Hollow Earth Excerpt


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Shoot for the moon and if you miss you'll land among the stars...

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Hollow Earth Excerpt

  1. 1. The “Hollow Earth” theory A unique park in Hamilton memorializes a crackpot conjecture of yesteryear Story and photos by CRAIG SPRINGER within; containing a number of solid concentrick (sic) spheres, one within the other, and that it is O nly “quirky” can describe this stone edifice. It’s an ancient obelisk with a hollowed-out sphere on top, carrying a patina of time the color of a wet open at the poles 12 or 16 degrees; I pledge my life in support of this truth, and am ready to explore the hollow, if the world will support and aid me in the mule. It is a tombstone — a monument to a man undertaking. Jno. Cleves Symmes of Ohio, Late who owned a fertile mind and his mission to prove Captain of Infantry.” himself right — that planet Earth was hollow. Symmes sent 500 of these But it also is a tribute to American science, liter- circulars to scientific institu- ature and geographic exploration. tions, politicians, foreign Below this obelisk lies the body of Captain governments and the John Cleves Symmes in a park in Hamilton. The thinkers of the day — all park was once a pioneer graveyard, a square potential patrons — through- city block set aside for that purpose by surveyor out the United States and Israel Ludlow, who laid out Europe. Symmes sought the original town of financial support to explore Hamilton. Ludlow parsed the yet unknown polar what then was wilderness regions. The circular and his into square-mile plots for ideas received wide publicity its owner, Judge John and were met mostly with Cleves Symmes. This large ridicule, but not entirely by expanse of land — which everyone. stretched from Cincinnati Symmes put forward that between the Little Miami our globe was comprised of shells stacked and Great Miami rivers, upon each other like an onion. He reasoned north to about Monroe — that Earth’s center was an empty space was known as Symmes pulled as it were from its rotation. As evi- Purchase. dence, he cited Saturn’s rings, claiming that The park is ringed by they were the remnants of outer cores pulled two-foot-tall obelisks to the center as they now exist — the remain- capped with spheres. The der had fallen back to Saturn’s surface. Closer hollow sphere atop each to home, Symmes believed that the obelisk represents planet Appalachian Mountains were a remnant of Earth ringed with the lati- an older outer concentric ring. tudes. Their open ends The thought that the Earth is hollow wasn’t represent Symmes’s open- new. The idea existed in Native American minded belief that our mythology, and early European scientists rea- planet was hollow at the soned similarly. Ben Franklin theorized that poles, north and south. our planet’s core was condensed gas, an idea Symmes was not a man that persisted well into the last century. of science in that he had Symmes left St. Louis to make a home in no formal academic train- the Hamilton area in the early 1820s. From ing. He was a soldier of there he toured the East giving lectures, seek- some distinction, an officer ing financial support for polar expeditions. in the War of 1812. He With him was a much younger man, a former left the army in 1816 and This monument in Ludlow Park in Wilmington newspaper editor and Ohio became an agent for the Hamilton is the gravesite of John University graduate, Jeremiah Reynolds. Fox Indians, stationed in Cleves Symmes, who believed the Another patron opened many doors for St. Louis. It was there in Earth was hollow, and that the Symmes — Samuel Mitchill of New York, who 1818 that he self-pub- interior could be explored and even gave credence to Symmes’s wild speculative lished a circular and inhabited through holes at the theories. Mitchill was a consummate man of declared: “To all the North and South poles. science, a medical doctor, the founding editor world! I declare the earth of America’s first medical journal, a professor is hollow and habitable 54—Country Living/May 2008
  2. 2. of natural sciences at Columbia, an ichthyologist and on the Polaris Expedition in 1871, announcing that a United States senator. Mitchill wrote letters of he intended to find “Symmes Hole.” introduction for Symmes to many scientists, particu- Symmes’s theory intersected with another wholly larly in New England. Through Mitchill, Symmes American experience, the creation of the Latter Day gained access to academicians who otherwise would Saints. Its founder, Joseph Smith, may have heard probably not have given the time of day to a provin- Symmes lecture in New England, or read about the cial from the Western frontier. theory in the 1820s and ’30s as this new faith It shouldn’t seem at all odd that Mitchill would formed. Faithful Mormons concern themselves with take interest in exploring the unknown. Mitchill the 10 lost tribes of Israel, and Mormon writings shared with the young America a national eagerness relate to their existence over the ice caps in the inte- to know more about the unknown. Witness the then rior. In popular culture, Symmes’s theory fed the fer- recent explorations made by Zebulon Pike in the tile minds of prominent writers like Burroughs, Poe, Southwest, and Lewis and Clark to the Northwest. Thoreau and Verne. All three expedition leaders coincidentally had Today, there are no shortage of pseudo-scientists served at Fort Hamilton, a short walk from where who own an outward appearance of scientific legiti- Symmes rests. macy. The critical review of their claims by scien- Symmes found another prominent patron closer to tists shows how authority can reveal baseless home who would carry the “Symmes Hole” theory claims, as was done with Symmes. Symmes’s critics beyond its originator. Symmes himself never in his time noted that he seemed deftly able to authored a book on his subject. But James McBride deflect any decisive scientific review — Symmes did. He was an ardent convert of Symmes’s ideas. just countered ridicule with more circulars and more McBride was beyond the ordinary himself, but a newspaper stories and more lectures. Driven, he man well inside the mainstream. He was the first was. It’s a paradox: the man memorialized for his mayor of Hamilton, Butler County’s first sheriff, pseudo-science had great consequence in the future president of the board of trustees of Miami of publicly funded exploration by Americans, around University, an archeologist and historian, and com- the world and into space. For that, the obelisk missioner of the Miami and Erie Canal. McBride seems too small. t pulled together Symmes’s ideas in the tome pub- Butler County native, Craig Springer, writes from lished in Cincinnati in 1826 with the long-winded Edgewood, New Mexico. title “Symmes Theory of Concentric Spheres, demon- strating that the earth is hollow, habitable within and widely open about the poles, by A Citizen of the United States.” Symmes and his followers roused Congress and Ohio’s General Assembly to fund expeditions to the polar regions, even suggesting doing so would open trade with the inhabitants there. Symmes passed on an offer to attend a polar expedition by Count Romanoff, Chancellor of Russia. Otherwise, during his lifetime Symmes failed to attract wealthy influ- ential people to his cause. After his death, Reynolds carried on the cause and succeeded. He pleaded to Congress and gar- nered the support of President John Quincy Adams. A national expedition to the South Pole was set. But states-rights southerners squashed the expedition, believing that such expeditions were better made through private endeavors. So Reynolds did such, reaching the Antarctic, but a mutiny put him on the Chilean shore. Reynolds chronicled his experiences, one of which was titled “Mocha Dick,” the story of a whale sinking a ship, that later served as inspiration to Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Through the seeds sown by Symmes, McBride’s book, and Reynolds’ persistence, the U.S. govern- The park is ringed with ment eventually sponsored the four-year-long two-foot-tall obelisks Wilkes Expedition to the south seas of the Pacific in capped with spheres that 1838. The expedition collected massive amounts of represent the Earth. material. Cincinnati publisher and Arctic explorer Charles Hall embarked with a grant from Congress Country Living/May 2008—55