Hollow Earth Monument.
Benches invite open-minded visitors to contemplate the Hollow Earth Monument.

Hollow Earth Monument

Field review by the editors.

Hamilton, Ohio

The Hollow Earth Monument is one of the oldest, oddest, public memorials in the U.S. It marks the gravesite of Capt. John Cleves Symmes, hero of the War of 1812, who later announced that the Earth was hollow with giant holes at the North and South Poles.

Hollow Earth Monument.
In the foreground, an abandoned box of chocolate donuts. Has its owner gone underground?

Symmes unveiled his hollow earth theory in 1818. Some said he was crazy, others said he was a genius. For the last decade of his life Symmes tried to get the federal government to fund an expedition to find a "Symmes Hole." John Quincy Adams' administration nearly said yes, but Adams lost his 1828 reelection bid, and his successor, Andrew Jackson, killed the idea. Symmes died soon afterward and was buried in Hamilton, a disappointed man.

The Symmes family was prominent (one of John's cousins, Anna, would marry President William Henry Harrison), and when the Hamilton burying ground was turned into a park in the 1840s, all of its bodies were dug up and moved to a new cemetery -- except for John Cleves Symmes. "He was a very famous person because of his crazy ideas; the rest of them were just people," said Susan Meyers of Historic Hamilton, the city's preservation group. "The Symmes family owned that land," said Dick Scheid of the Butler County Historical Society. "It was feared that if they moved him somewhere else, the land would revert to the Symmes heirs. So they kept it as a cemetery for one guy!"

Hollow Earth Monument.
Journey Through the Center of the Earth.

It was around this time that Symmes' son erected the Hollow Earth Monument, topped by a globe with hole through its middle, inscribed with Symmes' belief that "the Earth is hollow and habitable within."

Vandalized inscription.
"Xfgtw hyst Sjzqk." The monument's inscriptions were preserved before they weathered away.

The monument stood by itself for a century, suffering occasional damage from bullets and baseball bats (The globe was stolen in 1882 and recovered in a neighboring yard). Over time it became a bona-fide tourist attraction, featured on early post cards. In the 1940s it was enclosed within a protective iron fence; in 1991 the entire monument was hoisted atop a cement column with new bronze plaques repeating the inscriptions that were rapidly becoming illegible in the original limestone.

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. "It said the Pole was temperate; people could live up there."

We've visited the 170-year-old Hollow Earth Monument several times and have always found odd items strewn around it: a colorful poncho, a man's dress shirt, and on our last visit, an entire box of chocolate doughnuts (resembling the monument's holed-sphere). We thought they might have been offerings to Hamilton's most visionary resident, then realized: what if their owners simply disappeared? What if the reason the Hollow Earth Monument remained in Hamilton's park (and was surrounded by a keep-away fence) is because it marked a now-forgotten Symmes Hole -- a portal to the inner-world?

That would be even more reason to visit it, of course, although you may want to tether yourself to a tree when you do.

Hollow Earth Monument

Address:
Sycamore St., Hamilton, OH
Directions:
OH 177/Main St./High St. to 2nd St., go left (or whatever, it's one-way), three blocks to railroad tracks. That's Sycamore. Sycamore is the north boundary of the park, which is between 3rd and 4th. The monument is near the center of the park.
Admission:
Free
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

James Ruppert Mass Murder HouseJames Ruppert Mass Murder House, Hamilton, OH - 2 mi.
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Jungle Jim's International MarketJungle Jim's International Market, Fairfield, OH - 5 mi.
In the region:
American Sign Museum, Cincinnati, OH - 17 mi.

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January 23, 2018

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