Koreshan Unity Collection (Part Eight)

In Part Three of this series, we alluded to the fundamental principles of Koreshan belief that arose from founder Cyrus Teed’s “illumination.” Among the most interesting beliefs of Koreshanity was cellular cosmogony, or the hollow earth.

In The Cellular Cosmogony (first published in 1898), Teed explained that the earth was not a convex sphere but instead a hollow, concave cell containing the entire universe with the sun at its center. The earth was motionless while the heavens rotated within the concave sphere. Life existed on the inside surface of the cell, and people were held on that inner surface by centrifugal force. Teed dismissed gravity, heliocentricism, and other scientific theories as “gigantic fallacy and farce” and the convex appearance of the earth’s surface as an “optical illusion.”

Wall hanging at the College of Life building illustrating the hollow earth; photographed in 2008

Wall hanging at the College of Life building illustrating the hollow earth; photographed in 2008

In truth, according to Teed, “The earth is a concave sphere, the ratio of curvation being eight inches to the mile, thus giving a diameter of eight thousand, and a corresponding circumference of about twenty-five thousand miles. This fact is physically and mechanically demonstrated by placing a perpendicular post at any point on the surface of the earth, (though it were better to place it by the side of a surface of water,) and extending a straight line at right angles from this perpendicular. The line thus extended will strike the surface at any distance proportionate to the height of the vertical post.”

Title page and facing page from the second printing of The Cellular Cosmogony, 1899

Title page and facing page from the second printing of The Cellular Cosmogony, 1899

 

Teed’s inscription of the book to “H.N. Rahn, Pastor of the Church Triumphant in Baltimore”

Teed’s inscription of the book to “H.N. Rahn, Pastor of the Church Triumphant in Baltimore”

The Koreshans had in fact conducted this very experiment in 1897 to demonstrate the truth of their beliefs. The Koreshan Unity Geodetic Survey staff devised an apparatus they called a rectilineator and conducted tests on the Gulf Coast at Naples, the results of which Teed published in The Cellular Cosmogony as proof that the earth was indeed concave.

Koreshan Unity Geodetic Survey staff and onlookers with rectilineator (postcard image). The short gentleman in the center in black with the creased hat, next to the woman in white, is Ulysses Grant Morrow (1864-1950), who headed the geodetic survey and apparently wrote much of The Cellular Cosmogony.

Koreshan Unity Geodetic Survey staff and onlookers with rectilineator (postcard image). The short gentleman in the center in black with the creased hat, next to the woman in white, is Ulysses Grant Morrow (1864-1950), who headed the geodetic survey and apparently wrote much of The Cellular Cosmogony.

Bolstered by what he considered scientific proof of his theories, Teed now laid them out in detail in The Cellular Cosmogony. According to Teed, the sun and stars formed a “stellar nucleus” in the atmosphere above the concave surface of the earth at the very center of this hollow cell. Instead of the earth rotating on an axis and revolving around the sun, it was the heavens that moved, their movement generated by the “electro-magnetic substance created at and radiating from the stellar nucleus.” The heavens were, as Teed described them, “a great electro-magnetic battery.”

The only extant section of the original rectilineator, now preserved at the Koreshan State Historic Site.

The only extant section of the original rectilineator, now preserved at the Koreshan State Historic Site.

This universology also dictated Teed’s vision of what the final form of social government would be. “The government of the physical universe is imperial,” Teed wrote, “in that the head of government resides in one center; but democratic, in that all of the stars bear that reciprocal relation which makes the center dependent upon the reciprocal activity of the subsidiary but contributory centers. While there is a subordinate relation of the multiplicity of stars to the central one, so there is a subordination of the central star to all of the stars, whence the central one derives its powers of government. The regulation of society, therefore, is not left to another experiment, because former experiments have failed to accomplish for the people that for which government is established, but must be regulated by the scientific knowledge and application of principles which may be determined before the correct form of government is instituted.”

Midwife Doll

Who is She and Why is She in the Archives?

Most of the unusual or unexpected items we find in the Archives are usually some form of recorded information. Every once in a while, though, something – or someone – a bit different makes an appearance.

Take this distinctive woman, for example.

Midwife Doll

Who is she, and more importantly, why is she in the Archives?

One clue is the agency from which she originated – what archivists call provenance. This mystery woman is from the State Board of Health, located in a series of Midwife Program Files from 1924-1975 (series S904).

Make sense now? 

The State Board of Health initiated a midwife licensing program in 1931 to reduce infant mortality and to promote maternal and child health. So, yes, this was a maternity and childbirth teaching aid for midwives and expectant mothers.

In addition to this midwife teaching doll, the Midwife Program Files include correspondence, reports of legislation, essays on midwifery, midwife manuals and publications, photographs, and midwife licenses, record cards, and summaries. The midwife record cards provide yearly health checkup information, race, literacy and education level, and consulting physicians. The summaries list licensed midwives in each county for each year.

There are plenty of great resources for mid-20th century public health policy research among the records of the State Board of Health in the State Library and Archives. Among the many other record series from the Board are a substantial series of administrative files dating from 1889-1926 (series S46), Board minutes from 1889-1969 (series S272), subject files from 1875-1975 (series S900), and a series of photographs, photographic slides, lantern slides, negatives and sound recordings documenting the history and activities of the State Board of Health (series S907).

Koreshan Unity Collection (Part Seven)

The Koreshan Unity Collection: An Inside Look into Processing a Large Archival Collection (Part Seven)

What should be saved?

Archivists grapple with this day in and day out. The question of what to save, commonly referred to as appraisal, is arguably the most challenging archival issue in the profession. However, the archivist is not the first to determine the long-term value of records; that role, knowingly or not, belongs to the creator.

The materials within the Koreshan Unity Collection tell much about the focus of the Unity and show that they attributed long-term value to surprising quantities and types of materials. The collection provides a glimpse into the structure of the group and shows relationships and themes between members.

Often, records are saved in order to document some sort of transaction; they offer proof of an event or an agreement. The Koreshan Unity’s administrative records are evidence of their business dealings both within their settlement at Estero, Florida, and relating to other ventures across the United States. Along with the typical receipts, tax records, and payroll records, the administrative records also include documentation of the origins of the Koreshan Unity and the emphasis its members and leaders placed on organizational structure and clear lines of authority from the Unity’s beginnings. Foundational documents such as a printed 1896 Constitutions of the Koreshan Unity and its Departments (below) are evidence of this focus on organizational structure.

1896 Constitutions of the Koreshan Unity and its Departments

1896 Constitutions of the Koreshan Unity and its Departments

 

The Unity’s focus on organizational structure continued after Cyrus Teed’s death, as evidenced by this “General classification and assignment of duties” from about 1909 (below).

General classification and assignment of duties (ca. 1909)

General classification and assignment of duties (ca. 1909)

The manuscript starts, “General classification and assignment of duties for the Edification, Assistance and Guidance of all Members of the Ecclesia or Home. Ecclesia is a Greek word signifying congregation, and as used in this connection, would embrace all those who have entered into communistic relation and have accepted Cyrus as their Shepherd and Messiah, and the authority He established as having the legal and moral right to regulate the conduct of the membership…”

Part Six of this series alluded to unexpected findings within the administrative and operational records. While most records align themselves with the function that they were created to document, it’s the unexpected items that provide archivists with the most entertainment and, in some cases, surprising insight. Here, then, is our first installment of:

They Saved What!?

Silver certificates found folded up within a Koreshan Store receipt (1959)

Silver certificates found folded up within a Koreshan Store receipt (1959)

 

Meat packaging filed with receipts

Meat packaging filed with receipts

 

Dry-cleaning receipts

Dry-cleaning receipts

Are these items in the collection because the Koreshans were meticulous record keepers? Because of a general consensus to save everything? Quite possibly it’s a combination of both. From the outset, the Koreshan Unity recognized the importance of maintaining their records to ensure long-term access and even designated members to carry out that responsibility. The size and contents of the collection are testament to that role.

As the community dwindled in the years after Teed’s death, responsibility for the Unity’s survival fell on a very small group of remaining members. It is likely that limited staff leaned towards saving everything to avoid the risk of throwing out important records. The plethora of receipts held members accountable for money spent from the communal treasury down to the last penny. While their historical value to the collection might seem less obvious than that of some other administrative records, these individual items explain daily operations of the Koreshan Unity and show the uniqueness of their administrative functions beyond what is expected.

An Archivist’s View, Part Two

By Bethanie

Hello, again! Earlier this week I discussed my thoughts and experiences as a student of archives and as an archivist.  This time I’d like to move from past experience to a discussion of the archives profession as I see it today.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to pursue a career in the archival field.  In the midst of economic and budget issues, archives have downsized in order to survive. Today, many archives are run by a single person. These archivists, commonly referred to as lone arrangers, take on all archival responsibilities.  They are responsible for acquisition, appraisal, arrangement, description, preservation and access. The lone arranger advocates both for their repository in order to promote use and to maintain proper security of their archival holdings.  Here at the State Archives of Florida, we’re fortunate to have multiple archivists that work towards these goals.  

R. A. Gray Building, home of the State Archives of Florida, Tallahassee

R. A. Gray Building, home of the State Archives of Florida, Tallahassee

Although staffing is a common concern, the role of the archive within society remains strong.  This is particularly apparent in the continual shift to digital.  Our culture’s increased awareness and participation in the digital sector is changing the process of records creation, storage and long-term access. In this sense, technology serves as a catalyst for constantly evolving archival operations.  Archivists have a commitment to preserve all mediums of recorded and collected information that they accession.  Technological advances constantly challenge the archivist’s ability to adapt to change. New mediums call for new means of preservation.  However, these advances also promote the archive within society through online dissemination and access. Technology connects the archive to a larger community.

I’m constantly reminded of these concepts here at the State Archives of Florida. I believe that Florida Memory is a prime example of the bond between the archive and technology.  Through the digitization and web design efforts of the Florida Memory team, the State Archives brings centuries old documents into the digital age.  The myriad online collections, coupled with the use of educational resources and social media, provide outreach far beyond what was possible pre-internet.

That being said, this shift does not negate the traditional archival collection and access methods. If anything I think it calls for an even more firm foundation within arrangement, description and collection management. The digital age expands our responsibilities as archivists.  Each format expands existing preservation concerns. File migration of born digital records, format and software obsolescence, and digital metadata programs will join the storage and environmental concerns of existing collections.

Now I find myself back at my elevator speech, so here it goes.  Archivists protect the historical and public records of the institution in which they work. These record groups are as varied as the archives that house them where they act as evidence of past events. By following professional guidelines and best practices we ensure their long-term preservation, appropriate arrangement, and availability for future users.  To quote Theodore R. Schellenberg’s The Management of Archives, “Use is the end of all archival effort.”  I agree with Schellenberg.  While we work at all stages, the final goal of an archivist is to provide proper access.  It both justifies and validates our continued existence.

Theodore R. Schellenberg, The Management of Archives, quoted in Mark A. Greene, “The Power of Archives: Archivists’ Values and the Value in the Postmodern Age,” The American Archivist 72 (Spring/Summer 2009): 33.

An Archivist’s View, Part One

By Bethanie

In the spirit of American Archives Month, we’ve decided to discuss the role of the archivist in a personal fashion.  That being said, a brief introduction is in order.  As you can tell from above, my name is Bethanie.  My presence on Florida Memory up to this point is with the series of blog posts on the Koreshan Collection.  I work at the State Archives as a Project Archivist where my main responsibility is arranging and describing the aforementioned collection.

Each archivist comes to the field in a different way.  Some seek out the profession directly while others happen upon it. On the whole, I identify most with the former rather than the latter method. What follows are my thoughts, opinions, and experiences as an archivist; my metaphorical archival soap-box. 

A portion of the Koreshan Collection

A portion of the Koreshan Collection

So, what is an archivist? Or, more importantly in terms of this post, what does it mean to be one? One of the first bits of advice I was given when I started as a student in an archival education program was the importance of an archivist elevator speech. In other words, a 20 second speech designed to explain and justify my role as an archivist to anyone who asked.  Fast forward two years, and I’m still working on it.  I suppose part of my problem is in my inability to condense my thoughts.  A much easier, though longer, way for me to explain begins with my experience.

I decided I wanted to be an archivist while at my internship for my history degree. I worked in a historical society in Western Pennsylvania where I transcribed correspondence written by a member of an expedition to the North Pole.  I enjoyed learning about the early 20th century through one man’s life in letters.  Needless to say, I was hooked.

Next step: master’s degree.  Fortunately, I lived within an hour of a university where an archives specialization in the Library and Information Science program was offered.  Thus began my archival education.

Theories and best practices, arguments and discussions.  Debates over Sir Hilary Jenkinson and Theodore R. Schellenberg.  Functional analysis vs. Macroappraisal vs. Documentation Strategy vs. countless other approaches to appraisal. Drills on provenance, original order, and a determination to always, always respect des fonds.   I, along with my classmates, spent many months in a theoretical think tank. After a long class of discussing a topic ad nauseum, we’d eventually come to the same question: why?

Enter, experience.  While interning at a university archive and participating in collaborative projects with a local museum, the endless discussions started to make sense. Their relevancy beyond the classroom became apparent as we applied best practice and theory to the task at hand. 

As a project archivist I draw from my education and that of fellow archivists daily.  It’s a constant back-and-forth activity.  There seems to be a divide between a concentration on theory and on the reality of everyday archival operations. I think the truth of the archival profession is somewhere in between. While theory and practice are necessary in the archival sphere, theory requires experience in order to be fully appreciated. Of course, that’s just my point of view!

Stay tuned later this week for my thoughts on the archives profession today!

The Koreshan Unity Collection: An Inside Look into Processing a Large Archival Collection (Part Six)

Preliminary inventory: Check.

Transfer to State Archives: Check.

Initial sort of boxes: Check.

Now it’s time to begin detailed processing; but where to start? Something especially intriguing, such as members’ personal correspondence? Something likely to be very heavily used and with great exhibit potential, such as photographs? Something fun, such as the Koreshans’ sheet music collection?

Fox Trot for Orchestra

Fox Trot for Orchestra

Lunar Festival Overture

Lunar Festival Overture

We decided upon a two-pronged approach, addressing both the photographs and the administrative and operational records of the organization first. Not only will the photographs be heavily used, but about 1,000 of the images will receive item-level cataloging and be made available on the Florida Memory website with the assistance of a federal grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).

Most of the photographs were grouped together in plastic cases or scrapbooks. Most were fairly well identified, and those that were not were usually easy to identify based on their context among better-identified photos. The photos included a small number of glass plate negatives, primarily portraits of Cyrus Teed that also exist as prints, but also images of Teed’s body after his death that apparently are the only such images in existence (see Part Three of this series). The glass plate portrait below did not survive the trip from Estero to Tallahassee; fortunately, the rest of them did, and they are being placed in custom enclosures to prevent any future damage.

Broken Glass Plate Portrait

The administrative records were also a logical choice to address early in the project, since they document in detail the operations of the organization from its beginnings, and provide a foundation for understanding the organization and the rest of the collection. Original constitutions, minutes of meetings, bylaws, organizational correspondence, legal and financial records, property records, and more have been identified and organized, moving from inaccessible piles of envelopes in boxes such as this:

Unorganized Administrative Records

to well-organized, clearly-identified archival folders and boxes such as these.

Organized Administrative Files

Along the way, we’ve discovered a number of unexpected items in the collection. More on that next time!

Koreshan Unity, by Beth and Bethanie (Part Five)

The Koreshan Unity Collection: An Inside Look into Processing a Large Archival Collection (Part Five)

Our first few posts have mostly focused on the Koreshan Unity collection as a whole. But now that we have an initial sort of the boxes, we’d like to talk about processing efforts at the box level. Here’s where archivists really get their hands dirty – often literally!

As discussed in previous posts, with the general absence of original order or any obvious organizational scheme, each box proves to be different from the last. Even after we completed our initial sort of the boxes, we knew that we had an enormous arrangement challenge in front of us. However, we had no idea of the extent of the problem until we started closely examining the contents of each box. Typically the records had been placed in envelopes of various sizes. Many of the envelopes bear handwritten content listings and an alpha-numeric code, a remnant of one of many rearrangements imposed upon the collection since its birth in the late 19th century.

Here is an example:

However, due to continued handling and rearranging of the records, the individual items we found inside each envelope often bore no relation to each other or to the envelope’s content listing.

Administrative records tend to have a standardized form with their context readily available and are more easily identified and arranged despite their initial disorder. This owes to their main function of documenting the daily operations of the Unity, quite often for financial and legal purposes. For example, the box pictured below houses financial records that were relatively easy for us to identify and organize once we removed them from the envelopes or other enclosures in which they had been stored.

On the other hand, tackling a poorly organized box of correspondence or personal records proves much more challenging when properly identifying and arranging the records relies on a context that is not readily discernible. More about this soon!

Koreshan Unity Collection (Part Four)

The Koreshan Unity Collection: An Inside Look into Processing a Large Archival Collection

We now know a bit about Cyrus Teed, founder of the Koreshan Unity, and about the collection of records and papers accumulated by the Unity and its members. But how do we transform that collection from the initial state of near-chaos in which we found it into an organized, accessible collection that is easy and inviting for researchers to use?

In addition to generous financial assistance from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) which allowed us to hire a full-time Project Archivist, it has taken a lot of planning and hard work that began long before the Koreshan Unity collection arrived in Tallahassee.

The work began in September 2008 with a visit to the College of Life Foundation, the Estero, Florida headquarters of the successor organization that continues to administer the Koreshan Unity’s remaining business affairs.

Koreshan image

One lower room of the building housed the Koreshan Unity archives. All four walls of the room were completely shelved from end-to-end and floor-to-ceiling, and all the shelves were filled with envelopes of various shapes and sizes crammed with records and papers. Looking back at the room as we first saw it, we can see three of these walls in the left foreground and the center and right background.

Koreshan Collection

The records in this room included everything from late 19th century Cyrus Teed writings, to financial records and State Park records from the 1970s, to piles of disorganized photographs of every time period, subject and image quality. What to do?

Here’s what: We began a preliminary inventory of the collection by numbering every shelf in the room and preparing a rough listing of the contents of each shelf based on envelope descriptions and a cursory review of their contents. Koreshan State Historic Site staff were very generous with their time and helped complete the preliminary inventory after our visit, packing the records in boxes labeled to coordinate with our assigned shelf numbers, and preparing a rough list of the records already stored in boxes. Months later, the bulk of the packed collection was stacked in what had been the College of Life library awaiting transport to the State Library and Archives. Looks better already, doesn’t it?

Koreshan Collection

Following the May 2009 transfer of the collection to the Archives, staff conducted an initial sort of the boxes and envelopes of records into general categories based on the information from the preliminary shelf and box inventories. We expected that these general categories – administrative records, Cyrus Teed papers, member family papers, subject files, tracts and articles, photos, etc. – would form the initial basis of record series that would be more fully identified during detailed processing of the collection.

Koreshan Collection

So here we sat with stacks and stacks of boxes in rough groupings that we hoped to transform into logical, well-organized record series. Where do we go from here? To the next post in this series, of course! Keep an eye out for Part Five.

The Koreshan Unity Collection (Part Three)

The Koreshan Unity Collection: An Inside Look into Processing a Large Archival Collection

What – or who – could convince over 200 individuals to exchange their comfortable lives for a celibate religious communal settlement in a remote corner of southwest Florida?

As we continue processing the papers of the Koreshan Unity, supported in part by grant funding from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), we learn more about the early members of this fascinating movement and its charismatic founder, Dr. Cyrus Teed.

A Utica, New York physician with interests in alchemy, physics and metaphysics, Teed conceived what would become known as Koreshanity in 1869 after experiencing a late-night religious vision in his laboratory. During what he called his “illumination,” he saw a beautiful woman who revealed to him a series of universal truths which formed the fundamental principles of Koreshan belief (more on this in future posts). We can never be certain whether Teed’s experience followed being knocked unconscious by an electrical shock, as some say, or a period of intense meditation, as others say.

Following his illumination, Teed began writing and speaking about his beliefs. He joined a Shaker community in 1878, then in 1880 founded a communal settlement in Moravia, New York. The community failed, as did a subsequent attempt in New York City. Teed’s persuasive oratory finally enabled him to assemble a firm core of followers in Chicago in the late 1880s, incorporating his organization there as the College of Life in 1886. Teed assumed the name Koresh in 1891 and, a few years later, began moving his followers to Estero, Florida, where he intended to establish the “New Jerusalem.”

Excerpt from Teed’s journal noting Washington D.C. trip in 1896

Excerpt from Teed’s journal noting Washington D.C. trip in 1896

As the Koreshan community grew and flourished in the early 1900s, tensions arose between the Unity and politicians and citizens of nearby Fort Myers, leading to a brawl on October 13, 1906, in which Teed was hit in the head and face several times. His health declined quickly following the fight, and he died on December 22, 1908.

Reincarnation was one of the truths revealed during Teed’s illumination nearly 40 years earlier, and he and his followers expected that his death (and theirs) would be followed by physical resurrection and immortality. Among the thousands of photographic images in the Koreshan Unity collection are several glass negatives of the deceased Teed in the bath tub into which his followers placed him as they awaited his resurrection until, a week later, the Lee County health officer finally ordered the dismayed followers to bury the body.

In a final sad twist, the mausoleum in which Teed was finally buried washed to sea during an October 1921 hurricane; the body was never found.

Recounting of the Ft. Meyers brawl in the Unity’s newspaper, The American Eagle

Recounting of the Ft. Meyers brawl in the Unity’s newspaper, The American Eagle

[UPDATED: Page 2]

Recounting of the Ft. Meyers brawl in the Unity’s newspaper, The American Eagle (page 2)

Recounting of the Ft. Meyers brawl in the Unity’s newspaper, The American Eagle (page 2)

 

Koreshan Unity Collection (Part Two)

The Koreshan Unity Collection: An Inside Look into Processing a Large Archival Collection (Part Two)

In 2009, the Koreshan Unity collection was transferred to the State Archives of Florida and staff began their initial assessment and planning for processing the collection.

The collection had been rearranged numerous times over the course of its century of existence, so archivists could not determine in what order the records might have originally been filed or used – what archivists refer to as original order.

Here is a typical box as it appeared upon arrival at the State Archives:

Unprocessed box

In the absence of original order or any obvious organizational scheme, archivists began by identifying general categories of activities or topical areas under which all of the records appeared to fall. Archivists then began a rough sort of the boxes into these categories, forming preliminary record series, or sets of files that document certain functions or activities of the organization.

In late 2011, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) awarded the State Archives grant funding to conduct detailed processing of the collection. The grant enabled the Archives to hire a full-time project archivist whose work we are highlighting throughout this series of posts.

Processing the collection