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Bathtub Messiah: The Strange History of the Koreshan Unity

 

At the turn of the last century, deep in the pine flat woods of southeast Florida near the small village of Estero, a group of religious believers sought to build a new Jerusalem on the Gulf Coast. These followers of Dr. Cyrus Teed, called Koreshans, believed the earth and universe were contained within a concave sphere. At its peak, their New Jerusalem was home to 250 people. Today, it is the Koreshan State Historic Site. Some visitors report eerie encounters with the vestigial remains of the so-called Koreshan Unity. Even without these stories, it is one of the most interesting ghost towns in Florida.

Cyrus Teed was born in 1839 in New York. He quickly gained an interest in science and medicine and opened a clinic in Utica. During one of his experiments, he was electrocuted and claimed a divine spirit had told him that he was the Messiah. He changed his name to Koresh and began to gather followers. This small group moved to Chicago in 1888 and established a commune. Apparently they were not well received. According to Jack Powell, author of Haunted Sunshine (2001), “The Chicago newspapers ran article after article on him. He was characterized to the public as the leader of a cult that took worldly goods from its followers and kept them enslaved through fear.”

Dr. Teed and his followers came to Estero, Florida in 1894 and acquired 1,600 acres of land through donation and purchase. There they held seminars for the public on Cellular Cosmogony, Teed’s own Hollow Earth theory. The group also believed in communal living, sharing property, gender equality, and various forms of celibacy. The Koreshan Unity was a thriving community with residences, gardens, a bakery, art hall, and store. The seven women who made up the Unity’s governing council lived in a large building called the Planetary Chamber.

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Matanzas Bay Over the Ramparts

Castillo de San Marcos, 1 S. Castillo Dr, St. Augustine, Florida 32084.

Abandoned Oasis: Ochopee’s Monroe Station

A narrow road called Tamiami Trail runs through Big Cypress National Preserve between Naples, Florida and the Miami suburbs. The 720,000-acre preserve was added to the United States National Park System in October 1972. An abandoned white, clapboard building sits conspicuously at the intersection of Tamiami Trail and Loop Road, beckoning travelers to pull over and contemplate its origin. For many decades, this small building was the only way station on the long journey through the wet cypress forest. Federal regulators forced it to close in the 1980s due to environmental concerns over its old gas pumps, and it has sat abandoned ever since. Now known as Monroe Station, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2000 after being used in films like Gone Fishin’ (1997) staring Danny Glover and Joe Pesci.

This unique building has an interesting history, and is even rumored to have been a stomping ground of infamous gangster Al Capone. The Tamiami Trail was completed across the Everglades in 1928. Shortly thereafter, a man named Barron Collier built six stations along the road for motorists looking for somewhere to fuel up, relax, and get a bite to eat. One of these was Monroe Station. According to local legend, Al Capone owned a speakeasy and gambling den in the nearby community of Pinecrest. He left its management to a relative and occasionally returned to visit. On these trips, locals say, Capone stopped by Monroe Station. However, there is no evidence that the infamous Chicago gangster ever set foot in the area.

Originally, Monroe Station was one room deep, with a flat-roofed canopy extending out from the first floor over the gas pumps (pictured c.1933). It served as a way station for the Southwest Florida Mounted Police, where an officer and his wife lived. While the officer went on patrol on his motorcycle, his wife tended the store and gas station. William Erwin, the first officer to serve at Monroe Station, died in an accident along the road in January 1929. Just a few years later, in 1934, the Great Depression dried up funding for the Mounted Police and all six stations were closed and demolished or sold to private owners.

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Video from Fort Myers Haunted History Tour

I had the opportunity to go to Fort Myers, Florida around Christmas last year and decided to take the local ghost tour. I have to say, it was one of the best I’ve ever been on–and I’ve gone on ghost tours and haunted walks all over the country (even one in Canada). The Haunted History Tour is part of Fort Myers’ True Tours. Check out some video below and then read my review!

Fort Myers Haunted History Tour

I’ve gone on over a dozen ghost tours all around the country, and even Canada, but for some reason I never thought to review one until now. The Haunted History Tour of Fort Myers, Florida was one of the best. Our tour guide, Lauri, was upbeat and enthusiastic. I learned a lot about the history of Fort Myers as well as its legends.

I had the opportunity to go to Fort Myers around Christmas last year and decided to do something fun one evening. From talking with locals, I learned downtown Fort Myers has gone through a renaissance in recent years. In 1985, it served as a shooting location for George Romero’s Day of the Dead. The abandoned downtown seemed like the perfect locale for a zombie film. Today, it is beautiful, with brick streets, plenty of lighting, bars, shops, and restaurants. I spent some time at a trendy art bar, Space 39, and a cool 1920s themed bar called The 86 Room.

The Haunted History Tour is part of Fort Myers’ True Tours. It’s easy to see their commitment to quality. Its founder, Gina Taylor, was the first director of the Murphy-Burroughs Home, former director of the Southwest Florida Museum of History, a founding member and vice president of the Lee County Trust for Historic Preservation, Board member of the River District Alliance and of the Matlacha Chamber of Commerce, and a member of the Southwest Florida Attractions Association.

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My Favorite Haunted Places Along the Gulf Coast

As many of my friends and readers know, I spent the summer and fall of 2014 along the Gulf Coast. Not only did I find the weather beautiful, but I also found rich history and folklore. During that time, I was able to visit some pretty interesting places in cities like Naples, Florida; Pensacola, Florida; Biloxi, Mississippi; Mobile, Alabama; and New Orleans, Louisiana. Here are some of my favorites.

Pensacola Lighthouse and Museum

2081 Radford Blvd. Pensacola, FL 32508
www.pensacolalighthouse.org (850) 393-1561

Pensacola_Lighthouse

Pensacola Bay has long been a strategic harbor, and even today, it is used for military purposes. The Pensacola Lighthouse sits on the grounds of the Naval Air Station, home of the Blue Angels. The first lighthouse was built in 1824/25 for $6,000 on the south entrance of the bay. It was 40-feet tall. The current lighthouse, located at the north side of the bay, was built in 1858 and lit in 1859. It is made of brick and stands 150-feet tall. In 1861, an artillery duel between Union and Confederate forces lightly damaged the tower. Today, some visitors claim to hear footsteps, heavy breathing, and their name being whispered. Others have had objects “thrown” at them in the keeper’s quarters. Some have even claimed a dark red stain appeared on the floor as the lighthouse was being renovated. [Read More…]

Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library

2244 Beach Blvd. Biloxi, MS 39531
www.beauvoir.org (228) 388-4400

Beauvoir

Otherwise known as Beauvoir, the Jefferson Davis Home has an interesting history. It was built in 1852 by a wealthy plantation owner named James Brown. Jefferson Davis did not reside in the house until 1877, twelve years before he died. His daughter Winnie continued to live there until her death in 1898. The Jefferson Davis Soldiers Home opened on the grounds in 1903 and operated until the 1950s. It was home to around 1,800 Civil War veterans and widows of Confederate soldiers. Roughly 780 of them are buried in the cemetery located on the property. Several visitors have reported encountering someone who they assume is an actor playing Jefferson Davis in the gardens. Later, when they compliment the staff on how realistic his portrayal was, the staff deny having a Jefferson Davis re-enactor on site. [Read More…]

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