Lyn Millner. The Allure of Immortality: An American Cult, a Florida Swamp, and a Renegade Prophet. Gainesville, University of Florida Press (2015).
How many visitors to today’s Fort Myers Beach, Florida, have any idea that this was the site of one of the most peculiar of America’s religious utopias? Cyrus Teed, who saw himself as a prophet, took his mostly-female flock from Chicago to that location in 1894. He died in 1908, and the last survivor of the cult died in 1974. Lyn Millner’s very well-written book tells this fascinating story. Some aspects of the “Koreshans” are as exotic to hear about today as they were to newspaper readers in their own time. (For example, they believed that we live in a hollow earth, with the rest of the universe inside). As history, it is useful both for understanding this cult in its own context—the succession of religious revivals in nineteenth-century America—and for understanding millennial cults in general. After all, the impulse to follow a charismatic leader to a remote location where life proceeds under nonconformist rules and the believers await some sort of apocalypse is still with us.
In his Author! Author! blog series, Museum president Gary T. Johnson highlights works that draw on our collection.