within Estero’s boundaries. The property of several non-Koreshans who objected to incorporation was not included within municipal limits.

Resistance and opposition to the incorporation from the local press were minimal since, in 1904, the Koreshans had supported the election of Philip Isaacs, editor of the Fort Myers Press, forerunner of today’s Fort Myers News-Press.

Mackle goes on to say:

Dr. Teed’s relations with the press had not been very amicable. Reporters had portrayed him as a pompous schemer and a fraud. Teed often had turned such insults to good account by using them as excuses for playing the martyr in the pages of his own publications. Lee County, however, had now become his base of operations and the home of the Unity. Posturing was easily detected, and laughed at, in a small community like Fort Myers. Prudence was required; he wanted good publicity, and he also wanted treaties, however temporary, with the powerful. Isaacs’s role as editor, coupled with his elevation from town councilman, his last official position, to the bench, must have made him seem an influential person. In fact he was controlled, as were both the Democratic party organization and the newspaper, by the wealthy Hendry family. The treaty between Teed and Isaacs lasted two years. Teed brought disaster on himself, and on Isaacs, by neglecting to form some new arrangement. And Isaacs, like Teed, misjudged the power of his position, thereby contributing to his own undoing. These personal disasters, which accompanied a severing of public ties between Estero and Fort Myers, were occasioned by the events of the election of 1906. The seeds of the conflict had been sown two years earlier. Municipal incorporation had entitled Dr. Teed and his officials to claim a share of county road tax funds, but they found that county officers were loath to divert dollars from their own projects, particularly those in Fort Myers. There was also, in some quarters, a resentment against the northern newcomers who sought to establish what might become a rival county seat, who boasted that they would revolutionize the world and turn it inside out, and who followed a messiah other than Christ. County officials, needing a bargaining chip, looked back to the records of the Democratic primary election of May 1904, when Koreshans had been permitted to register and to vote. 15 In the November general election, however, the Koreshans had voted for Republican Theodore Roosevelt, rather than the Democrats’ nominee. Although the Koreshans had otherwise supported the ticket, this defection provided an excuse to disenfranchise them for the election of 1906. The instrument of this disenfranchisement was a pledge which participants in the first Democratic primary of May 1906 were required to sign if challenged. It stated that the voter would support all Democratic nominees of 1906, and that he had “supported the Democratic nominees of 1904, both state, county, and national.“ Based upon laws passed to deny blacks the franchise, this pledge was so worded as to exclude those who had voted for Roosevelt and those who had not been in Lee County in 1904 and had therefore not voted. The Koreshans stubbornly refused to be intimidated. They appeared at the Estero precinct polling station on the day of the first Democratic primary, protested against the pledge, but then signed it after crossing out certain of the qualifications, and bloc-voted for the candidates of their choice. The Democratic executive committee, of which Philip Isaacs was chairman, thereupon threw out the entire vote of the Estero precinct, including eight votes by the non-Koreshan electors, and instructed election inspectors to bar Koreshans from voting in the second primary. Isaacs and the party had not found it necessary to curry Dr. Teed’s favor. The Democratic candidates for county office could be elected without Estero support, and the Koreshans were ineligible to participate in Fort Myers municipal contests-a bond referendum, an election for town aldermen, in which Isaacs was a candidate, and the elevation of a Hendry to the office of mayor.

When the Koreshans began publication of the “American Eagle”, its main purpose, as stated in a previous post was to oppose Issacs and others in the 1906 election.

Here are some examples of the political “cartoons” that the Koreshans created. These are contained in a little booklet given to Dr. Teed by Walter Bartsch, a member of the Unity. You can view the entire booklet of cartoons by going to this link

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Revisionist History and Strange Stories

Having been involved with Koreshan history for over 20 years, I’ve always found it interesting to see and hear what some people are saying. The story of Cyrus Teed, a.k.a. Koresh and the Koreshans have been told many different ways. For example, the Koreshans themselves put Koresh up as some kind of martyr after his death in 1908. It played better than admitting that he simply died of a circulatory disease, as was probably the cause of his death.

In this age of the Internet, you can do a search and find a million sites. For example, a recent Google Search found over 8 million hits for “Hollow Earth” and almost 10,000 hits for “Cyrus Teed”.

The history of the Koreshans is certainly bizarre in some ways, but it is real history and not some kind of fairy tale. I recently ran across a short video produced by the Travel Channel. In it they say that Teed was beaten nearly to death at a political meeting where the Koreshans were trying to incorporate Estero to avoid paying taxes. After Teed’s death, the real cause for the demise of the Koreshan”cult” was that cursed “celibacy”. Hmmm… I suppose that is partly true, but the way it was explained in the video was not really true. They took many real historical episodes and combined them into one story. Yes, Teed was beaten — yes, the Koreshans sought to incorporate Estero (and did), but not to avoid taxes, but to get their share of tax money. Celibacy certainly played a part in the demise of the Koreshans, but the demise was more due to the fact that none of Teed’s claims were substantiated. Take a look for yourself and see what this revisionist history sounds like.

A few years back the History Channel had a program called “Weird U.S.”. Their video is not available online, but they have a web page devoted to the Koreshans. Their explanation is a little more fact and less sensational. The video was not quite as accurate, claiming that they put Teed’s body onto a barge of some kind and sent it down the Estero River. Of course, Teed died on Estero Island (Fort Myers Beach), so there was no need to move his body down the river.

Then there are the strange ones out there. A web site that claimed Teed returned in 2006, walking ashore in England. Here is an excerpt from the website

From the website

From the website

Teed was never seen again until: On December 26th, 2006 98 years after his last appearance a man claiming to be Dr Cyrus Reed Teed appeared to walk from the sea and onto the beach at Canvey Island, Essex, UK. Whilst on the island Teed attempted to turn Canvey into his New Estero and set out a series of plans to create a community based upond his updated vision of the Cellular Cosmogony. After only 6 months Teed once again disappeared, leaving only his suit behind in Canvey Heights Country Park.

You can find all these in one place or another. Since Teed’s death in 1908 there have been a number of people either claiming to be Teed’s successor or Teed himself, even to the point where one man informed the State Historic Site that he would be returning soon and that they should prepare for his return.

What is fact is that the Koreshans were “different“, but their belief in a communal society was not uncommon at the turn of the 20th century. The idea of a hollow earth was also a plausible idea in the 1890’s since science had not progressed to the point where ideas such as theirs were found to be totally lacking.

Within the last month, the Huffington Post ran an article entitled The Florida Sect Doomed From the Start. Maybe, but the article, which was intended to make light of the weirdness of Koreshan beliefs said things like “Here is the written premise of the Koreshanity — do you see how it rhymes so well with insanity?“. That is easy to say in 2016. The point here is that the Koreshans were “real” folks who were, for the most part, very well educated. Yes, Cyrus Teed died and was not resurrected, but the basic notion of the Koreshan belief was the “Golden Rule” and living in community, something that was tried all over the world, from the Economites, to the Shakers and to the Harmonists, and perhaps that is what really matters, not their attempts to take science in a different direction, nor in the attempt of 21st century pundits to show the Koreshans as whackos.

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