Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Hollow Earth theories of John Cleves Symmes

hollowearthOne of the collections that I most enjoy working on is “Possible and Impossible Worlds,” which collects proto-science fiction, utopian stories, weird science and the like. There are close connections between that material and the anarchist history archives. Free thinkers in one area often tend to be mavericks in others as well, and there is no shortage of alternative scientific accounts in the main collection. John Cleves Symmes, however, doesn’t seem to have been political in any very serious sense, although he came out of the same milieu, Cincinnati in its early heyday, as Josiah Warren. His crusade was to establish the truth of his theory that the earth was hollow, composed of concentric spheres and inhabitable within. He had his work cut out for him. As in the case of Emperor Norton, I’ve been a bit surprised at how difficult it has been to round up Symmes own writings on the hollow earth theory. After combing several newspaper archives, and searching secondary sources for clues, I think I have now assembled six of the first seven “memoirs” which James McBride, a contemporary of Symmes and popularizer of his work, identified as essential. I’ve identified over thirty texts by Symmes and dozens of commentaries and responses. As with my Emperor Norton collection, I’m posting a preliminary selection online, under the title “Principles of the Mundane System,” and will periodically update the pdf as I uncover new texts.

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Proclamations of Emperor Norton

Norton-2Sometimes interesting commentary on political questions comes from unusual sources, and, of course, there has always been an eccentric element in anti-authoritarian thought, which has even at times demonstrated delusions of grandeur. Think of Stephen Pearl Andrews’ pantarchy, for example. While I wouldn’t go so far as to claim Norton I, the would-be Emperor of the United States of North America and Protector of Mexico (etc.) as an anti-authoritarian figure, I do think his semi-delusional perspective on government is sometimes good to think with. And the Emperor’s proclamations are, if nothing else, entertaining reading.

I’ve started to compile a bibliography of Emperor Norton’s published proclamations on the Labyrinth wiki, and have posted a first collection of the proclamations in the catalog. This is an ongoing project, and I’ll be regularly updating the anthology.

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