A Journey to the Center of Modern Hollow Earth Theory
"The flat-Earthers are obviously wrong—the world is a sphere, and it's hollow."
Conspiracy theorists get a bad rap these days, and rightfully so. But it wasn't always the case.
I remember it wasn't all that long ago, back when I was working night shifts at an oil patch, we would kill time by turning on Coast to Coast AM with George Noory. If you haven't heard this show, it can turn even the blandest talk radio into a fantasy wonderland—it was almost innocent in a way that has been lost to maniacs on YouTube ranting about racist conspiracies and how putting things into the water can turn frogs gay.
One night, a little over half a decade ago, while dicking around with my fellow co-workers, I remember hearing something far-fetched even for Coast to Coast—a hollow Earth theorist. The man, whose name I can't remember, spoke of another world that exists within our own. Down there was another sun, beautiful valleys, a lost tribe of Israel or two, and dinosaurs.
Frankly, if there is another world inside ours, who among us wouldn't want to abandon the shithole we're currently inhabiting in favor of this glorious underworld? So, in a desperate bid to escape the hell of modern society, I decided to dive deep into the rich history of hollow Earth theorists and talk to a few people who have this belief today.
Now, these theories are numerous and typically long-winded affairs, meaning, under the threat of death from my editor, I can't cover them all (luckily, if you're thirsty for more on the hollow Earth theories, Will Storr wrote a hell of a long-form summation of the theories history for the Independent—including more Coast to Coast glory).
So, why don't we start with the CliffsNotes version of the hollow Earth theory?
The godfather of the movement is Edmund Halley—of Halley's Comet fame. The 17th-century scientist proposed that Earth was hollow and the outermost crust (which is where we call home) is about 500 miles thick and has rings beneath it. The Earth, Halley proposed, kind of looked like a dartboard when looking at it dissected. He got this idea from the irregular readings compasses get near the poles, so he proposed the inner worlds are what is messing with Earth's magnetism.
The idea kind of festered in that state for around a century, only receiving some minor additions. The next massive update came at the start of the 1800s when a soldier and scholar named John Cleves Symmes Jr. proposed that there were several entrances to the hollow Earth.
"I declare the earth is hollow, and habitable within; containing a number of solid concentric 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," Symmes wrote in 1818.
Moving toward the 20th century, the idea lost a little bit of its steam when it was essentially debunked (for the first time) by some meddling scientists. As these theories often do, however, hollow Earth managed to carry on. The theory was still around, yes, but it was essentially taken over by the science-fiction community—think Jules Verne's A Journey to the Center of the Earth and the like. Authors like Verne and William R. Bradshaw thrust an inhabitable vision of the internal world into the mind of the public. This idea coagulated with Halley and Symmes ideas into a hybrid idea that persists to this day.
The theories range, but a typical description of what modern-day hollow Earth theorists believe is that the interior of Earth consists of multiple environments that are punctuated with exotic and extinct animals, and, sometimes, aliens. In many of the theories, there are inner-world inhabitants that are either super advanced or have achieved some form of utopia. Others say that the world has been colonized by missing explorers—in almost all of the theories, the inner worlds are presented as strongly superior to ours.
It's not surprising that some still clutch to hollow Earth theory because, for many, the modern theories have a religious theme connected to them. In these theories, it is typically put forward that the Lost Tribes of Israel inhabit the hollow Earth. An author by the name of Rodney Cluff wrote in his 2008 book Our Living Hollow Earth that the tribes were taken to the hollow Earth that is where, luckily enough, heaven and hell are also located.
In order to understand his ideas a little better, I gave Cluff a call. He told me that he came to the theory as a young man when he was introduced to a book by Raymond Bernard called The Hollow Earth. This set Cluff off on a journey of analyzing "scientific, spiritual, and historical evidence" from which he believes he found proof that Earth and most bodies in space are hollow. Furthermore, Cluff believes, without any doubt, that there is another sun in the center of Earth and there are people who inhabit Earth's core.
"The Germans are some of the people that live in the hollow Earth—the refugees from WWII—the Viking colonists from Greenland," Cluff told VICE. "Obviously, there has to be some Inuit down there, because whenever they were asked where they came from they would point north and say, they were from the land where the sun never goes down."
It's not easy being a hollow Earth theorist—according to Cluff, the numbers of true believers have been slowly going down. This most likely comes from the fact that conspiracy theories have become plentiful as of late. While the hollow Earth has the old school vibe—few theories can battle its longevity—it's just as not as sexy or timely as some of the conspiracies you'll find on, say, Infowars. Who wants to search for an internal world when you can rally against a president setting up FEMA death camps in parking lots, or try to expose a child sex–trafficking ring that is being run out of the basement of a DC pizzeria?
There exists no real place for hollow Earth theorists to organize and recruit as they don't have massive forums on the subject—they've been left behind by time. Cluff told me that the group typically talks to one another through emails and that they do have a presence on YouTube. However, when the group wanders into forums like Godlike Productions or other conspiracy sites, it can have trouble playing well with others. The group members are often made fun of by people who subscribe to cooler theories (yes, if you were wondering, there is a hierarchy among conspiracy theories). To cap it off, there exists some friction with the flat-Earthers, who have become hot as hell as of late, because each theory makes the other redundant.
"The flat-Earthers are obviously wrong—the world is a sphere, and it's hollow," said Cluff. "I don't think flat-Earthers don't have a leg to stand on, but I respect their opinion. I don't like making fun of people."
While their momentum may be slowing, the old guard of conspiracy theorists persist.
Cluff told me that he has either seen evidence or talked to more than ten people who have made their way to the inner Earth—this includes a German U-boat operator and an admiral who flew his plane into a polar opening into the hollow Earth. Cluff hasn't been inside, but that's not for lack of trying. For centuries, intrepid hollow Earth theorists have been looking for entrances to the center—some even claiming they've made it. This is a quest that is ongoing to this day.
The most prominent of the modern-day journey was the proposed "Voyage to the Hollow Earth," which was set to take place in 2007. Cluff and other theorists were certain of its success that they even built an itinerary for their trip. The voyage cost around $20,000 to take part in and was supposed to take place in 2007 from June 26 to July 19, setting off from Moscow on their third day (the first two days were for traveling and sightseeing.) On the fourth day, they were to fly to Murmansk, Russia, where they would board a Russian icebreaker ship and make their way toward the North Pole. Once they arrived on the ninth day, they would spend three days searching for the opening.
The journey gets a little eccentric past this point. From here on out, they would "travel up Hiddekel River to City of Jehu" before taking "a monorail trip to City of Eden to visit the Palace of the King of the Inner World." After spending their time in Eden they would make their trip home. If God forbid they didn't find the entrance, they did have a backup plan.
"Please note that if we are unable to find the opening, we will be returning via the New Siberian Islands to visit skeleton remains of exotic animals thought to originate from Inner Earth," reads a note at the bottom of the itinerary.
Sadly, the planning the expedition never worked out. One of their leaders, Steve Currey, died of brain cancer, explained Cluff. The bad luck continued: According to Cluff, another leader was killed after his plane flew into a mountain and the third had to pull out because the largest investor in his company threatened to pull funding if he didn't walk away from his hollow Earth beliefs. The group has attempted a few more voyages but the plans just keep unraveling. That said, Cluff isn't opposed to another attempted voyage—they just need a leader, it couldn't be him though, he said, as he's an author, not an adventurer.
"There are people out there. There are tons of people who have expressed interest in this expedition if we can get it off the ground," said Cluff. "I don't think there is a lot of people out there, certainly not in the millions but maybe in the thousands."
Well, sign me up for the next expedition—because goddammit if I wouldn't trade the modern day world for some lost tribes, Vikings, and dinosaurs. With all the hyperpartisan bullshit flying around these days, it's hard to remember that at one time these theories were popular because they spoke directly to your inner child, not your inner asshole.
Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter.