The British astronomer Edmund Halley, of comet fame, proposed that the earth might consist of several concentric spheres placed inside one another in the manner of a Chinese box puzzle. The two inner shells had diameters comparable to Mars and Venus, while the solid inner core was as big as the planet Mercury. More startling was Halley's proposal that each of these inner spheres might support life. They were supposed to be bathed in perpetual light created by a luminous atmosphere. When there was an unusually bright display of aurora borealis, Halley postulated that it might have been caused by glowing gas escaping from the earth' s interior into our atmosphere.

Halley proposed his theory in the seventeenth century, when scientific knowledge of the structure of the earth was still primitive. As time went on, the improbability of a hollow earth became apparent to scientists and scholars, but the idea was taken up by writers of imaginative fiction. Certainly the best known was Jules Verne, who wrote Journey to the Center of the Earth in 1864. Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote a whole cycle of novels set in the hollow earth.

Verne, Burroughs, and a lot of other writers of science fiction were inspired by the theories of an early nineteenth-century American eccentric named John Cleves Symmes. Like Hailey, Symmes thought the earth was made up of five concentric spheres. But he added a new wrinkle. There was a huge opening, popularly called "Symmes Hole," at each of the poles. The ocean flowed in and out of these openings. The interior of the earth was also supposed to be inhabited.

Symmes, an army captain who had served with distinction in the War of 182 1, was an enthusiastic evangelist for his theory. He traveled around the country trying to raise rwney to send an expedition to the north polar hole. He even petitioned Congress for money to finance the expedition, and the proposal garnered twenty-five votes. A rich doctor financed an 1824 expedition to the South Pole to find the Symmes Hole. The expedition was unsuccessful, but Symmes died with his idea intact, and a stone model of the hollow earth according to Symmes sits atop a memorial raised to him by his son at Hamilton, Ohio.

In 1906, William Reed published a book called Phantom of the Poles in which he stated, "I am able to prove my theory that the earth is not only hollow, but suitable in its interior to sustain human life with as little discomfort as on its exterior, and can be made accessible to mankind with one-fourth the outlay of money, time and life that it costs to build the subway in New York City. The number of people who can settle in this new world (if not already occupied) will be billions."

Reed's startling proposal received scant attention from a skeptical public. Somewhat more influential was Marshall B. Gardner, who wrote about Symmes' theory a few years later. Gardner rejected the "absurd" Symmes notion of five concentric spheres, but he enthusiastically adopted the idea of openings at the poles. According to Gardner, the interior of the earth was lighted by a small sun about six hundred miles in diameter. Unfortunately for Gardner, he published his book in 1920; in 1926, Admiral Richard E. Byrd made his first flight over the North Pole, and in 1929 he performed the same feat at the South Pole. As history records, Admiral Byrd did not find any gaping holes. Since the holes were supposed to be over one thousand miles in diameter, they would have been pretty hard to overlook.

Gardner did not abandon his hollow earth ideas, but he did stop lecturing and writing about them. However, others who have kept the faith have insisted that Byrd actually did discover the big hole at the pole and actually flew a good way into the interior of the earth, and that for some obscure mean the government is "covering up" this fact. Some hollow earthers insist that on later expeditions Byrd actually penetrated some four thousand. miles into the interior of the hollow earth. Satellite photograph has presented hollow earthers with another problem.

None of the photographs of the earth taken from space show polar holes. But the hollow earthers are not about to be put down by such evidence. It's all part of the cover-up, they say. The satellite photos are all retouched to hide the hole. Actually, sonic of the early photos of the earth from space did show what appeared to be a gigantic hole at one pole. The pictures, however, were composites made up of many smaller photos. The "hole" was simply an area that had not been photographed. Nonsense, insist the hollow earthers; these were the real photos that slipped through the web of censorship by accident. As with the Byrd expedition, these "polar hole photos" have become pillars of the hollow earth faith.

An odd champion of the hollow earth was Richard. S. Shaver, a Pennsylvania welder who claimed that by "racial memory" he had reclaimed all of man's "forgotten" history His tales included accounts of evil creatures called Deros who lived in huge subterranean caverns that honeycombed the earth. There is also a vast body of occult speculation about a huge underground civilization known as Agartha. It is supposed to be the me of "hidden masters" whose powers range from the merely supernatural to the absolutely godlike.

More bizarre even than' the theories of Symmes and Gardner was the one put forth by Cyrus Reed Teed, an herb doctor and alchemist from Utica, New York. Teed held that the scientists had gotten it all backward, and that the earth was hollow and we are living on the inside!

It's not quite as crazy as it sounds at first, for many of Teed's methods of accounting for observable phenomena in terms of the hollow earth were really quite ingenious. The sun was at the center of Teed's hollow earth and it was half light and half dark. It was the rotation of the two-sided central sun thatt caused the illusion that the sun rises and sets. The moon, planets, and stars were not distant objects but merely reflections of light. The reason that we couldn't see across to the other side of the earth was that the atmosphere was too dense. Some of Teed's other explanations, however, are utterly incomprehensible.

Scott Morris, the Games editor of Omni magazine, calls Teeds idea "one of the most absurd theories ever proposed." But he then points out that "what's most in is that a little mathematical fiddling turns this crazy theory into a proposition that is virtually impossible to refute. The trick is done by inversion, a purely geometric transformation that lets the mathematician turn shapes inside-out. When a sphere is inverted every outside is mapped to a corresponding inside, and vice versa.

Teed did not arrive at his theories by mathematics but, by mystical inspiration. He also decided that he was the new Messiah and adopted the name Koresh-Hebrew for Cyrus. He called his new religion Koreshanity, and the hollow earth was a basic article of faith.' He wrote, "to know of the earth's concavity is to know God. While to believe in the ewth's convexity is to deny Him and all His works. All that is opposed to Koreshianity is antichrist."

Teed picked up several hundred followers, partly because he was a spellbinding orator and partly because his hollow earth had a certain appeal. It made the universe smaller, more manageable, more comfortable. The earth was no longer an insignificant bit of rock orbiting an obscure star; it was the whole universe!

Koresh moved his followers to a "New Jerusalem" in Florida, and before his death in 1908 he said that he would rise from the dead. Followers kept watch over the body for two days, but In the Florida heat it quickly showed signs of decay, and health officials ordered that the messiah of the hollow earth be burried. The cult lingered on and continued to make a few converts.

Perhaps the most bizarre influence that Teed's ideas had was in Nazi Germany. Some of Teed's publications fell into the hands of Peter Bender a German aviator who had boen'badly wounded. Bender was inverted, and though he was to die in a Nazi concentration camp, the hollow earth ideas that he proclaimed sparked interest in the anti-intellectual climate of Nazi Germany.

In April 1942, the Nazis sent an expedition under Dr. Heinz Fischer, an expert on infrared rays, to the island of Ruegen in the Baltic. One of the purposes of the expedition was to get a picture of the British fleet by turning their cameras upward and shooting across the center of the hollow earth! Astronomer Gerald S. Kuiper observed. "High officials in the German Admiralty and Air Force thought this would be useful for locating the whereabouts of the British fleet because the concave curvature of the earth would facilitate long-distance observation by means of infrared rays which are less curved than visible rays."