Tourists flock to Florida in droves to relax on its sandy beaches and to bond with family at its theme parks. But there’s another side to Florida worth knowing about: Mysterious beachfront domes, a former mafia-owned mansion, and entire towns emptied out with nothing but sugar cane and dense woods for miles.
The Koreshan Unity Historical Site: Estero Florida
In 1894 a religious community known as the Koreshan Unity settled in Estero to establish their Utopian society. Dr. Cyrus Teed declared he would make the land just south of Fort Myers the “New Jerusalem.” He and his followers held the belief that the world was hollow and that humans existed just below its shell. They also believed in reincarnation and that god was both male and female.
Their New Jerusalem was equipped with homes, an art hall, bakery, a general store and its own power plant long before many of the surrounding areas had any electricity at all. The town flourished until the death of Teed in December of 1908. There was a steady decline in members until only “The last Koreshan,” Hedwig Michel, was all that remained. She died in 1982 and was buried onsite. The land was left to the state and a section of this historic site has been turned into a park with campgrounds open to the public to explore.
In the 1930s, elite clubs on stilts were established to provide an exclusive location to engage in gambling, drinking, and to indulge in any vices away from the prying eyes of the law.
These structures were technically just outside of United States jurisdiction, creating an elevated community a mile south of Cape Florida that was completely unfazed by prohibition. It was a safe haven for party animals and pirates until the hurricane of 1965 wiped away all but seven structures. The little town was damaged beyond repair, and what remained fell under the protective wing of the National Park Service.
The “Mafia Mansion”
The old abandoned “Mafia Mansion” in Davie, Florida has been the source of wild rumors since it was erected. Some claimed a gang of illegal arms dealers resided there, others claimed the mansion was owned by the infamous Pablo Escobar, and everyone agreed that it was probably haunted. Whether or not the property ever belonged to Pablo Escobar cannot be confirmed; it isn’t on record with his other Florida properties. But according to public records, this sprawling estate was bought by Jose Puello in 2002 and was then seized by the government during a drug trafficking investigation in 2003.
The combination of questionable documentation for the home and how the money used to purchase it was attained kept it caught up in a legal battle for quite some time. After Puello’s death, the property was transferred over to his wife but it was in such a deteriorated state, that she never moved back into it. The land was bought and has been repurposed as a ranch.
The Orlando Sunland Mental Hospital
This hospital was originally a state-of-the-art treatment center for tuberculosis patients. After the vaccine for tuberculosis was discovered, all the centers shut down, only to be reopened by the Florida Department of Health in 1961 as Sunland Training Centers. The Orlando division treated mentally and physically disabled adults and children.
Reports of physical abuse and neglect prompted an investigation in 1970. Patients suffered from various skin and respiratory infections due to the uninhabitable living conditions. Over 400 patients were being fed a cereal-like substance through feeding tubes three times a day. The facility maintained unsafe surgical areas and was infested with rats, which were biting the patients. By 1983 all of the Sunland facilities were closed down. The ruins became a local hang-out until a young man fell down an elevator shaft and most of the facility was demolished. The old administration building that served as the original tuberculosis center still stands today and draws in a sea of documentary filmmakers and ghost hunters.
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