Florida’s Funny Bone

From vaudeville to variety shows, Florida has been home to many famous acts over the years. Big name talents such as Jackie Gleason filmed their shows in Florida, but lesser-known comedians, too, have called Florida home. Many examples of Florida’s humor live within the collections at the State Archives of Florida; and with careful evaluation and investigation, Archives staff have uncovered a few snippets.

The Koreshan Unity Papers (N2009-3) contains a subseries of commercial sheet music collected by the Koreshan Unity for use by their band or orchestra for public event performances and as a source of entertainment. This music may have been played during a vaudeville show, a variety entertainment form that was popular in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

“Japonica (Danse Du Vaudeville)” sheet music, ca. 1900. State Archives of Florida, Koreshan Unity Papers, Collection N2009-3, Series 8, Box 379, Folder 44.

“Jacobs’ Vaudeville Favorites – No. 1 Medley Overture” sheet music, ca. 1907. State Archives of Florida, Koreshan Unity Papers, Collection N2009-3, Series 8, Box 374, Folder 53.

Some of the most popular styles of humor are parody, slapstick and screwball which often appear on television in variety shows. An example was found in the Miami Beach Auditorium and Convention Hall Event Files (L3), dating from 1960 to 1980. These records document the use of the large Miami Beach facility for a wide range of activities such as sporting events, concerts, television productions and political events. The records include seating charts, memoranda, correspondence, box office statements, contracts, expense accounts, event programs and attendance statistics.

Jackie Gleason developed a popular variety show, “The Jackie Gleason Show,” in New York City, as well as the popular television series “The Honeymooners.” In the 1960s-1970s, the name Jackie Gleason was synonymous with several trademark phrases: “And awaaay we go,” “How sweet it is!” “One of these days … One of these days … POW! Right in the kisser!” and “To the moon, Alice!” In 1964, Jackie moved the entire production of his variety show to Miami, and the shows were taped at the Miami Beach Auditorium from 1964-1970. Complimentary tickets such as these from series L3 were handed out to the awaiting audience prior to the taping of the show.

Jackie Gleason as one of his characters on “The Jackie Gleason Show,” 1950s.

Complimentary tickets to tapings of “The Jackie Gleason Show,” August 20 and October 15, 1966. State Archives of Florida, Miami Beach Auditorium and Convention Hall, Series L3, Box 4.

Political satire can often be seen at a political roast or retirement event in which the guest of honor is subjected to good-natured jokes. Commissioner of Agriculture Doyle Conner’s Miscellaneous Office Activities Files (S1920) includes a video recording of country comedian Jerry Clower giving a farewell message to Doyle Conner on his retirement. The video, titled Hello Doyle,” was recorded on September 10, 1989.

There have been numerous other vaudeville performers, comedians, stand-up comics and entertainers who were born here in Florida, raised here or just decided to make Florida their home. Do you recognize any of these fellow Floridians?

Key West native and African-American actor Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry was better known by his stage name Stepin Fetchit. His screen persona is often cited as an example of unfavorable black stereotypes, although his popularity opened the door for many future black actors. In the still above, Perry plays servant Cicero in the 1936 film “Dimples,” with Shirley Temple in the title role. Frank Morgan (left) plays Professor Eustace Appleby.

Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry, a.k.a. “Stepin Fetchit,” was a comic character actor and vaudeville artist who was born in Key West and later moved to Tampa. Darrell Hammond, a stand-up comedian and impressionist, was born in Melbourne. Josh Gad, an actor and comedian, was born in Hollywood. Wayne Brady, a comedian and improv performer, lived in Orlando. Scott Thompson, a.k.a. “Carrot Top,” a stand-up and prop comedian, was born in Rockledge and grew up in Coco Beach. Rigdon “Rick” Osmond Dees, an entertainer, radio personality, comedian and voice artist, was born in Jacksonville. Maya Rudolph, an actress and comedian, was born in Gainesville. And actor, comedian and writer Paul Reubens, a.k.a.“Pee-wee Herman,” grew up in Sarasota.

So, does Florida have a funny bone? And does the State Archives have records that would make you smile or chuckle? The answer to both is yes!

Allen H. Andrews, Trailblazer

The cross-peninsular stretch of the Tamiami Trail between Naples and Miami officially opened on April 25, 1928. Area residents welcomed the road and predicted a boost to the local economy from the increased traffic. Perfectly positioned to profit from the road were the Koreshans, whose property ran adjacent to the Tamiami Trail as it passed through the small, rural community of Estero, Florida.

Koreshan service station on the Tamiami Trail, late 1920s

Koreshan service station on the Tamiami Trail, late 1920s

Allen H. Andrews, a member of the Koreshan Unity, wrote about his experience during the “blazing” stage of the Tamiami Trail. Andrews was among the group known as the “Trailblazers” who completed the first successful motorcade crossing of the route that later became the Tamiami Trail.

Tamiami Trailblazers, April 1923

On April 4, 1923, the Trailblazers set out from Fort Myers towards Miami across the vastness of South Florida. The motorcade consisted of ten vehicles and 28 men, including two Seminole guides. Andrews described this place as a land where “[l]aw and order are practically unknown,” home only to the Seminoles and assorted moonshiners, bootleggers, and other outlaws. Read more »

The Koreshan Unity Collection: A Final Look Back (Part 11)

In December 2011, we began a 15-month journey with the Koreshan Unity, a journey that carried vestiges of New York State’s mid-19th century “burned-over district” west to the bustling streets of late 19th century Chicago, and then south to the untamed frontier of southwest Florida at the turn of the 20th century.

The journey was guided by an extensive collection of archival records created and maintained by the Koreshan Unity for over a century; personal letters and journals, religious writings, legal and financial records, publications, and many thousands of photographs documenting the Unity’s founding and founders, their beliefs, and their dream to establish a New Jerusalem against seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

Koreshan Deed, 1895

Read more »

The Koreshan Unity Collection (Part Ten)

In previous posts, we’ve discussed how we approached processing a large, very disorganized collection, talked about the nature of the collection and some of the interesting items found in it, and looked at the background and some of the beliefs of the Koreshan Unity as revealed in the collection.

National Historical Publications and Records Commission logo

Full-time processing of the collection has continued in the meantime, so let’s take a look at the very significant progress our archivists have made in transforming the collection into an easily-accessible research resource, supported in large part by National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) grant funding (www.archives.gov/nhprc).

We have largely completed processing of the Koreshan Unity’s administrative records and operating records, including general accounting and transactions, payroll, stocks, taxes, attorney fees, legal cases, insurance, will and estate records, and other records documenting the administration and operations of the organization and community.

These records include foundation documents such as original constitutions, corporation records, and early minutes of the organization. The pages below, taken from minutes in 1893, document the Unity’s adoption of a constitution in which an Archivist and an Assistant Archivist were designated as two of the seven members of the Board of Directors. It is thanks to the work of these first Koreshan Unity archivists that today’s archivists have such a valuable collection to process and make available.

"A Form for the Constitution of the Koreshan University"

"A Form for the Constitution of the Koreshan University"

"A Form for the Constitution of the Koreshan University"



We have also completed processing the files of Hedwig Michel, a German immigrant who joined the Unity in 1941 and was the last remaining member upon her death in 1982. Processing the papers of “The Last Koreshan” was complicated by the extensive intermingling of personal and organizational records. The three items below are examples of the wide variety of materials found in Michel’s files.

National Audubon Society membership

Letter from John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art

Fort Myers News-Press Article
Read more »

Koreshan Unity Collection (Part Nine)

What did the Koreshans believe exactly?

Up to this point we have discussed Cyrus Teed’s illumination and subsequent events that led to the formation of the Koreshan Unity. We’d like to continue to delve further into the Unity’s core principles. This time, we move from the realm of Cellular Cosmogony to a much more basic idea: equality.

Among the truths that Teed derived from his illumination was the belief that God existed as both male and female. Teed believed that while God drew from his masculinity, it was not his permanent state. In order to maintain equilibrium in the spiritual sense, he would eventually assume his female side. If God captured both sexes evenly, Teed believed his followers should as well. As a result, Teed called for equality of the sexes within the Koreshan Unity, a notion largely unheard of at the end of the 19th century.

Female members were not valued solely as wives and mothers, but for their intelligence, resilience and work ethic. Koreshan women held officer positions within the Unity, often outnumbering men. In addition to traditional officer roles, seven women made up the governing body known as the Sisters of the Planetary Court. Living together in a building of the same name, these sisters helped to manage the Unity.

Sisters of the Planetary Court

Sisters of the Planetary Court

Teed acknowledged the difficulty of both attaining and sustaining equality. This reality is apparent in his manuscripts and speeches. Teed explained, “I speak now for the human structure. If the two were now placed side by side as equals in government, there would still be no equality, because men have ruled so long there will be no righteous government until a woman stands at the head of affairs.”

This belief is most readily shown in the role of one Koreshan in particular: Annie G. Ordway. Ordway, one of the earliest followers of Koresh, acted as the first President of the Koreshan Unity. She operated as Teed’s counterpart in the managerial and supervisory senses, and in 1891 Teed pronounced her Victoria Gratia, Pre-Eminent of the Koreshan Unity. He believed Victoria was destined to be his successor. Despite Teed’s overwhelming faith in Victoria, not all Koreshans were convinced. After Teed’s death, many opposed Victoria’s continued leadership. This led to her eventual resignation in 1909.

Cyrus Teed and Victoria Gratia in the Executive Chamber of the Koreshan Unity

Cyrus Teed and Victoria Gratia in the Executive Chamber of the Koreshan Unity

While Koreshan women received equal treatment, the struggle for women’s rights beyond Koreshan grounds did not go unnoticed. Victoria Gratia spoke to the disconnect between the sexes before the Koreshan Convention in her 1888 address titled “Woman’s Restoration to Her Rightful Dominion.” She explained,

“Woman, a natural born citizen of the cosmos, evolved through the same agencies which bring into being her brother, equally expert in all that pertains to juvenile sports and pastimes, as active in the discernment of specific means to any given end, as fertile in inventive genius, as dominant in will, more righteously and kindly disposed, more compassionate and humane than her masculine counterpart, finds herself at her majority the technical bondwoman of the most arbitrary and tyrannical prestige possible to conceive.”

In her speech, Victoria Gratia urged women to acknowledge the disparity between women and men. Both possess characteristics inherent to their sex. Only when the rights of women are protected can we truly benefit from our differences.

Title page of Woman’s Restoration to Her Rightful Dominion, 1893

Title page of Woman’s Restoration to Her Rightful Dominion, 1893

The State Archives of Florida’s in-depth processing of the Koreshan Unity Papers allows for a greater understanding of the Koreshan Unity’s convictions. Look to future posts for more on the fundamental beliefs of the Unity!

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.”

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.

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.