The Phantom of the Poles

In 1906, William Reed's The Phantom of the Poles revived the hollow earth theory for a world that was growing obsessed with the exploration of the polar regions. Reed argued that reaching the North Pole was an impossibility because it did not exist. Those intent on reaching the pole were engaged in chasing a phantom. If one continued in a northward direction, one would not reach the pole but would rather travel over the curve that leads into the hollow interior. Indeed, Reed claims that many arctic explorers have no doubt already traveled into the interior without recognizing it.

Reed's book seeks to build a case for a hollow earth, open at both ends, by examining a series of phenomena in the light of his theory. For example, he notes that it is generally recognized that the earth is flattened on the ends. Why is this the case? 'As the earth is hollow, it could not be round, is the answer to that. Again, the opening to the interior would detract from its roundness just in proportion to the size of the opening' (21). Can his theory explain the strange lights of the Aurora Borealis, a mystery that the science of his day found quite perplexing?

The Aurora Borealis is the reflection of a fire within the interior of the earth. The exploding and igniting of a burning volcano, containing all kinds of minerals, oils, and so on, causes much coloring; while absence of coloring, or only a faint toning, is due to the burning of vegetable matter, such as prairie or forest fires. (23)

How do icebergs of freshwater arise in the midst of a salty ocean?

Where are they formed? And how? In the interior of the earth, where it is warm, by streams or canyons flowing to the Arctic Circle, where it is very cold, the mouth of the stream freezing and the water, continuing to pass over it, freezing as it flows. This prevails for months, until, owing to the warm weather in summer, the warmth from the earth, and the warm rains passing down to the sea, the bergs are thawed loose and washed into the ocean. Icebergs cannot be formed on earth, for the reason that it is colder inland than at the mouth of a stream; hence the mouth would be the last to freeze and the first to thaw. Under those conditions, icebergs could not be formed. (24)

Of course, the biggest question of the day for those interested in the exploration of the poles was: why had no one been able to reach it?

The curve leading to the interior of the earth may be land or water, just as it happens, and he that passes to the farthest point of the circle when the observation is taken, will show the farthest point north. But if he continues straight on he will soon be losing ground, or getting farther from the supposed pole, and eventually be going south and not know it, as the compass could not then be depended upon. There must be some good reason. (272)

Seeking the North Pole, he writes, is like seeking to reach the moon by chasing its reflection in a body of water. As you move, the moon moves with you. The moon in the water is only a phantom, as is the pole. To continue northward is to continue over the curve of the earth and into the inner world.

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