I love those little books of facts you can pick up for a couple of bucks at Barnes and Noble. Not because they’re informative. But, precisely because they’re not. Take one, open it up, close your eyes, and point to any random “fact”, and it will be wrong.
I came across an interesting little claim in one of those little fact books today. A claim that, in the 1829, the United States sent an expedition consisting of two ships to the South Pole to search for the entrance to … the Hollow Earth!
Now, I didn’t immediately think it was wrong because “America would never do such a thing”. No, I immediately thought it was wrong because it would be far too cool if that had actually happened. And, because I’ve been a bit interested in the the Hollow Earth Theory (oh, it’s hilarious to even type it out) as of late, and I have never ran across this claim. Sending a couple of ships out to the pole is no small feet. If it did happen, I think I would have heard of it.
But, like most crazy claims, there’s tasty filling of truth in there. An expedition was proposed. It just never got anywhere close to being approved.
John Cleves Symmes, Jr (there was no John Cleves Symmes Sr), was an American army officer. In 1818, he proposed a revision to the Hollow Earth Theory, one featuring a series of concentric sphere’s with openings to them at the North and South Poles. He traveled around the country giving lectures on his theory, and became quite a popular speaker, inspiring others to pick up the mantle and speak on the subject as well. Of course, not everyone fell for it. I that it could be reliably compared to the anti-vax movement today.
The US President at the time, John Quincy Adams, actually approved of the idea! It being the end of his term, however, he never would have even had the chance approve of any proposal, even if it had gotten through Congress. Which it did’t.
Mr. Revnolds is a man who has been lecturing about the country in support of Captain John Cleves Symmes’s theory, that the earth is a hollow sphere, open at the Poles. His lectures are said to have been well attended, and much approved as exhibitions of genius and of science. But the theory itself
has been so much ridiculed, and is in truth so visionary, that Reynolds has now varied his purpose to the proposition of fitting out a voyage of circumnavigation to the Southern Ocean. He has obtained numerous signatures in Baltimore to a memorial to Congress for this object, which, he says, will otherwise be very powerfully supported. It will, however, have no support in Congress. That day will come, but not yet, nor in my time. May it be my fortune and my praise to accelerate its approach!
-Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, Vol VII, page 168
Once Andrew Jackson took office, any chance of Presidential support quickly disappeared.
Symmes himself never officially wrote about his version of the Hollow Earth theory, but a follower his, James McBride, did. The resulting book, Symme’s Theory of Concentric Spheres, is available at the Internet Archive. These days we expect our experts to boast some fancy letters behind their name, proof of their education to bolster the reliability of their methods. This title proudly boasts that it is ” By a Citizen of the United States”.