By Richard O Jones
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Calling it “one of the oldest, oddest, public memorials in the U.S.”, the travel website Roadside America has spotlighted our Hollow Earth Monument at a “Sight of the Week.”
The monument honors Captain John Cleves Symmes, a hero of the War of 1812 and nephew of the John Cleves Symmes that made the Miami Purchase in 1788. Captain Symmes spent much of his life lecturing and writing about his Theory of Concentric Spheres, more commonly known as the Hollow Earth Theory.
It’s complicated, but the theory basically proposes that there are holes in the earth at either pole – known as “Symmes Holes”, of course – that lead to spheres of the inner earth where other civilizations reside.
In his own words from 1818:
“I declare the earth is hollow, and habitable within; containing a number of solid concentrick [sic] spheres, one within the other, and that it is open at the poles 12 or 16 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.”
He even wrote a book, though some dispute his authorship, of Symzonia: A Voyage of Discovery, which details an imaginary expedition to find the Symmes Holes that predates Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth by several decades.
Other local attractions on Roadside America include the Ruppert house, site of the 1975 Easter Massacre, and the statue of George W. Bush commemorating the tragic No Child Left Behind education bill that was signed at Hamilton High School.
While it’s nice that our hometown is getting some national attention, it would be nicer if they would highlight something other than the crazy once in a while. We have plenty of statues and memorials dedicated to saner issues, even a whole park of monumental outdoor sculpture.
But crazy sells, says the true crime historian, acknowledging that it could be even crazier. From Roadside America:
One of Symmes followers, Cyrus Teed, modified the Hollow Earth theory to an Inside-Out Earth theory, and has an entire state park dedicated to him in Estero, Florida. “Some writers even say that the idea to place Santa Claus at the North Pole came from Symmes’ theory,” said Dick [Scheid] “It said the Pole was temperate; people could live up there.”
And it seems the monument here may be quite more modest that what was originally proposed.
Although contemporary sources say the monument dates from the 1840s, the Hamilton Telegraph reported in 1874 that Americus Symmes, Captain Symmes’ oldest son, informed City Council on April 9 that he intended to erect a monument over Captain Symmes’ grave “thirty-seven feet high, the shaft of Scotch granite and surmounted by a bronze globe illustrating that the earth is hollow.” He was going to have the bronze cast in Munich, Germany, for $2,500.
The 1874 article is brief, but it doesn’t mention an existing limestone monument, stating only that (unspecified) changes would have to be made to the park to accommodate the monument.
The Symmes file at the Butler County Historical Society includes this rendering of the monument in its pristine condition:
I haven’t found a story yet explaining how we got from a giant bronze globe to beach ball sized limestone doughnut, but I bet there is one.
Crazy though his theory may be, Symmes counted among his supporters Hamilton pioneer James McBride, our first local historian who wrote a book about the theory, and managed to get some traction in Washington, D.C.
And he had his portrait sketched by none other than John James Audubon – which supports the theory that Captain Symmes was indeed a strange bird: