The Newton of the West: John Cleves Symmes, Jr. and
his hollow earth, "Drawn by John J. Audobon,
Aug. 1820, for the Western Museum."
In 1818 John Cleves Symmes, Jr., a former American soldier in the War of 1812, sent a pamphlet
to all the major institutions of learning in the United States. In this pamphlet he wrote, "I declare the earth is hollow, habitable within; containing a number of solid concentric spheres; one within the other, and that it is open at the pole twelve or sixteen 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 undertaking."
Symmes then traveled around the country, lecturing on his theory. Over the next decade, with the help of an Ohio millionaire named James McBride, Symmes lobbied for both government and private-funding for an expedition that would enter the earth's interior through the openings at the poles. It was suggested that a profitable trade might be opened with the inhabitants found within.
A Globe modified by Symmes to illustrate the hollow Earth
In 1820 a book appeared titled Symzonia: A Voyage of Discovery,
written by a "Captain Adam Seaborn". This book purports to describe an actual journey into the hollow earth. It has long been thought that the author of this book was really Symmes himself. If so, the book is a hoax. If the book was not written by Symmes, then it might be a satire of his ideas. However, the book's tone of absolute seriousness blunts any satirical purpose it might have had.
In 1823 McBride, through influential friends, managed to submit a proposal to congress requesting that the U.S. government fund an expedition led by Symmes to the earth's interior. The proposal was voted down 56 to 46. However, one of Symmes's followers, Jeremiah Reynolds, continued to lobby congress and was instrumental in obtaining funding for the 1838 Wilkes Expedition to the Antarctic. Reynolds is also known as the author of a short piece titled "Mocha Dick" which described the legend of a white whale. Herman Melville later expanded this idea into his masterpiece Moby Dick.
Symmes died in 1829, but his ideas provided the inspiration for Edgar Allan Poe's novella, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym
Peck, John Wells. "Symmes' Theory". Ohio Archaeological and Historical Publications. 1909 (18): 28-42.
Text copyright © 2002 Alex Boese