Describe a utopia.
Most stories about the Koreshan Unity do not.
They focus on the founder, Dr. Cyrus Teed, his “illumination” during a laboratory experiment in 1869, and his bizarre belief in cellular cosmogony: that we live on the inside of a hollow Earth.
They portray Dr. Teed as a cult leader, who as Koresh (Hebrew for Cyrus and shepherd) lured hundreds of people from Chicago and elsewhere down to a commune in the Florida wilderness.
Utopian portrayals, with characters searching not only for a happy ending, but to create an ideal world, aren’t as common right now. Some may think they lack the drama of dystopian stories.
But utopian stories press us to imagine transcending the current limits of civilization and become more. They inspire us with visions of what could be. Dr. Teed had a vision of ten million industrious people coming together to build the “New Jerusalem,” and the Koreshans joined him in this dream.
The Koreshan Unity followed doctrines of equity, spirituality, the arts and science. Residents came and went freely, and the community welcomed nearby townsfolk to their bakery, general store, concrete plant, and publishing house. Children were educated, and men and women were equals. They were even governed by the Planetary Chamber, a group of seven women who oversaw all of the community’s operations and lived in the Planetary Court.
Dr. Teed’s death, and lack of anticipated, physical resurrection, shook the community in 1908. But a small contingent continued the Unity for many years. Hedwig Michel, the last Koreshan, died in 1982. She is the only person buried on the grounds. Today, the College of Life Foundation keeps the Koreshan Unity’s historical archive, and a gopher tortoise lives in a burrow beneath Ms. Michel’s stone, connecting the Unity to their southwest Florida home as they always were.
The Koreshan Unity Settlement became a Florida State Historic Site in 1961, for their historical role in the growth of the area and as a communal utopia in the United States.
In a time flush with dystopian stories, the idealism of the Koreshan Unity is inspiring. Their story is filled with quirky characters, wild spiritual and scientific ideas, and set in a harsh landscape. We need utopian stories, too.
There’s no blood in this story, but there may be something a little spooky for us horror-loving folks. The park sometimes hosts teas in the sitting room of the Planetary Court. During set up one morning, something crashed upstairs, as if something had been thrown to the ground. The volunteers found a candle in the middle of the room, too far from its shelf to have slipped and fallen. Perhaps Ms. Michel isn’t the last Koreshan on the grounds, and the powerful ladies of the Planetary Chamber wanted to remind everyone who still governs the Unity.