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August 2015

This month we want to return to Chicago and the “WHERE” of the Koreshans. Chicago is important in that this is where the Unity made its real start — where it all began, even if it faltered at times.

Lyn Millner, Journalism Professor at Florida Gulf Coast University is publishing a new and comprehensive book about the Koreshans, called The Allure of Immortality, An American Cult, a Florida Swamp, and a Renegade Prophet. She was kind enough to supply us with an interactive map showing many of the locations (some are no longer there) where the Koreshans lived and worked.

Simply click on the photo of Cyrus, (below) and it will load the maps. Enjoy!


Categories: Monthly Feature.

July 2015

6123In addition to the post for July (below), I also wanted to make folks aware of a new book coming in October. The book is entitled “The Allure of Immortality: An American Cult, a Florida Swamp, and a Renegade Prophet”, written by FGCU Journalism professor, Lyn Millner.

This is the most thorough and comprehensive look at Cyrus Teed and the Korehsans in a long long time. There’s so many quack sites and false information about Teed and the Unity. This is an honest and refreshing look. You can read an excerpt from the book by going to the University Press of Florida.

You can view the Press Kit, which has even more information about the book and the author.

Last but not least, you can pre-order from the publisher through the links above, or from Amazon

In this month’s feature we revisit a post from July 2011, with a few updates. I want to explore the Teed family. We usually only hear about Cyrus, but Jesse Sears Teed and Sarah Ann Tuttle had eight children who lived into adulthood.

1865-NY Census-TeedThe fourth child, Charles Jackson Teed was born on July 3, 1843 in Moravia, New York. We don’t know what Charles thought about his brother Cyrus, and his activities as Koresh, however, Charles did leave us some of his own history, thanks mostly to his younger sister, Emma Teed Norton, who went on to follow her brother, Cyrus. Charles was living at home, as you can see in the June 1865 New York Census record above. (Click for a larger view.) This was just before he enlisted in the Union Army on August 15, 1862, serving in the 144th New York Infantry as a Private. You can view part of his enlistment record by clicking on the image below:
He served until 1865. On February 23, 1874 he married Amelia McLaughlin, who was from Tompkins in Delaware County New York.

Their first child was a girl, Ella, who died sometime before 1880. They had two other known children. Sarah, born about 1877 and Marvin, born about 1886.

“Charley” as he was apparently known, died on February 12, 1887. His distraught widow wrote a letter to her sister-in-law, Emma Teed Norton, Charley’s (and Cyrus’) sister on February 24, 1887, just 12 days after his death. You can view the original letter below.

Categories: Monthly Feature.

June 2015

 — June reminds us the the ‘season’ is definitely over. Hurricane season has officially begun and the hot days, and humid nights drag on for then next six months or so. This month’s posting is a “repeat” from June of 2011. Next month we hope to be back with a new post.

This month marks the birthday of Jesse Sears Teed, father of Cyrus, but instead of featuring those ‘known’ Koreshans, we thought we would, once again highlight some of the lesser know members of the Unity. We, once again, feature a somewhat obscure Koreshan who, although his time with the Unity was somewhat short, had a major impact, at least on the infrastructure of the Unity. His name was Richard Jentsch((1)) , born in Germany on the 8th of June, 1883. He came to Estero in 1906. It is unclear how long before that time he had been a member of the Unity.

He was a member of the Unity Orchestra, and this grainy photo is all that we have of him. His claim to fame came in 1906, shortly after his arrival when he took part in the “fight” in Fort Myers when Dr. Teed was struck by Sheriff Sanchez and arrested. Jentsch was a part of it. According to historian Elliot Mackle, writing in the “Florida Historical Quarterly”:

“A crowd quickly gathered around the four men. The train had by that time arrived, and the Baltimore party, escorted by the mayor of Estero and by a young Koreshan named Richard Jentsch, had begun walking toward a hotel in the center of town. Upon meeting the crowd they recognized Dr. Teed. Jentsch sprang forward to defend his messiah, and was followed almost immediately by the three Koreshan boys in his charge-Claude Rahn((2)), Roland Sander((3)), and George Danner.((4))

Jentsch struck Sellers and was then himself struck down by blows from the crowd. Claude Rahn, trying to separate Sellers and Dr. Teed, was hit in the mouth by a stranger. George Danner, seeing this, ran forward, kicked Rahn’s attacker, and then retreated. The man yelled, “Grab the kid.” Someone did, and Danner was knocked into the crowd.”

Jentsch is better known in the Historic Site as a member of the Koreshan Orchestra and an active member of the theatre troupe. He eventually left the Koreshan Unity and got married to a fellow Koreshan, Cecile Read Woodruff, who, according to the records we have, was almost forty years his senior. Jentsch died on April 14, 1915, just four months prior to his wife, who died in August of 1915.

  1. Richard Jentsch geneaology []
  2. Claude Rahn geneaology []
  3. Roland Sander geneaology> []
  4. George Danner genealogy []

Categories: Monthly Feature.

May 2015

This month we are looking at a 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. May 6 would mark Annie’s 130th birthday. She was born in Binghampton New York, the family home of the Andrews family. 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 shows Annie on Memorial Day, 1909. On hundred years ago this month. Annie is on the left, along with her sister Margaret. The caption says: “30 May 1909 – 1911 E. Preston Street, Baltimore. Mr and Mrs. Satterfield, Annie Ray, Margaret and the Cat” 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. She apparenlty stayed away from the Unity for some time as one of the articles in the “Community Current Events” mentioned her visit after a long time away.

As far as we know, Annie Ray never married. She died in 1928 at the age of 49 and is buried in the Northwood Cemetery in Philadelphia in the cemetery plot of her aunt, Susan Harmon Webb.

Categories: Monthly Feature, Posting.

April 2015

 —  April is the month of the Lunar Festival as well as many other important dates in the Koreshan calendar. April 4th marks the birthday of Virginia Harmon Andrews, the wife of Dr. A.W.K. Andrews. She and her husband were one of the first followers of Dr. Teed. A visitor to this website sent us transcripts a few years ago, of letters that Dr. Andrews wrote to his wife Virginia’s mother, Margaret Harmon explaining why he and his wife had come to believe in Dr. Teed’s mission. [see AM-0153]

We also celebrate the marriage of Cyrus Teed and his wife, Fidelia M. Rowe, on April 13, 1859. Teed eventually left his wife, although he apparently never divorced her. There is some discussion about what exactly happened, but it is widely believed that Teed got caught up in his own beliefs and chose to become celibate. His wife is found in the 1860 census living with her parents and Arthur Teed, their only child, although it is said that Teed moved his family to New York City in 1862.

Teed’s parents, Jesse Sears Teed and Sarah Ann Tuttle also celebrate their wedding anniversary this month.

Finally, we celebrate the birthday of Annie Grace Glosson Ordway, known to the world as “Victoria Gratia“, the “Pre-Eminent” of the Koreshan Unity. Victoria was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1844. She married a man named David Ordway, although most literature says her husband’s name was George. According to the 1870 and 1880 census, David and Annie were still married and living in Chicago. How long her marriage lasted is not known. She does appear to be living in Chicago as early as 1870. It was probably there that she first met Dr. Teed. After Teed’s death in 1908 she was drummed out of the Unity and she founded her own colony, eventually settling in St. Petersburg Florida. She married Dr. Charles Graves, the Koreshan Dentist, in 1909. She died in 1923. There were numerous attempts by some Koreshans to bring her back as head of the Unity, but they, of course, failed.

Categories: Monthly Feature.

March 2015

This month we want to feature the birth of Koreshan John Sargent, but also we want to feature an item that has been in the archives for a long time, but has now been studied and re-typed, cleaned up, etc. etc. Park volunteer, Dr. Joan McMahon worked on Marie McCready’s, “Memories, Memories- Days of Long Ago”. We are including a link to it. The introduction states:

Five McCready children lived at the Koreshan Unity for most of their lives. This narrative was written by Marie, who was about 11 years old when she arrived in Estero, Florida in 1897. Words in brackets […] are notes that help explain concepts. These are her memories, compiled when she was about 80 years old. She writes,

“Acknowledging the inclination of the older generation to reminisce and recognizing the disinclination of the younger sometimes to hear the stories, we have arrived at this solution of the problem: We will write our memories and, though consideration and good manners might require you to listen, there is no law which says you must read.”

You can read this ineteresting document by going here. The article is in PDF format.

The month of March brings us to Springtime in Florida. After a few weeks ago, Spring really means something this year. This month celebrates the birth of John Sargent who was born 169 years ago…

According to the Membership List, compiled by Claude Rahn, Sargent was born on March 20, 1846 in Hutton Illinois. He served in the 68th Illinois Infantry during the Civil War. He joined the Koreshan Unity in 1892. He died on September 22, 1932.

The photo at right is purported to show Sargent, on the left with his “GAR” (Grand Army of the Republic) sash on.

Marie McCready, writing in her book, “Folks We Knew While in the K.U.

John Sargent; “A civil War veteran on the Union side and, perhaps because of his beard, I could always picture him in his blue cap and uniform. Belle Cox engineered having a federal marker placed at his grave. One of Lovelle’s two favorite men there.”

He was also mentioned in some of the early Community Current Events columns in the “Flaming Sword” along with his son, John, who had already become somewhat of a noted painter. Here are two:

Current Events in Our Community Life
January 1916

On Saturday evening, Jan’y 1, a social entertainment was given at the Art Hall, which consisted of music, games, dancing, and refreshments. When the participants entered the Hall they were presented with “Good Resolution Caps” and 1916 badges. Each cap was inscribed with a word suggestive of agift or grace of character, such as: “Moderate, Cheerful, Thorough, Forgiving,” etc. Then came a New Year’s March, to orchestra music, in which all the newly decorated members participated. Some of the games were quite amusing, and the reading of “Mr. Dooley,” and “Way Down South Once More,” by Sister Berthaldine, was enjoyed by all. (Sisters and brothers do not dance together.) Mr. Paul Sargent, son of our worthy brother-John Sargent, sent his father two barrels of the finest apples grown in the state of Illinois. During the evening we were treated to some of them, which we enjoyed very much. Mr. Sargent’s visit to us a year ago is fresh in our memory, and particularly when we visit the Art Hall, because of the two paintings he left with the Unity, which are a source of joy to all. Mr. Sargent left a warm spot in the hearts of our people, and we appreciate his ability as an artist.

Current Events in Our Community Life
April 1916
On Saturday, March 18, a great many of the members of the Unity availed themselves of the opportunity to visit the Boomer property, across the river, and inspect the new barn just completed. The contract was let to the Koreshan Unity; the construction was in charge of Brother Stephen Chislett, and certainly reflected great credit on him and his co-working brothers for fine workmanship, and on the Unity, in having such efficient and faithful members. Sister Berthaldine, the mother of Mr. LL M. Boomer, and her daughter, Sister Bertie, made this occasion one to be long remembered. The building was gaily decorated, and presented a gala appearance. Sister Elizabeth Robinson played a number of new records, as well as many others from her voluminous collection, on her Victor Talking Machine, which were very much enjoyed. The male quartette sang the following popu-lar numbers, assisted on the violin by Brother Harold Moreland: “Hail Columbia;” “The Battle-Cry of Freedom;” “Flag of the Free,” and the “Song of a Thousand Years.” The one thing which furnished the most amusement was the so called fish pond, inasmuch as each had to exhibit what he caught. The pond was a large clothes basket, which was out of the fisher-man’s view, filled with packages contributed by the different members. Some of the -contributions were exceedingly funny. Refreshments were served as a crowning climax, after which the members took the boat for home, with a most pleasant memory of a well spent afternoon. …On the following Monday, a picnic was arranged in honor of our guests. “The Estero” left the dock in the morning, with twenty-eight on board, bound for Carlos Point. At the mouth, of the river we anchored, and some of the brothers busied themselves gathering oysters. The tide was low, and in a short time we filled several sacks. Our next stop was the fish house, where, with a silver hook, we purchased the choicest silver mullet caught in these waters; these were cooked to suit the taste of the most exacting, and it is needless to say that everyone did full justice to the good things prepared. Brother John Sargent made a short speech, thanking us all for helping him to celebrate his birthday, he having reached his seventieth milestone. This was news to us; nevertheless, we were glad to help Bro. John celebrate. Many interesting things were recalled during the day, in connection with the Koreshan movement, which were exceedingly interesting to some of the newer members, as well as a joy to those who had passed through them. The day was all one could wish for; and having to wait till about nine in the evening for the tide, we returned home under the most glorious moonlight, feeling very much rejuvenated.

Putting the Community Current Events into an historical perspective, especially since the Koreshans believed and practiced equality for women. When the articles above were publsihed in 1916, the United States was about to experience the first woman to be elected to the U.S. Congress. This was Jeanette Rankin. Here is the entry from Info Please:

Rankin, Jeannette, 1880–1973, American pacifist, b. Missoula, Mont. She was active in social work and campaigned for woman suffrage. A Republican, she was the first woman in the United States to serve (1917–19) in Congress and also was (1941–43) a member of the 77th Congress. She voted against the declaration of war on Germany in 1917 and in 1941 cast the only vote in the House against entering the war. A member of various antiwar organizations, she led (1968) the Jeannette Rankin Brigade, a peace group, to Washington to protest the Vietnam War.

See biography by H. Josephson (1974).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

Read more: Rankin, Jeannette

Categories: Monthly Feature.

February 2015

 —  Here is a sample, dating back 75 years, from the February 1940 edition of the Community Current Events column from the Koreshan publication, The Flaming Sword.

Community Current Events February 1940
By Rose Gilbert

BROTHER ALLEN ANDREWS made a trip to Bonita Spring’s to visit Mr. and Mrs. Charles Codwise, who were friends of the late Dr. Henry Nehrling and who now possess a considerable remnant, of the once great plant collection acquired at the Doctor’s Naples gardens; many rare specimens are now growing on Mr. Codwise’s place.

The weather has been much criticized for some weeks, chilly and cloudy and a sunshiny day being greeted with applause.

Resurfacing and widening of the Tamiami Trail has begun at Estero bridge, working toward Fort Myers. The work has been much delayed by heavy rains, which were not expected this time of year, making road slippery and requiring careful driving: to avoid accidents.

Having had no advance information we were pleasantly surprised and interested a few nights ago, when the radio was turned on, to hear a ten minute talk on Lee County, Fort Myers, Thomas A. Edison, Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone; their winter homes in Fort Myers and sketches of early unlighted streets and cow paths about the town; its subsequent growth and the fine highways now leading to it. A brief notice was given to the little town of Estero, sixteen miles south of Fort Myers, as the home of the strange religious community. The Koreshan Unity.

We quote the following interesting fact from The American Eagle: “George Simpson brought word last Sunday of a strange creature that had stranded several days previously on Lovers’ Key, which was once the upper end of BigHickory Island. When first observed it was covered by a flock of buzzards which were rapidly tearing it to pieces, but was sufficiently intact to get a fair description of it. The creature was all of twenty feet long, about five feet across the body, with a broad, flat tail, something like an airplane rudder. The head was fully three feet long and two feet wide, tapering into a long bill resembling’ that of a seagull in shape, and somewhat curved at the end. There were no teeth and the eye-sockets were as big as saucers. There was a series of large breastplates to which the larger ribs were attached by tough gristle and the backbone was high and serrated like that of some prehistoric monster. Long bony flippers indicated that they were used to drag the creature along on the sea bottom when feeding. Unlike that of a fish, the meat was red like beefsteak, and the body was covered with a growth of coarse brown hair. Apparently the creature was a mammal and was accompanied by a young one recently born. “So far, no one has been able to identify the huge creature. The large head was obtained by Piper Brothers for exhibit at their snake farm in Bonita Spring’s. Head of the small one together with breastbones and a rib of the larger creature, were obtained by Mr. Simpson, who is spending the winter in Estero.”

Categories: Monthly Feature.

January 2015

 —  January brings us a number of prominent Koreshans. Perhaps the most prominent, at least from the view of a historian, was Claude C. Rahn. claude2Claude was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1885. His family was one of the first to join the Unity in Estero. Thanks to Claude’s efforts we have a membership list, a short history of Dr. Teed and other information about the Koreshans.

As mentioned in previous months, the Community Current Events column which appeared monthly (for the most part) from 1916 on gives us an insight into the daily lives of the people who lived here. So, this month we feature a complete edition of the “Events” column from January 1922, 93 years ago.

      OUR GREETINGS are somewhat belated, nevertheless, we wish you a Happy New Year just the same, and trust that fate will be kind to you. From the way many of our readers express themselves in their letters, we take it for granted that the nearest thing to their hearts is the Science of Universology. In a letter KORESH wrote to a friend concerning his doctrine he said: “It is the very Word, the presence of the Eternal One. While I write, the glory of the divine presence is so full, I wonder why the world so long refuses to imbibe this life.” Let us hope that a general awakening will take hold of the hearts of the people this A. K., 82, or as the world in general regards it, A. D., 1922, ‘for the knowledge of the truth as promulgated from The Guiding Star Publishing House.

Dr. Price, formerly of Chicago, but who for the past year or more has been living at Rita, Fla., in the Everglades, made us a few days’ visit before the Christmas holidays. It was our good fortune while the Doctor was here to have an orchestra concert on the night of Dec. 22, in which he took part. He is an elocutionist and entertainer of decided ability, and despite his three score years and thirteen, he’s as youthful and agile as ever on the platform. The four numbers he gave us, three of them his own compositions, were something that will live long in our memory. The first poem was concerning the Sunset in Florida. We have often remarked that our sunsets were beyond description, but we will have to modify our opinion somewhat since listening to the Doctor’s poem, because he has created a most beautiful setting and describes them in language most ornate.

The second number was an Irish letter compiled from letters he had written for Irishmen to their loved ones in old Ireland; needless to say he did the subject full justice if we may judge from the levic effect it had on the audience. The third was about the stars in the sky, and his grandmother’s conception of how they were produced. The Doctor remarked that since his study of Koreshan Science he has had to somewhat revise his early’belief concerning them.

The last number was “Darius Green and His Flying Machine,” given by request. The Doctor prefaced this number with a few remarks of his own experience during a flight he made in a flying machine in San Diego, Calif. The principal reason he gave for this ) flight was to satisfy his own curiosity concerning the ‘• horizon; theoretically, he knew from Koreshan Science (that the horizon came up to the level of the eye no matter how high he went, but this was the actual deJ monstration, and substantiated the Koreshan axiom: if the premise be proven, the conclusion is absolute by logical’ reasoning. To revert to “Darius Green,” we remember the Doctor saying that Mr. Trowbridge, the author, presented him with a gold medal for his rendition of it, stating that he had really gotten more out of it than the author himself had.

At the above concert Mrs. Guy Smith, of The Estero Inn, sang five numbers, each of which received a round of applause. Mrs. Smith is quite a favorite with Koreshan and Estero audiences, and her appearing is always looked forward to with great pleasure Prof. Schoedler played several numbers; Dr. Price remarked: “I never heard the piano played better.”

On Christmas eve, “Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch” was presented on the screen to a large audience at the K. U. Art Hall. This play is in a class by itself, and is the best of its kind presented in Estero. It possessed a special interest to us, because we had the pleasure of conducting a party over the grounds last winter, and among them was the author of “Mrs. Wiggs,” Mrs. Alice Hegan Rice, and Mr. Rice, who is also the author of many works. The play was made possible through the efforts of Miss Bertha M. Boomer and Estero people, who contributed to this reel for this occasion.

Among other interesting pictures shown during the month were those made by the Ford Educational Film Co., describing how iron ore is brought from Northern Michigan in large vessels through the locks at Sault Ste Marie, passing the city of Detroit, and unloading at Ashtabula, Ohio, for the Pittsburg iron mills and other points. A reel, showing the process of transforming iron in its raw state to molten metal and made into ingots, and another reel where these ingots are reheated and rolled into bars the thickness of ribbons, was an inspiring sight to many in the audience.

For the last five or six years the Koreshan Unity has taken a most active part in the Lee County Fair held at Fort Myers, and on several occasions obtained first prize for the best decorated booth, besides numerous other prizes for our products. This year we are looking forward to an exhibit of our own here in Estero. This no doubt will enable hundreds of people to see Estero, and also give them an opportunity to learn more about our System and what we are here for. It is our intention in the near future to erect a permanent building for this purpose, that will enable us to promulgate Koreshan Universology with suitable models and diagrams that will illustrate the Cellular Cosmogony.

The Unity is the recipient of a gift from Messrs. Peter Campbell and Claude Rahn of New York City, of a 5075 h.p., De Lavergne Oil Engine, and the work of installing it will commence soon. We have had a 50 k. w., 2300 volt generator for some time, and as soon as the machinery is in running order we will be able to furnish all the departments with electricity, doing away with a great deal of overhead expense. We have also received from Brother Peter, as he is familiarly known to us, a 9 inch swing machine screw bench lathe, for the making of small parts. The Unity has a great deal to be thankful for in having such loyal and generous friends, whose great desire is to see this movement succeed.

The K. U. Orchestra gave a concert Dec. 31, and a rare treat was in store for all present. In addition to our usual audience there were about a dozen tourists from Naples and a number from Fort Myers We were very much pleased to have with us Mr. Atwood, an exceptionally fine singer, formerly of Chicago, but now of Fort Myers. Mr Atwood gave us three numbers; the name^of the first we failed to get, but recall that it ranged quite high, possibly G above the staff. The next was “When the Bell in the Lighthouse Rings Ding Dong,” which took the opposite course, possibly to F below the staff; the last was Tosti’s “Good Bye,” a selection that was an exacting test for the voice, but of which the singer was absolutely master. He was accompanied on the piano by Mrs. Bishop, proprietress of the Graystone Hotel, Fort Myers. She is an excellent accompanist, and contributed much to the success of the singer.

By request Prof. Schoedler played Lizts’s “Hungarian Rhapsody,” and for an encore played “Moonlight on the Hudson;” needless to say, he did himself proud. Brother Robert Campbell played on the cornet “Home, Sweet Home,” with variations, in which he was encored twice. The orchestra music was also of a high class and was much enjoyed by all present.

At a recent offering of “Way Down East” at the Arcade Theater, Fort Myers, the music was furnished by five members from the Unity Orchestra.

We are pleased to record the visit of Mr. Leroy H. Bubbett of Chicago, who in the early days was connected with the Unity, coming in with his parents, Brother James and Sister Evelyn. Roy says “It’s good to get back and renew old acquaintances.”

Mr. and Mrs. Albert Miller, of Chicago, who are spending the winter in Fort Myers, were the guests of the Unity over the Christmas holidays.

Miss Hamilton, a niece of Brother Lou Staton, who teaches in the school of Fort Myers, spent the holidays at the Unity.

Mr. and Mrs. L. M. Boomer, of New York City, Mrs. Thomas and her two daughters, of Philadelphia, Pa., and Miss Doris Boomer and her brother Robert, of New Orleans, La., spent the holidays at Mirasol Grove, and it was the first time in years that Sister. Berthaldine has had her family around the festive board celebrating Christmas.

Categories: Monthly Feature.

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December 2014

In November of 2012 the News-Press printed a timeline for the Koreshans. Since it has been about 120 years since they first arrived in southwest Florida, here is a link to that timeline.

In the past we’ve looked at the “other” side of the Koreshans and the factions that sprung up after the death of Dr. Teed. This month we want to take a look, not so much at the factions, but at life inside the Unity. That is, life as it was “really” lived. No doubt most of the Koreshans got along and lived, as best they could, within the framework of a community. We know for a fact that even some of the most stalwart members had “issues” with the rules and the beliefs. Some of that stemmed from the fact that a community required community rules which didn’t always meet the desires of individuals.

One such example is the Acuff family. They were living in Texas when the head of the family, William, reportedly read a Chicago newspaper and saw an ad for the Koreshans((1)). The Acuff family pulled up stakes and headed for Florida. In her paper for the Historical Society, Coleene Huddlestun writes:

…..”William Sylvanus Acuff and his wife Mary Magdalene Talley Acuff had a homestead on the Texas plains near a place called Albin. They had two daughters and four sons then. Their closest neighbors were miles away. It was a lonely life, but they were together.

In a paper from Chicago, William Acuff, my grandfather, read about a utopian community being established in Florida. He wrote for more literature. He was convinced it would be good for him and his family–a better way of life. I do not know how much he believed in the teachings of Koresh–Cyrus Teed. They sold their homestead and stock, outfitted a covered wagon, and left Texas with as many belongings as they could put in the wagon with the six children, ranging in age from about twelve or thirteen years old to about two or three years old. Their wagon was pulled by a team of oxen, and they had two milk cows attached to the rear of the wagon. My father told me these things. He was their oldest son.

When they reached New Orleans, they sold the wagon, oxen, and cows and boarded a boat that sailed them as far as Tampa, Florida.

The Koreshan Unity had sent a boat to Tampa to get them and other families who were joining the community. They reached Estero in the fall of 1898 or 1899*. They had had a long, rough trip. When they reached the Koreshan community, any money and possessions that they had was turned over to the community. The family was divided–the men to the men’s house and the women to the women’s house. The children were separated from their parents, and the boys were separated from the girls. The houses were rather primitive, and they needed more buildings. The houses had no screens or ceilings, and the insects were very bad. The roofs were thatched with palm and palmetto fronds.

My Grandmother Acuff’s last child was born about six or seven months after they reached Estero. We believe that was in the summer of 1899 or 1900. (The Social Security Death Index says Arthur was born in July 1901)((2))

She’s goes on to recount how the rules of the community separated husbands and wives and children. Apparently this did not sit well with Mrs. Acuff who begged her husband to leave. Apparently, she did leave, and worked as a cook in a Fort Myers restaurant, taking her youngest son with her. While she worked, he was there, in a box. When he was old enough to walk, she had to take him back to the Unity. She continued to ask her husband to leave until she finally divorced him. She met and married a deputy sheriff and eventually moved back to Texas. You can read her granddaughter’s paper by going here.

On the Koreshan side of the matter, we find this quote in the McCready-Vesta Newcomb book Folks We Knew in the K.U.

“The Acuffs came from Texas shortly before the birth of Arthur, who was born in the thatched cottage on the river bank. Mollie, who had apparently been something of a beauty in her younger days, abandoned the family, including Arthur, and left before long. Maude was one of those who died during the typhoid epidemic.”

So, which is it? Did she abandon her family? The point I want to make is that there are always two sides to a story and the existence of papers showing some “behind the scenes” things that put the Unity, and some of its followers, in a less that favorable light, is important to recognize in any historical assessment of the Koreshans.

One other incident with regard to the Acuff family involves Elbert, son of William Acuff who apparently attempted to run away from the Unity. This is from the Fort Myers Press in 1908:

“This week K. B. Harvey, who runs a line of steamers between this city and Sanibel, had a peculiar experience according to his account which is as follows: “Last Saturday as I was coming up the river, a launch containing Dr. Teed and Messrs. Hunt and Gray, of the Koreshan Unity, came alongside my boat and said I had a boy on board that belonged to their colony and for whom they had a warrant for running away. They wanted the boy and I asked that they would wait until I got to the dock and unloaded my boat when we would see what was the matters. We went to the dock and I started to unload, when I had some business down at the express office to which place I went. When I returned to my boat the men had the boy and were gone. I saw them out in the river and called to the boy who said he was under arrest. They went off with him. The boy had run away but I was an innocent party in the matter, and think they should have shown some consideration. We do not know what Mr. Harvey intends to do in the matter, but give the story as told by him.”((3))

  1. Coleen Acuff Huddlestun, The Effect of the Koreshan Unity on One Family, Preseneted to the Historical Society; February 10, 1984, Hall of Fifty States. []
  2. (the Acuff family probably arrived in Estero in the fall of 1900.)–Joyce Nelle Ratliff, Feb 2000 []
  3. FORT MYERS PRESS; Fort Myers, Lee County, Florida; Thursday, March 19, 1908: “TOOK THE BOY” []

Categories: Monthly Feature.

November 2014

Everyday life in the Koreshan Unity… Here is the December 1922 (describing life in November 1922) “Community Current Events” in its entirety. With the mid-term elections taking place, it is interesting to look back at some issues from 1922.

Some Political Issues Decided; an Enjoyable and Varied Program “Was Given Thanksgiving Night
December 1922
THE COUNTRY’S ATTENTION has been riveted during the past month on candidates and election results, and it was no less so with us here in this southernmost part of the United States, only ours was more local than national. The principal issue to be decided here was whether the people of Lee County were in favor of county division at this time. There was considerable dissatisfaction over the successful candidate in the primary, so much so than an independent candidate came out to contest the election, over the issue of county division, but the results were unmistakable, the majority favored it. So this issue will undoubtedly be enacted into law at the coming legislature and Hendry County will become a reality, with LaBelle as the county seat.

Another issue which caused considerable dissatisfaction was that of county commissioner for district number three. There is only one party, practically speaking, in Florida, and that the democratic. A candidate winning in the primary is almost equivalent to his being elected. But. this year the unexpected happened, the defeated primary candidate, besides many others who seemed to be in a position to know, preferred charges of gross irregularities against the successful candidate over the way things had been con- ducted at Naples, and the matter was taken before the judge of this district, but the judge, for some reason or other, refused to allow the ballot box to be reopened. The name of Mr. A. M. Smith, the defeated primary candidate, was again placed on the ticket to run against Judge Wilkinson, the present incumbent, and we are glad to state that Mr. Smith won by the small majority of seven votes. Estero is situated in district number three, and we supported Mr. Smith, both in the primary and the general election, and we believe he will make a conscientious officer and will devote his energies to the best interests of all concerned.

It is customary in the Unity to hold a caucus the night before the election, to inform ourselves as to the merits and demerits of the candidates up for election and decide whom we will support. After reaching this decision, our vote is cast as a unit. So in a close race the Unity vote is a deciding factor, which emphasizes the axiom that “In unity there is strength.” The Koreshan Unity cast fifty-seven votes in the last election. Dr., Price was chosen to act as chairman of our caucus, a position he is eminently fitted for, and in his jolly manner the business was transacted with dispatch and good order.

In “Reasons for Thanksgiving,” by Moses Folsom in the Jacksonville Times-Union of Nov. 26, we read that: “President Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation while the capital of the nation was in New York.” This, we are told, was done the third day of October, 1789. The thought occurred to us, of all the people in the world today that can be truly thankful, none can claim more than Koreshans for having found the absolute truth as revealed to us through our beloved Master and exposited in his wonderful Science of Universology. The last Thursday of November of each year is set aside as a national holiday; but inasmuch as we are grateful to Him, not one day in the year, but the entire 365, for what he has done for us, we observe it like any other (with emphasis on the Eighteenth of October, the Master’s Natal Day) in the performance of use to the neighbor. However, the matron stressed the point in the pro-visions, of the day, and in the evening a merry entertainment was given in the Art Hall, in which dull cares had no part.

The opening number was “The Landing of the Pilgrims.” Sister Berthaldine Boomer read extracts from the November Mentor of the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. At the conclusion of her reading the stage curtains were drawn, revealing a tableau portraying the landing. A benediction was offered and songs sung by the Pilgrims in thanks for their safe arrival. This; number was a winner, and many wished a flashlight picture could have been taken of it.

Two humorous short plays were enacted, the first being Maud E. Hall’s “The Scrubtown Sewing Circle’s Thanksgiving.” The cast was: Sisters Rose Gilbert, Ella Graham, Bertha S. Boomer, Florence Graham, Bertha M. Boomer, and Barbara Ehrisman, and each did their part well. This play was hilariously funny and concluded with the following in concert.

“We know we are guilty of shamming ’tis clear,
We feel not so old as we’ve tried to appear,
But just to amuse you ’tis surely all nght,
And so we will wish you good night.

The other play was entitled “The Physical Torture Club,” by W. N. Bugbee. The cast represented a family by the name of Bangs and the parts were taken by Dr. James Russell Price, Mrs. Price, their grandson, Harl Price Cook, and Sister Edna Schwmdel. The daughter (Sister Edna) was what might be called a “physical culture crank” and was very anxious for her brother to follow in her footsteps, so they performed their exercises, but the boy ..was too mischievous to make much headway. The father, who was terribly afflicted with rheumatism, wondered if these exercises wouldn’t help his rheumatism, and after a little urging decided to give them a trial, the whole family taking part. From this to the end the play was a scream- in more senses than one; needless to say all four played their part as if they were professionals, to the merri- ment of all present. Other interesting numbers were the children’s humorous recitations and song, accompanied by their teacher, Sister Marie Fischer, on the guitar. All that could participated in the grand march. Next was two quadrilles, the first one by eight sisters, and the second one all brothers, both under the direction of Brother William Fischer. The orchestra played a number of selections during the evening. The entertainment came to an abrupt, but very humorous, end when the lights went out before the last dance was finished. This joke, if intentional, was enjoyed as much as any, all retiring after spending a most enjoyable evening.

Our boat, “The Estero,” which has been on the ways for needed repairs, was recently launched and made the first run to Fort Myers in many months for the purpose of inspection by government officials, as required by law; it returned with a cargo of provisions for the Unity store. The fruit crop in Florida this winter is most excellent. This year the Flower Grove is shipping their fruit by truck, as are many other shippers. However, “The Estero” has been booked to haul fruit from a number of groves here.

We have gone as far as we can for the time being with our new power house. The cement floor was laid recently. The engine after a few additional fittings, is ready to turn over; the auxiliary engine with air tanks for starting purposes is now installed and ready for business, but a circulating water tank will have to be erected besides putting on belting and other accessories before the plant will be ready for operation. These will come in due time.

What child doesn’t thrill over a circus? and many grown-ups, for that matter. Well, we are glad the children of the Unity, through the kindness of Mrs. Edith Trebell, saw Sparks’ circus that came to Fort Myers recently, and all report having had a most enjoyable time.

Mrs. C. Newcomb and daughter from Colorado are guests this winter at the Campbell home in Estero. Mrs. Newcomb is a sister of Mrs. Campbell, and at one time was an active member of the Unity.

Mr. Louis Bessemer, of Washington, D. C., recently made the Unity a two days’ visit. .Having spent many of his boyhood days in the Unity, he returned to it with much enthusiasm and was delighted to meet our people again. He represents the Radcliffe Chautauqua organization, with headquarters at the national capital. His love for Koreshanity is greater than ever and he said Estero is the apex of the thought world. His work brings him in contact with the fore-most business men of the cities he visits and whenever the opportunity presents itself he proclaims the great work carried on at this center. His coming to us at this time was most refreshing; the only fault we found was that his stay was entirely too short.

Lili Lehman, in her book “How to Sing,” says: “The true art of song has always been possessed by such individuals as are dowered by nature with all that is needful for it—that is, healthy vocal organs, uninjured by vicious habits of speech; a good ear, a talent for singing, industry, and energy.”

It was our good fortune, in company with a number of other brothers and sisters of the Unity, to listen to an artist possessing the above qualifications. The artist in question was Miss Helen Davis, who, in company with Mr. Victor Young, composer-pianist, gave a “Joint-Recital” with the Edison Re-creation Phonograph, tendered to the music lovers of the county by the Parker Book and Music Store of Fort Myers, Fla., at the Gwynne Institute on Wednesday evening, Dec. 6.

Mr. Young made a few preliminary remarks about some of the wonderful things Mr. Edison had contributed to humanity, and stated that for years Mr. Edison had cherished a desire to produce a phonograph that would re-create the human voice, and that he and Miss Davis were there that evening to demonstrate to the audience the success of the invention, they to be the sole judge. He stated also that of all the instruments to re-create the most difficult was the piano, and the test would be more with the voice than with the piano.

Miss Davis’ first two numbers were: (a) “The Quiet Road” by Speaks, (b) “No Sir!” by Wakefield, and there it was; singing with records of her own making, blending perfectly without a perceptible dif- ference, with the exception of the movements of her lips. She sang five more -numbers with the phono-graph. For a moment during one of the numbers the lights were turned off, and when turned on again there was no singer on the stage, but the effect was just the same, proving unquestionably that Mr. Edison almost had made the impossible, possible,—that of re-creating the human voice.

Mr. Young, likewise, accompanied records of his own making: (a) “Little Shepherd” by Debussy, (b) “Crescendo” by Lasso, and (c) “Improvisations of Old Songs,” his own composition, and several other selections. We have already stated the difficulty of re-creating the piano, but nevertheless the artist’s playing was scarcely perceptible with the record. The thing that impressed us most in the performance, however, was the consummate skill of the artist, every movement and touch synchronizing with the record. It was truly an event, as both were artists of the first magnitude.

The program concluded with two selected groups of songs by Miss Davis without the phonograph, accompanied by Mr. Young, and two selected numbers by Mr. Young on the piano. In these the artists were not restrained, but everything ad lib. We don’t recall the titles of their selections, but it will be some time before the effect produced will be effaced .from the memory. Miss Davis has a rich, flexible mezzo-soprano voice, also perfect diction, with all the delicate gradations possessed by the best artists. We can only think of the artists’ mission to Fort Myers at this time in the words of the poet:

“0 Music! sphere descended maid,
Friend of all pleasure, wisdom’s aid.”

[This article was originally published in November 2011]

Categories: Monthly Feature.

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