The Estero Island Historic Society (EIHS) kicked off its 2019-20 Lecture Series on Monday, November 18, before roughly 75 people at St. Raphael’s Episcopal Church at 5601 Williams Drive with Lyn Millner presenting “The Koreshan Unity: Facts, Myths & Fort Myers Beach Connections” at 7 p.m. Millner is the founder of the Journalism Department at Florida Gulf Coast University, with The Wall Street Journal naming her book, “The Allure of Immortality” on the Koreshans one of the top five books on cults. NPR’s Morning Edition and Weekend Edition broadcasts her stories, and her essays have been published in the New York Times and USA Today.
“How nice to be back on Koreshan land,” exclaimed Millner, “and how cool it is that history brought us all together here tonight! Lots of you probably know something about the Koreshan Unity from the south end of Fort Myers Beach, founded by Cyrus Teed, a physician from Chicago. ‘Cyrus’ in Hebrew is ‘Koresh,’ and he and his religious followers believed that the Earth was hollow, with everything existing within it and nothing being outside it.”
Teed and his roughly 250 followers relocated to Southwest Florida from Chicago and San Francisco in 1894, seeking to build the “New Jerusalem” utopian community, Millner related. “They left a beautiful mansion in Chicago,” she smiled, “to come to the wilderness of Southwest Florida, so when you see their photographs shortly after the relocation, it is no wonder they look a little gloomy! There were many more men than women, to do the heavy lifting. The men and women lived apart, they turned over all their wealth to Koresh, and they raised their children in true communal living, meaning you did not love your own kids more than those of anyone else.”
Millner explained that the Koreshans firmly believed in the “Hollow Earth Theory,” stating, “They had it all worked out and even had a sense of humor about it, with little lapel pins that said, ‘We live inside!’ They had to find a way to prove it, however, so they theorized that the inside of the Earth curves away, meaning that it was concave and we live inside. Teed eventually died in 1908 and the Koreshans went into a slow decline, eventually disappearing in the early 1960s and leaving their (remaining) land to the State of Florida that is now Koreshan State Park.”
Historic Cottages to Close
The EIHS announced prior to Millner’s program that its two historic cottages at 161 Bay Road, at the Matanzas Pass Preserve (MPP) entry, will close on Sunday, December 1, for the foreseeable future. Lee County will begin work to replace a portion of the MPP boardwalk, benches, bridges, pavilion and a kayak launch that sustained severe damage from Hurricane Irma in September 2017. The total cost to design, permit, and construct the improvements is $1.2 million, with an additional $141,250 for construction engineering and inspection services. All moneys come from the Tourist Development Tax, with construction to be complete in Fall 2020.
Due to the closure of the historic cottages, the EIHS will host its Annual Christmas Bake Sale and Quilt Show at St. Raphael’s Episcopal Church on Monday, December 9, from 3:30 to 7 p.m. As part of this Holiday celebration, the EIHS will showcase its first-ever Christmas dramatic presentation, “The True Spirit of Men,” based on the theatrical production, “All Is Calm! The Christmas Truce of 1914,” with Laurie Neinhaus and Carmen Pacchino. It is a holiday tale set in the First World War, when Allied and German troops in an extraordinary moment laid down their arms to celebrate Christmas together. As Midnight struck, a sole German soldier stunned the Allied troops by breaking the quiet with “Stille Nacht” – “Silent Night!”
Award-winning historical novelist Robert Macomber returns to the EIHS at St. Raphael’s on Monday, January 13, with, “The Sailor Who Changed History” on Christopher Columbus at 7 p.m. Learn the real story behind Columbus, the triumphs and tragedies of his four history-making voyages, and the mysteries that surround him today. The EIHS Lecture Series is free, with punch and cookies, though they appreciate donations. For more information, see www.esteroislandhistoricsociety.org.