Symmes Holes

John Cleve Symmes, Jr. of St. Louis, Missouri issued a circular to 'each notable foreign government, reigning prince, legislature, city, college, and philosophical society, quite around the earth' (Fitting, 95). According to Fitting, the statement was accompanied by a testament to the author's sanity. The circular, published in 1818, read:

To All the World!

I declare the world is hollow, and habitable within; containing a number of solid concentric spheres, one within the other, and that it is open at the poles twelve or sixteen degrees; I pledge my 4 I DECLARE THE WORLD life in support of this truth,

IS HOLLOW, AND HABITABLE , am ready to fP^

the hollow, if the world will

WITHIN 5 support and aid me in the undertaking . . .

I ask one hundred brave companions, well equipped, to start from Siberia in the fall season, with Reindeer and sleighs, on the ice of the frozen sea; I engage we find a warm and rich land, stocked with thrifty vegetables and animals, if not men, on reaching one degree northward of latitude 82; we will return in the succeeding spring. (95)

Though Symmes himself never elaborated at great length upon his theory of a hollow earth and polar openings, some of his supporters did, most notably James McBride in Symmes's Theory of Concentric Spheres, Demonstrating that the Earth is Hollow, Habitable Within, and Widely Open about the Poles, of 1826. McBride indicates that Symmes' theory was meant to be inclusive of all celestial bodies, from the sun to meteors. The theory claims that each of these objects is composed of solid concentric spheres that are open at the poles. These spheres are separated from one another by a space filled with aerial fluids. The earth is composed of five hollow concentric spheres, with the polar openings measuring between 4,000 and 6,000 miles in diameter.

According to McBride's reading of Symmes' theory,

Each of the spheres composing the earth, as well as those constituting the other planets throughout the universe, is believed to habitable both on the inner and outer surface; and lighted and warmed according to those general laws which communicate light and heat to every part of the universe. (Fitting, 109)

In 1820, just on the heels of the publication of Symmes' initial circular, a novelized version of Symmes' theory appeared under the title Symzonia. Though often attributed to Symmes, the authorship of Symzonia remains in doubt. The novel tells the story of a journey by ship through the northern polar opening into the inhabited world of the earth's interior. Interestingly, the world of Symzonia is not described as existing on the surface of an interior sphere, but rather on the concave surface of the earth's outer shell, a position which Symmes himself may have adopted at a later period.

After passing through the Arctic Circle into a tropically warm polar climate, the adventurers enter the hollow earth. The inhabitants of the earth's core are humanoid and described as gentle vegetarians. They reject material possessions in favor of the wealth of the soul. Because of their virtuous nature, the internals possess great intelligence and have little need for sleep. They are extremely attractive, with beautiful white skin. They also have great physical strength. The government is democratic and women are granted equal status with men. In many ways they seem to exist in a Garden of Eden, like humanity before the fall from grace.

Despite their lack of desire for material possessions, the internals had a highly developed technology, including air-ships. The narrator, John Seaborn, describes his encounter with these amazing craft:

I had not been long at my study of language, when Mr. Albicore sent me word that a bird as big as the ship was coming towards us. I went on deck, and immediately saw that Albicore's bird was no other than an aerial vessel, with a number of men on board. It came directly over the ship, and descended so low that the people in it spoke with the internals who were with me; but I was not yet qualified to understand a word of what passed. I observed its appearance to be that of a ship's barge, with an inflated wind sail, in the form of a cylinder, suspended longitudinally over it, leaving a space in which were the people. It had a rudder like a fishes tail, and fins or oars, which appeared to be moved by the people within. On the whole it was not a matter of great surprise to me. I only inferred from it, that the internals understood aerostatics much better than the externals. (Fitting, 199-200)

Seaborn later learned that the inflated cylinder above the boat was filled with an 'elastic gas' that diminished the specific gravity of the craft and allowed it to fly.

Of course, not everything is perfect, even in Utopian Symzonia. Occasionally evils are committed and the evildoers are punished by being exiled to the outer world. Indeed, those of us who live on the outer surface of our planet are descended from the exiled criminals of Symzonia. The surface of the earth, like Australia, was populated by society's convicts and degenerates. After reading surface literature supplied to them by Seaborn, the internals decide that the presence of this degenerate race cannot be allowed to influence their society. Seaborn and his companions are ordered to leave and to return to the surface, which they do, sailing on the internal southern sea, through the southern polar opening, and home.


Symmes' earth theory was not the only such theory from the nineteenth century that now strikes most of us as a little odd. Equally unacceptable to today's cosmology is the version of reality proposed by utopian millenarian Cyrus Teed. Teed claimed that in 1869 he experienced an epiphany in which his true identity as the reincarnation of Christ was revealed to him. This revelation concerning his own nature also came with a new understanding of the divine nature as possessed of both male and female qualities, and of human nature, including a belief in the equity of men and women and the need for society to transform itself accordingly into a community of shared wealth. Teed took the name 'Koresh' and attracted a small group of followers who adopted his method of communal living and accepted Koresh as the living incarnation of God. The commune began in Chicago and then moved to Florida, where they established a colony on the banks of the Estero River. While Teed's ideas about communal living, equity for men and women, the coming 'end times,' and the nature of God fit the pattern of many millenarian groups of the time, he did possess some truly unique ideas in regards to the nature of the cosmos.

Cyrus Teed believed in the hollow earth, though his ideas about humanity's place in regards to the hollow world were decidedly different from Symmes'. The Symmes version argued that the earth is a hollow ball with humanity living upon its outer surface and the interior accessible by holes at the north and south poles. Teed agreed with the basic picture of the earth as a hollow ball. The difference was that he believed that we reside on the inside surface of the ball - on the concave surface rather than the convex surface. The heavens, including the sun, the moon, and the stars, are located on the convex surface of a smaller globe inside the earth. From any point on the inner surface of the larger sphere, where we reside, we look up, or toward the center of the earth, to see the heavens. For Teed, the acceptance of this view of cosmology was quite important, having spiritual as well as empirical value. He wrote in The Cellular Cosmogony of 1898 that to know of the earth's concavity and its relation to universal form is to know God; while to believe in the earth's convexity is to deny him and all his works. All that is opposed to Koreshanity is antichrist (84).

Koresh believed that all of creation possessed the same basic structure, the cellular structure of an egg. The sun is the center, the earth is the shell, and we live on the shell's inner surface. Koresh spends page after page of this book explaining how such things as the movements of the sun and moon, the movement of the stars, and solar and lunar eclipses can be made sense of within his system.

Though the Koreshan system failed to appeal to a larger audience and never achieved even the limited number of supporters that Symmes' theory attracted, it is rumored to have had at least one fervent believer. Legend has it that Adolf Hitler became a convert to Koreshanity and attempted to use his newly acquired knowledge to assist in his program of war. Supposedly, Hitler had his scientists calculate the exact location from which it would be possible to look straight up and observe, with the use of powerful telescopes, the movements of the British navy.

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