Journeys into the Hollow Earth

Journeys into the Hollow Earth
Stephen Wagner

If you were to fly north from New York City, across Canada directly to the Earth's physical North Pole, then kept going straight... you'd end up somewhere in Russia, right?

Not necessarily, say those who believe the Earth is hollow. Why? Because there's a big gaping hole at the North Pole, they allege, and if you'd fly (or walk, for that matter) across the pole, you'd find yourself entering the interior of the planet.

The idea that the Earth is hollow is an outlandish one, on a par, many would argue, with a belief that the Earth is flat. There isn't much in the way of evidence, except for some unverifiable stories and a few highly contested photos that purport to show the hole at the North Pole. (There is supposedly a matching hole at the South Pole.) But the notion of a hollow Earth has persisted over the decades, most recently thanks to a few dozen websites that keep the speculation alive.

Putting science aside, it's easy to understand the appeal of a hollow Earth. It's the same romance and sense of adventure that inspired novels by the likes of Jules Verne (A Journey to the Center of the Earth), Edgar Allan Poe (MS Found in a Bottle) and Edgar Rice Burroughs (At the Earth's Core) in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Even today as our robots explore the surface of Mars, wouldn't be thrilling to find and explore a completely new world right here on this planet? (I should say in this planet.) That's the tantalizing prospect of a hollow Earth.

As mentioned above, there are allegedly true stories of people who have seen and even ventured into the space at the top of the planet, where lush vegetation is said to grow, warmed by an interior sun, and where strange, advanced civilizations thrive. Some adventurers claimed to have found the opening by accident, while others have mounted expeditions expressly for the purpose of exploring the Earth's interior:

• In the early 1800s, an American army captain named John Cleves Symmes was an enthusiastic supporter of the idea of a hollow Earth. He believed the theory proposed by Sir Edmund Halley, the famed astronomer, that there were five concentric spheres within the planet, each capable of supporting life and illuminated by a glowing atmosphere (which was responsible for the aurora borealis seen in the northern latitudes). Symmes was such a champion of this idea that the holes at the poles actually became popularly known as Symmes' Holes. He traversed the U.S. trying to raise money for an expedition and even petitioned Congress for financing. Nothing ever came of it.

• In 1824, a wealthy doctor is said to have mounted an expedition to find Symmes' Hole at the south pole, but the journey was unsuccessful.

• In 1893, Dr. Fridtjof Nansen designed his own ship, the Fram, to explore the north pole. Hollow earth followers have cited his reports of warm winds coming from the north, of red and green pollen covering the snow in some areas, and of fresh driftwood found in the Arctic Ocean ice, where there are no trees. All of these anomalies, hollow Earthers say, have come out of the warm northern opening.

• In 1926, Admiral Richard E. Byrd became the first person to fly over the North Pole. In 1929, he successfully flew over the South Pole. Although officially, of course, Byrd discovered no entrances into the Earth's interior at either pole (he certainly wasn't looking for any), staunch hollow Earthers contend that he really did find a hole at the North Pole. They say he may have even flown as far as 4,000 miles into the interior, although there's no evidence to support this.

• In 1939, the Americans and Germans were in a race to explore and claim lands in Antarctica. President Roosevelt sent Admiral Byrd to the frozen continent to thwart any German claims to Antarctic lands in the Western Hemisphere. Hollow Earthers have proclaimed that this was actually a secret mission to beat the Nazis in the exploration of "the land beyond the poles."

• In 1947, Admiral Byrd is said to have made a secret flight to the North Pole to find this land beyond the pole. The "evidence" for this flight comes from a highly controversial "lost diary" kept by Byrd and miraculously found in the 1970s by "The Society for a Complete Earth." In it he writes that as he looked down from his plane, he saw not snow, but green vegetation, grassy valleys and mountains not shown on any map. Very few take this diary - or the flight itself - seriously.

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