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*1*The Hollow World of Cyrus Teed
by Steven L. Richardson
Sunstone Symposium, 4 August 2011
Weber State University, Ogden, Utah
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*2* At about 7 am on the 28th of June, 1951 when the bus arrived from Denver, a man named Moses Weaver stepped off and onto the streets of Ogden, Utah. He had no luggage, three dollars in his pocket, and he knew no one. By mistake, he thought he had arrived in Salt Lake City where he also knew no one. He was nearing the end of a very long spiritual journey. And now here he was in Ogden. His three dollars wouldn’t last long.
He arranged for a room at the Salvation Army and they also paid for his dinner at a local restaurant. The following Monday he applied for a job but was refused work because of his age; he was 87 years old. By trade Moses was a sign painter, artist, and poet. He spent the $3 on sign painting materials. He painted a sign in the window of the Kingdom Hall of the Jehovah Witnesses for free and after having done that he had no shortage of friends among the Witnesses of Ogden. For the next 7 months he lived in a hotel, earning a good reputation for the artistry he put into his work.
He became aware that Ogden was a religious city, with over 60% of its inhabitants being members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He also learned that they had 31 wards led by an Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthood, which he interpreted as a professional clergy. He had no interest in priestcraft.
By September he had run out of places to paint signs, so he printed a pamphlet of his poetry and began selling copies of it door-to-door. A lady named Mary Nielsen bought some of his poems and asked him to sit and listen to LDS General Conference on her radio. He was very impressed by what he heard. He later met other Mormons, one gave him a book containing radio speeches by LDS Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith. A lady named Charlotte Stephens gave him a Book of Mormon and invited him to church. He was baptized into the LDS Church in December 1951 at age 88.
Prior to becoming a Mormon he was one of the last of the Koreshans, an interesting religious group who had very unusual ideas about the way the world is constructed. Equally interesting is the fact that he was a communist, as were all Koreshans. Without difficulty, he brought both of these beliefs intact into Mormonism.
*3* With this paper I intend to present a brief history of the Koreshan Unity movement led by a prophet named Cyrus Read Teed. Though it was a very small religious group, had no relationship to the Branch Davidians or Mormonism, and today is extinct, it had some spectacular features both in its theology and in its concept of community. It was a utopian socialist commune that lasted for more than 60 years.
Cyrus Teed was born in October 1839 in Moravia, Delaware County, New York, *4* the second of eight children. Shortly after he was born the family moved to a place near Utica, New York. At the age of eleven, Cyrus left school and worked on the tow path for the Erie Canal. His family wanted him to become a Baptist minister, but he chose instead the field of medicine.
Cyrus began his medical studies with his uncle in Utica in 1859. That same year he married a distant cousin, Celia M. Rowe. A son, Douglas Arthur Teed was born the next year. The Teeds moved to New York City in 1862 and in August of that year, at age 24 Cyrus joined the 127th New York Infantry *5*, mustering in as a corporal. He served for 15 months, mostly in South Carolina. He then attended the Eclectic Medical College in New York City and graduated in 1868. Eclectic doctors were similar to the herbal and naturopathic doctors of today. *6* He began his practice of medicine at Deerfield, near Utica. In his spare time he experimented with alchemy.
*7* It was his belief that matter and energy are two forms of the same substance. He began experiments which he hoped would lead to the ability to change matter to energy, and energy into matter. Working late one night in the autumn of 1869 he claims he succeeded in doing that, as well as another alchemist goal as he transformed lead into microscopic particles of gold that precipitated to the bottom of his flask. That same night, very soon after his discovery, he felt that God the Father would make an appearance to him, and he fell into a trance in which he lost all consciousness of having a physical body. He heard sweet, soft music, and then saw 12 jewels, which eventually graced a crown on the head of a lovely woman, the Divine Motherhood, clad in a robe of purple and gold. She told Cyrus that he had been chosen to redeem the human race, and that although his struggle in doing this would be difficult, she would assist him by again assuming mortal form. She told him he would have three weeks of years to do his work (21 years). Teed returned to his home and slept for two hours. Twice that night he heard the sound of a hurricane and the noise of chariot wheels. When silence returned he began to hear delicate rhythmic murmurings, which gradually unfolded to him the mysteries of Immortal Life.
He took the name Koresh, which is the Hebrew pronunciation of the personal name Cyrus, a person described prophetically in the Bible, and his first name. His father was Jesse Teed, so he took special interest in the following verse:
Isaiah 11:10 And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious.
As well as this one:
Isaiah 44:28 That saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid.
He immediately told anyone who would listen of his encounter with God, and many of his medical patients were uneasy and found another doctor, but a few believed what he had to say. However, not enough stayed for him to continue his medical practice. He became estranged from his wife, ridiculed by the public, and moved from town to town within New York. He only had a few followers in the 1870s, and he spent time among various communal societies, including the Shakers and the Harmonists in New York and Pennsylvania. Times were hard, but his Illumination continued with inspiring ideas, not just in how the world is, but the way Society should be. They didn’t all come at once, but when they arrived they were laden with elegant details.
In 1886 he was invited to speak to a convention of the National Association of Mental Science in Chicago. His subject was “The Brain.” “Taking up a Bible, Dr. Teed held it out in full view of the audience. ‘This book,’ he said, ‘is sometimes called the word of God, but nowhere in the book itself is it stated that it is God's word.’” He then explained that there is but one God's word, and that was God himself. But he added that the Bible is the greatest scientific work there is. *8* He then held up a chart of the brain probably similar to this one and went into great detail on how it works and how knowledge of it can be applied to restore invalids to health. He stated that religion and science must be married, and the result will be the wedding of heaven and earth.
Immediately after his talk he healed an invalid woman and she was able to walk. Teed was so well received that he was elected president of the organization. His reception in Chicago was much friendlier than he had been receiving in New York, so he stayed there. A church was organized called the Assembly of the Covenant, or Church Triumphant, and a school was begun called the World’s College of Life. *9* In 1887 the Society Arch-Triumphant was organized and Mrs. Annie G. Ordway became president. Given the name Victoria Gratia, she was believed to be the embodiment of the Divine Motherhood from Teed’s vision. The majority of the converts seemed to be middle class, well-educated women. There was a printing office where Teed’s long-running publication The Guiding Star, later named The Flaming Sword was published, in addition to numerous pamphlets.
*10* Dr. Teed was a powerful and influential public speaker, as well as being a persuasive writer. The people in his audiences were painfully aware of the problems living in this world can bring. In those days there was no such thing as Social Security or MediCare. No such thing as health insurance. Pay was low, work hours were long; there were no requirements for protection of workers from workplace hazards. No provision for sick leave or vacations. Lives of the poor were short and filled with fear for what the future would bring next. There was no shortage of ills in the world that could kill you or leave you a helpless cripple. In the meantime, the wealthy paid no taxes, had every opportunity to increase their wealth, and they controlled the government even more than they do today. Koresh offered a world configured in the way God must have meant it to be, and nearly every claim he made could be supported from the Bible, which he, like his audience, considered to be without errors.
He and his followers could find support for nearly all of their theology in the Bible. The entire creation story in Genesis makes perfect sense from a Koreshan standpoint if you assume that the firmament in the King James Version actually is referring to a dome as in other versions. The image I get is we’re on the inside of a really large bubble. Throughout the Bible, the writers appear to have had this same world view.
Teed’s teachings pioneered in the concept of women’s rights and women’s liberation. Many women left their husbands to join the group, leaving behind obviously unhappy husbands. There were a number of lawsuits against Teed. In 1892 Sidney Miller filed suit against Teed for alienation of affection. He claimed that Dr. Teed had convinced his wife to believe “that a woman's body was her own,” that marriage and “sex and sexual love” should be abandoned, that she should leave her husband and join the Koreshan Community. Other lawsuits from other husbands followed, but though bothersome, they were generally unsuccessful. The Koreshans distributed their literature and held meetings on Chicago street corners. *11* These events led the newspapers to become anti-Koreshan and members of the group were persecuted verbally and physically. There was a rumor that Koresh would soon be lynched.
The group relocated to an isolated communal home in the Chicago suburbs which was called “Beth Orphra,” Hebrew for house of dust. By 1891 the church had a membership of about 110, about 86 of them were women. Teed *12* traveled around the country speaking on Koreshanity. He explained that Koreshanity grew out of Christianity the same way that Christianity grew out of Judaism, and that he was the seventh Messiah that God had sent to redeem the world. The 6 messengers who preceded him were Adam, Enoch, Noah, Moses, Elijah, and Jesus.
Teed was a man, but he established the Planetary Court: five intelligent women, *13* each named after one of the astrological planets, to manage and govern the spiritual and economic affairs of the community. In the minds of the men and women of the Unity, such a lofty name for the Court connected it and its functions to the universe, just as for the Mormons the symbols for earth, moon, sun, and stars on the Salt Lake LDS temple connect it to God’s creations. In Teed’s theology, one finds elements not only from the Bible, alchemy and astrology, but from Greek and Egyptian mythology as well. He was also influenced by the writings of the Swedish prophet, Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), click here.
*14* The Koreshans practiced celibacy. When you take sex out of the equation, men and women really are equal. They campaigned for the right of women to vote from their very beginning. The neighbors supposed the Koreshans to be a secret free-love community. In actuality, the men and women of the Unity were the exact opposite. Evidence of this is Koreshan dances, where the men would dance with men and women with women.
Men and women in the Unity could marry and have children, but they could only have sex if they deliberately intended to have a child as a result. Another class of Koreshan belonged to the Unity purely for the opportunities for work and education. There was no requirement that they accept the religious teachings of Koresh.
As persecutions in Chicago intensified, Dr. Teed was inspired to lead them to a place in the wilderness far from their former home. On one of his speaking trips he heard about some land for sale on Pine Island on the west coast of Florida. *15* In December1893 he went there accompanied by several leading Koreshans, but discovered the price for the land was $150,000--more than they could afford. As they left to return to Chicago, Teed left some literature behind at the telegraph office which was discovered and read by Gustav Dahmkohler, a German immigrant who wrote Teed offering to sell his properties near Estero, Florida, 18 miles south of Fort Meyers. *16* The group returned to Florida and arranged to buy the property, and Koreshans came to southern Florida by the trainload.
The prophet told them that they were building a New Jerusalem. Dr. Teed described their future home: *17* “It will contain ten million people, white and black, and will become the greatest city in the world.” In the center of the city would be a domed temple, surrounded by a circular pond of water, and he gave a very detailed description of the temple, and of the ultra-modern city that would surround it. Looking around at their beautiful surroundings, how could they believe otherwise? This was the genius of Dr. Teed. He not only had a dream for a better world, but also a detailed plan on how to make it happen. *18*
The Koreshans were very productive. They quickly established a state-of-the-art printing plant, an electrical generating plant, a sculpture and concrete works, tin works, a machine shop, shops that made mattresses, hats, baskets, shoes, as well as a laundry, dining hall, saw mill, and boat factory. They had extensive farms that raised all kinds of crops and animals. *19* They had a modern school and a college with adult education programs. They built the core of the city and enjoyed a utopian level of technology unheard of in that region, and there they lived a happy life, dealing with each other in peace, far from the persecutions they had once endured.
There were many believers in many countries who never emigrated (there were about 4000 in the United States), and the actual population at the site eventually tapered off at about 250, but those who had made the effort to go there lived in a golden age. They had no need for money, all their needs were provided. They had no worries about their health, a doctor and dentist dealt with their needs at no cost. They were promised that when they got old or incapacitated the Unity would continue to take care of them. *20* Education, music, and entertainment were provided several times a week without charge.
One wonders why there were not more converts to Koreshanity. The celibacy thing may be part of the reason, but despite the advanced social attitudes of this group, it’s likely that the Koreshan theology was just too much of a radical change from what people were accustomed to. It was like bringing your Mormon great-grandparents to the Sunstone conference. Even among Latter-day Saints, converts are attracted more by our belief in the Bible, Jesus Christ, and strong families than they were by our historic beliefs in polygamy and excluding blacks from the priesthood.
*21* The idea that the earth is hollow is not new. Edmund Halley, the astronomer who discovered Halley’s comet wrote about it in 1692. *22* Among other factors, the idea was based on the aurora borealis, also known as the Northern Lights, which could be seen at night in far northern latitudes, and sometimes all over Europe. Halley thought the phenomenon to be caused by gasses escaping from openings near the poles and possibly lit by an internal sun. This provided an incentive for a succession of explorers who sailed north to find where the gasses were coming from. Frequently they never returned.
*23* Jules Verne published his science fiction novel A Journey to the Center of the Earth in French in 1864, but it didn’t appear in English until 1870. About this time a popular idea appeared among Mormons that the Lost Ten Tribes are waiting inside the earth and when they return, it will be from the north countries. It persists even today.
*24* Beginning in 1870, Dr. Teed discovered that the earth is hollow, but we’re on the inside of it. The idea is called Cellular Cosmogony. *25* He taught that there are 7 metallic layers forming the outer shell of the earth’s sphere. Gold is the outside layer, followed by silver, copper, zinc, iron, tin, and lead. This is the metallic shell, and is 15 miles thick. *26* Above these are 5 mineral strata and then 5 geologic strata. The shell of the earth is 100 miles thick. *27* Above the surface are 3 atmospheres. Closest to us is our atmosphere of nitrogen and oxygen; above that is hydrogen. Above the hydrogen is a sphere of gas Teed called aboron. In the center of the earth, 4000 miles away, is the source of the sun’s light, which is never seen directly. When we see the sun come over the horizon in the morning we are seeing a projected image that has been refracted, diffracted, and distorted so that it only appears to come over the horizon. The moon, planets, and stars were believed to be distorted images and reflections as well, and move about by electromagnetic impulses. Fuzzy areas in the sky known as nebulae were places where a star was projected out of focus. Comets were lenticular refractions and reflections of solar energies moving in a spiral orbit around the sun. They were composed of either a crystallic lens, or a lens of crystallic energy. *28* If you’ve ever been to a planetarium show, that’s pretty close to what the Koreshans believed is taking place in the sky, but on a much larger scale, and with a much more complex projection system.
And what’s outside the hollow earth? Nothing! Or if there is something, it’s nothing you need to be concerned about.
For the Koreshans, the end result is that God created an earth containing its own universe. And it was cleverly designed to appear as if it is a natural occurrence.
*29* At first a skeptic, one of the converts was a geodesist named Ulysses Grant Morrow. Geodesists are scientists who specialize in measuring the earth, so he was well-suited for what came next. *30* His first tests were along a canal near Chicago, and later on the shores of Lake Michigan, but the results were inconclusive. Because Koresh taught that light is bent by gravity, air density, convection currents, and other factors, and seldom if ever travels in a straight line, Morrow had to come up with a way to measure the curvature of the earth’s surface mechanically without depending on light. *31* He eventually invented a simple survey instrument of brass and seasoned mahogany and had it constructed by the Pullman railway coach works. It was based on a drafting instrument called a T Square. Shaped like a T, these allowed draftsmen to draw one line at a right angle to other lines. Morrow built at least four of these, each 12 feet long and 4 feet high, with the end of each forming a T. They were designed to be clamped together and project a straight line down their length. There were at least 4 of these constructed, and many support structures were built. *32* If the earth surface is convex, the line should get farther from the surface with distance; if it’s concave the line should get closer.
*33* In 1896-97 the beach at Naples, Florida was selected for the survey because it had no obstructions. *34* Morrow delighted in having Koreshan and non-Koreshan visitors and explaining the geodetic process to them. The beginning element was leveled once and the distance of 128 inches above sea level was measured. There was no further leveling done as the survey continued down the beach. To eliminate residual errors, an element would be rotated 180 degrees after removal from one end and before it was attached to the other end of the device. *35* This is a view sighting down the structure. Visually it aligned perfectly with the horizon. Teed taught that light doesn’t travel in a straight line, which is why the survey had to be done mechanically. *36* A side view about halfway through the survey shows that the line is no longer parallel to the horizon, represented by the water in the background. *37* At a distance of a little over 4 miles, after the T elements had been connected together 1045 times, as shown in the second column of this table, the line had projected from 128 inches to sea level, *38* showing to Morrow’s satisfaction that the world curves upward instead of downward, with a circumference of 25,000 miles. No similar survey has been done since then.
*39* However, in 1901 a careful measurement was made by Dr. Fred McNair of the Michigan School of Mines between plumb lines in three mine shafts over 4000 feet deep at the Tamarack Mine in Michigan, connected by a 3200 foot tunnel. The lines were farther apart at the bottom than at the top of the shafts. Dr. McNair couldn’t explain why, but the Koreshans took it as proof that the earth surface is concave.
The Koreshans had certain other proofs, but they felt anyone with an open mind could easily discover the facts for themselves. There were reports that people who ascended in balloons observed that the earth below appeared to stretch out below them as though they were flying above a giant bowl. *40* Though the hulls of distant ships appeared to disappear below the horizon, the Koreshans claimed that the hulls would still be visible if viewed through a powerful telescope. There were many stories of objects being visible across a lake or a bay that should have been out of sight if the earth’s surface is really convex.
The geographic teachings of the prophet were so complicated that few if any of his followers understood how it all worked, but that's also the nature of the world we inhabit. Outsiders could join the community even if there were teachings of the prophet they couldn't accept. The geographic truth had been revealed by God to a prophet, and the basic concept had been proven by a careful geodetic survey. The rest of the details would fall into place as the sciences advanced.
*41* For the meantime, Dr. Teed’s followers lived in a paradise, with good jobs, good homes, good friends, good food, beautiful gardens in which to stroll, numerous academic and cultural events. They lived among intelligent and friendly people who could be trusted. Who wouldn't want to live in such a place? This was the world in which they lived.
Like the Book of Mormon, Koresh’s hollow world concept attracted attention from everyone who heard of it. Those who believed it, studied the evidence. And like the Book of Mormon, most people had no way of proving it wrong.
Koresh’s teachings concerning a hollow earth relied on the idea that light can be bent by gravity. Though science considered the idea to be absolutely stupid at the time, it was claimed to be a fact by Albert Einstein in 1916, and proven during a solar eclipse expedition in 1919. *42* There are at least 12 places in the sky where we find objects called gravitational lenses that bend light in such a way as to provide us with distortions or multiple images of far distant objects. Light is refracted by earth’s gravity as well, but probably not as much as Koresh taught that it is.
*43* Dr. Teed was a great thinker, a powerful motivator, and a likeable and approachable guy. He associated freely with his followers, and he frequently took groups of them on hunting and fishing trips in the Florida forests and rivers. He undoubtedly believed in the vision or Illumination that started his movement. The practical things he said made obvious common sense. At the time the mysteries he presented were plausible, and his followers thrilled to the understanding he gave them of the workings of God’s universe.
*44* This is a diagram of the Koreshan Unity’s organization. Teed taught that Cellular Cosmogony was the cornerstone upon which Koreshanity was founded—that the same design that applied to astronomy applied as well to theology, sociology, and geometry. In reality common sense was the cornerstone. *45* The Koreshans could rally behind the cause of socialism, of women’s rights, of education, *46* of racial equality, of political activism because those causes were positive steps away from a backward and oppressive society.
The Unity had extensive gardens, and an advanced knowledge of horticulture. The Koreshan gardens became a kind of plant zoo, where could be seen plants that were brought in from all over the world and made to successfully grow. *47* Thomas Edison and Henry Ford had winter homes in nearby Fort Meyers. They enjoyed occasional visits to the Unity, not just to see how an advanced society functions, but also to get ideas on growing their own tropical gardens.
While the prophet and his followers enjoyed a life of comparative comfort, it led to an uneasy coexistence with their neighbors in Fort Meyers and neighboring towns, whose lives were less fulfilling and more primitive. Most of them were farmers without much education. They were concerned about the political power the group had demonstrated in a recent election. They had to buy electricity from the Koreshans. These neighbors undoubtedly made irreverent fun of the group's odd beliefs concerning marriage, as well as the geographic truths they held sacred.
There came a day in 1906 that the prophet and some of his followers ventured into a neighboring town to transact some business. Over a misunderstanding, they found themselves in a street fight, and Koresh was severely injured, his health declined, and two years later, he died.
This brought a dilemma to the community, because the prophet had not appointed anyone to take charge when he was no longer there. In fact he had said God told him that if he died he would be resurrected or reincarnated (this was a fuzzy doctrine), and return to his followers with even more teachings from God. What should they do?
*48* The local authorities eventually required the followers to bury him, and with much sorrow the prophet's body was placed in an impressive cement tomb, designed to resemble the Ark of the Covenant. *49* A marble stone was part of it, engraved with the simple words “Cyrus, Shepherd, Stone of Israel.” His followers were divided on what would happen next. Some thought he was dead and that was the end of it. Some thought Dr. Teed had been mistaken when he took on the role of a Messiah. Some thought he would resurrect or reincarnate, and that his body in the tomb was being prepared for that event.
In 1921 a hurricane came to southwest Florida. When it subsided, the tomb was gone, and was never seen again.
Dr. Teed had been much more flexible in accommodating scientific discoveries into his cosmogony than the Koreshan leaders, who were now on their own. They believed that science had a conspiracy against them, or at least that scientists were not looking honestly at the facts they considered truths. Astronomy prior to World War I was an activity engaged in mostly by wealthy hobbyists. Some telescopes were large, but optics and mounts were not yet perfected and photographic plates were not very sensitive. There were many objects in the sky that would not be understood for decades, and there are many that we still don’t understand.
*50* Public interest in astronomy intensified beginning in 1894 with the announcement by American astronomer Percival Lowell of his discovery of canals on Mars.
*51* The young people in the Unity had parents, but all members of the community had a part in raising them. *52* In 1910 as the return of Halley’s Comet approached, the general public became much more educated in what astronomy is all about. The young Koreshans were bewildered by articles in the outside press. *53* To counteract it, The Flaming Sword introduced a feature called “For the Younger Minds”, devoted to the youth, explaining the Koreshan cosmogony, calling attention to the successful 1896-97 Koreshan Geodetic Survey, and encouraging the young people to write to Washington to call on the US Coast & Geodetic Survey to perform its own survey to determine if the earth’s surface is concave or convex.
By the 1930s there were only about 3 dozen elderly Koreshans; most of their young people had gone elsewhere and found new things to believe in. The Koreshan workplaces were idle because they were outdated and had been poorly managed since the death of Koresh. Because the Unity was a true communist society, those who remained were the owners of the hundreds of acres of Koreshan properties. It’s probable that many of them never left because they actually had invested everything they had in the commune and had nowhere else to go.
*54* During that time Koresh had a following in Europe, especially Germany. In the 1930s a disabled German aviator named Peter Bender revived interest in the hollow earth idea. *55* These are books written by some of his followers. *56* One of them, Rudolf Nebel, believed it would be possible to launch a rocket through the earth and have it splash into the ocean near New Zealand. He convinced the German city of Magdeberg to finance construction of a rocket about 25 feet tall. It flew several times in 1933, returning to earth each time by parachute. Its farthest trip was less than a mile before the Nazi government prohibited any further civilian rocket experiments.
Peter Bender later became headmaster at a Jewish school at Frankfurt am Main. He hoped to join the Koreshans at Estero, but he and his wife died in a concentration camp. *57* However one of the teachers at his school, Hedwig Michel, made it to America and joined the Koreshan Unity in 1940 and it was she who brought the store and service station back to life, and established a restaurant and trailer park. *58* Using her business skills, she restored the Unity from poverty to sustainability. *59* By 1961 there were only 4 of the original Koreshans living at the site. Hedwig worked a deal with the Florida State Parks to transfer ownership of the properties to the State of Florida if it would provide for the remaining Koreshans, allowing them to live in their homes until they passed away, and maintain the property and buildings as a historic site. *60* An important part of the deal was the extensive Koreshan historical archives, much of which are now available online. *61* To make them easy to get to, *62* I’ve provided links to the archives and other resources at a website I created called http://koreshan.homestead.com.
*63* The last of the original Koreshans was Lillian Newcomb, who lived in this house until she died in 1974. When asked whether she really believed that we live inside the earth, she replied, “I did until the boys landed on the moon. When that happened, I knew it couldn’t possibly be true.”
*64* Hedwig continued to defend the doctrines of Dr. Teed to anyone who would listen. *65* Here she is speaking to a class from the local college. At her 90th birthday party, someone referred to her as the “last Koreshan.” She replied, “There is no last. We shall continue.” *66* She died in 1982 and is buried in her garden in the Koreshan State Park.
*67* We should now return to the story of Moses Weaver who joined the LDS Church in Ogden in 1951.
He was born in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in 1863. His family raised him as a Stauffer Mennonite, a group that rejected modern improvements and enjoyment of pleasure and luxuries. Led by a Bishop, they were allowed no jewelry, no false teeth, no pictures on the wall or photographs of themselves, no wallpaper, nothing ornamental or colorful, no music of any kind, no games or amusements. They were taught, “The rougher the cross the brighter the crown!” Moses’ grandmother was excommunicated when it was discovered that she had made a small cushion for her chair. Because of this infraction, her family was forbidden from associating with her.
Moses found it difficult to fit in with the rest of his family. He enjoyed music, he enjoyed works of art, he enjoyed drawing pictures and modeling in clay, despite all his religious training that these were evil. He wrote that at the age of 8, “The thought of going insane tormented me more and more, till at length it seemed I could stand it no longer. Then I sought relief by going out to the barn and cry it out by myself. I was sure I was alone, yet I heard a voice saying: ‘Moses, you are not going insane, you will be a great man someday.’ Will I become President? ‘Greater than that,’ the voice replied, ‘Greater than the President.’ This was spoken in a lovely tone and so clearly pronounced that I knew it came from heaven.” He was guided by this voice several times more as his life progressed.
He married Ada Ilgenfritz in 1887 and within 3 years they had a 1 acre farm, but by 1900 the couple decided they were unable to have children. After several letters to the Koreshan Unity, Moses and Ada decided in 1900 to move to Estero, Florida where all the members worked, ate, and lived together as one large family. He worked at multiple jobs in the Unity, but when the printing office discovered his artistic talents, he became their full time artist. *68* He says, “I drew plans for our buildings, designed the walks, steps and flower beds for the garden, and made ornamental urns and vases of concrete, modeling in clay I made some portrait busts of members, also a lion, eagle and other figures. *69* Also painted signs, banners, and the stage scenery for our plays. *70* And I staged outdoor pageants for our festivals.”
Moses’ wife Ada left him. Within 6 months after Dr. Teed died about 2/3rds of the Koreshans had left the Unity, the property remained in the ownership of the shrinking numbers who stayed in Estero. Weaver had to make a living, so he went to Tampa and found work repairing and selling Singer sewing machines.
*71* He remembered Tacy Evelyn Hayworth, one of the sisters of the Unity who had gone to Kansas. He wrote to her and she came to Florida and they were married in 1911. The couple went through good times and bad, and moved to various places around Florida, including a return to the Unity at Estero in 1938. There he did some retouching on artworks he’d done before, then he was assigned to work in the sugar cane field. He wrote, “I found their former friendly cooperation had disappeared and all were subject to those dictators who called themselves the Board of Management.” (He was a true communist!) He went to Fort Meyers to find work painting signs, then on to St. Petersburg. *72* In his leisure time he did a painting of the New Jerusalem for the Unity at Estero.
Tacy died in 1942, and concerned for his own salvation, Moses went to hear a lady evangelist who preached repentance and baptism. He determined that he would find a man endowed with power and authority from on high. Someone told him that if he would go to Denver, Colorado, he “would find baptizing is being done there by a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek. And new-born sons of God may be seen walking the streets of Denver doing their work. That they were spirits of the just who came up from the dead, and were born again in the bodies of those who have been cleansed by the waters of baptism, and each received a Holy Ghost according to promise. That this work in Denver is the beginning of the resurrection of the just foretold by prophecy.”
Though this doctrine was contrary to his understanding of scripture, he went to Denver looking for the High Priest, only to be disappointed. He found employment in Denver painting signs, but one day a sudden feeling struck him that he must get away from Denver. He went to the bus station and before he knew it he had bought a ticket to Salt Lake City on a bus that left in eight minutes. He had no time to go back to get his belongings.
As described at the beginning, he ended up in Ogden and was baptized a member of the LDS Church. He wrote, “Having passed through the pains of my new birth of Water and of the Spirit, I opened my eyes among the Holy Saints of the Church of the First Born, and breathed the heavenly atmosphere of brotherly love. The Spirit of the Almighty gave me understanding of the Scriptures; the spirit of brotherhood gave me social security; the spirit of obedience gave me the glorious liberty of the sons of God.”
“I came here as a stranger and the Saints took me in; I was hungry and they gave me meat; I was sick and they ministered to me; I was poor and distribution was made for my relief. Anything a mother could do for her own child, the Church has for me. Brother and Sister Stephens, the parents of my second birth provided for my welfare. When he found I had a little money left from my father’s estate in the hands of Trustees, which I was unable to get, Brother Stephens hired a lawyer and secured it at once. He also helped me to get a Social Security number that I might get an income for life.”
Among Moses’ papers at the LDS History Library are several autobiographies he wrote, one of which was rendered as a poem. There are also artworks and poetry, some of them might be confusing if you don’t understand his beliefs.
*73* This illustration (click here to see a larger version) accompanies several of his poems, and in one of them he beautifully describes the creation of the earth from a Koreshan viewpoint:
THE LIFE INSIDE
It’s the life we cannot see,
That grows the body of a tree.
And other things we see beside,
Its creator lives inside.
Of this you are a witness too,
The life from which your body grew
Was in the blood that from the heart
Was carried out to every part.
So the world has been created,
God was in heaven when He made it.
By the heavenly light around it
The firmament of earth was founded.
Which formed a great surrounding wall
Enclosing heaven, Life and all.
All living creatures here abide
No life is ever found outside.
To light the inside of this sphere
Is a revolving chandelier,
Whereon the great and lesser light
Are set to give us day and night.
The sun and earth, like man and wife,
Are parents of all Natural life.
He pours his sunshine on the ground.
Her fields enclose him all around.
That she may have each vital ray
And not a beam may go astray.
She loves their children great and small
She raises food to feed them all.
Has plenty room where all can dwell
Within the wall of her great shell
In all Creation round about
Life can never be found out.
I don’t know that the LDS church has an official policy on whether the earth is convex or concave. I don’t think our salvation depends on which earth model we place our faith in. Mormons believe the Bible, as did the Koreshans. In the Bible, Moses Weaver continued to find support for his beliefs.
*74* As a Mormon convert from Koreshanity, he was probably intrigued by two illustrations from the Book of Abraham. Facsimile 1 shows Abraham about to be sacrificed on an altar. Beneath the altar is what may be interpreted as 5 layers of strata, labeled Figure 12, which we are informed are “the firmament over our heads . . . the heavens.” Teed taught that the earth’s surface has 5 geologic strata, underlain by 5 mineral strata. Below these layers is Figure 11, “the pillars of heaven, as understood by the Egyptians.” Confusing to us, but perfect sense to Moses Weaver. *75* Additional support can be seen in Facsimile 2 of the Book of Abraham, which is filled with interesting things. Figure 5 indicates that the sun borrows its light from Kolob, a star or planet very near where God dwells. Brother Weaver would have had no problem reconciling this with Teed’s Cellular Cosmogony. What we see as the sun is actually an optical device, and the source of its light is invisible to us, perhaps Kolob. He may have found confirmation for his Koreshan beliefs in other Mormon scriptures as well, especially Helaman 12:15, D&C 88:13, and D&C 121:28-30.
He would have found inspiration in this verse:
All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also: otherwise there is no existence.
In 1952 Moses went to the Salt Lake temple for his endowment, and later he was sealed to his brothers, his father and mother.
He had been a widower for 22 years before he joined the LDS Church. He wrote, “Having considered virgin purity superior to marriage you can imagine my surprise when a High Priest advised me to find a widow, one who is not sealed to her husband, and marry her for time and eternity. At first I thought it was a joke; when the eternal marriage covenant was explained to me I could see one could never be too old for that.”
*76* Two years later he met a widow of that description, Maria F. Sandbeck, who had joined the LDS Church in 1950 after emigrating from Germany with her son Gustav. *77* They married in the temple in 1954 when he was 91, and she was 61, but her heart had never recovered from terrifying experiences she had witnessed during the war, and she went directly from the temple to the hospital, where she died 23 days later. He later had his two previous wives, Ada and Tacy Evelyn sealed to him. When Moses died in December 1965 at the age of 102, he was the oldest man in Utah.
*78* That same year NASA launched the first 5 manned Gemini spacecraft into low earth orbit.
If you’d like to learn more about this interesting group, I’ve placed links to the most important online resources on the following website:
An unused newsreel film explaining Koreshan cosmology is here.
Note: The red numbers above refer to numbered slides from a PowerPoint presentation that accompanied this paper at the Sunstone Symposium held at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah on 4 August 2011.