Symmes' Holes
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Basic Information

In 1818, a US Army Captain named John Cleves Symmes, Jr. devised a startling theory. He postulated that the earth was hollow and contained a number of cocnentric spheres. Such a theory had been suggested earlier by Edmund Halley, to explain anomolous compass readings, but Symmes did much to popularize the idea. In Symmes' model, the Earth consisted of a hollow shell about 1,300 km (800 miles) thick, with openings at the poles, "Symmes' Holes", about 2,300 km (1400 miles) across. Inside this hollow shell were nested four inner shells each open at the poles.

Symmes lectured widely on his theories and lobbied for the U.S. Government to send an expedition to the hole at the North Pole. The plans, alas, were halted by then President Andrew Jackson, but the lectures given by Symmes and his convert, writer and editor Jeremiah Reynolds spread the idea in the popular imagination.

Symmes' Holes featured in Edgar Allen Poe's novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket and his short storie "MS. Found in a Bottle". Edgar Rice Burroughs used the idea of a Hollow Earth as a setting for his Pellucidar novels, and his crossover novel Tarzan at the Earth's Core used the device of flying an airship to the North Pole and entering the Earth through the Symmes' Hole. Jules Verne played with the idea in his novel A Journey to the Center of the Earth, but he limited the Hollow Earth to merely an extremely large system of caverns accessible through a volcanic shaft.

In 1926, Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd attempted to fly over the North Pole. Whether he actually succeeded was debated for decades, but afterwards some writers claimed to put forth a "secret diary" by Byrd describing the sighting of Symmes' Hole on a later expedition in 1947.

A 1969 book written under the pseudonym "Dr.Raymond Bernard", and entitled The Hollow Earth claimed among other things that UFOs originated inside the earth and came out through the openings in the poles.

Most fantasy descriptions of hollow earths dispense with the interior concentric shells and describe interior world as being illuminated by a miniature sun suspended exactly in the center of the earth; (or, according to one version, twin suns named Persephone and Pluto).

Hollow Earths are good places to find dinosaurs.


Game and Story Use

  • If Symmes Hole exists, it would be visible by satellite. Is the government covering up satellite images of the polar regions?
    • Actually, some satellite photos of the earth do show large, circular black regions at the poles. This is because they are photo mosaics and only depict portions of the earth's surface that the satellite has passed directly over. If the satellite taking the photos does not pass over the poles, the image will have a big blank space there.
      • Ah, but that's what the government wants you to think!
  • Speaking of government cover-ups, why was Andy Jackson so keen on squashing Symmes' proposed expedition to the pole?
  • Perhaps Symmes' Hole is not a physical opening in the Earth, but rather a portal to another dimension.
    • That would explain all the dinosaurs and flying saucers gadding about
  • In a science fiction campaign, space explorers might find an artificially constructed planet shaped into a hollow shell.
  • The hollow earth could be the result of a (pre)historical globus cassus project.
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