J is for Charles Johnson

I am again focusing on the famous, the forgotten and the misbegotten for
my contributions to round 18 of the popular ABC Wednesday meme.

Orlando Ferguson's Flat EarthThe idea that the earth is flat has persisted over time, even though the concept of a spherical world has been around since the time of Pythagoras, Aristotle, Euclid and Ptolemy.

It is living proof that for some people, it is easier to believe the unbelievable against all evidence to the contrary, as the 1893 map of a ‘square and stationary earth’ handsomely illustrates.

However, for the sake of ABC Wednesday, I want to focus on one person in particular – Charles Kenneth Johnson who, from 1972 until his death in 2001, was the president of the International Flat Earth Society.

Charles Kenneth JohnsonJohnson was born in San Angelo, Texas, in 1924 and his belief in a flat earth began at the age of eight when his teacher tried and failed to instil in him the principles of gravity.

To his mind, the idea that he could be stood up straight while someone on the other side of the globe would be hanging upside down was simply preposterous.

After graduating from high school, Johnson stuck by his beliefs, although he was careful to keep them to himself for the 25 years that he worked as an aircraft engineer in San Fransisco. The two people he did share them with was his wife, Marjory, one of those upside down Australians, and Samuel Shenton, the Englishman who had founded the International Flat Earth Society in the 1950s.

The society can trace its origins to the Universal Zetetic (investigating) Society, founded in England in 1832 by Sir Birley Rowbotham, who wrote a tract called Earth Not A Globe. And the wonderfully named Sir Walter de Sodington Blount who in 1888 conducted a series of experiments on the Old Bedford Level canal ‘proving’ that the earth does not curve.

Armstrong Flight Research CenterWhen Shenton died in 1972, he stipulated that Johnson should succeed him as president of the society. By then Johnson had moved to the Mojave Desert, ironically close to the Edwards Air Force Base and home of NASA’s Neil A Armstrong Flight Research Center – Johnson insisted that space flight was a hoax inflicted on the (flat) world by ‘the same old gang of witch doctors, sorcerers, tellers of tales, and priest entertainers’.

The space shuttle was a joke, ‘a ludicrous joke’ for the simple reason that ‘you can’t orbit a flat earth’ he said, and he maintained that the 1969 televised moon landing was really filmed in Arizona with a script by sci-fi writer Arthur C Clarke.

But Johnson was firm in his convictions and the society’s membership grew from a handful to 3,500 under his stewardship, the $25 membership including a map of the flat earth and the newsletter in which he forcefully set out his beliefs, such as this one from 1979.

Johnson and his wife, Marjory

Johnson and his wife, Marjory

Tragedy struck in 1995 when his desert home caught fire. His wife was by then confined to a wheelchair, but Johnson was able to rescue her, but not the society’s record which perished in the flames.

Marjory died a year later and Johnson continued to live in a camper on the site of his home until he was evicted by the local authorities because his trailer did not meet their building requirements. He went to live with his brother on the outskirts of Lancaster, California where he died in 2001.

8 comments… Add yours
  • Lee 16th March 2016

    The world is not flat hereabouts. I live on a mountain ridge. If I walk of the edge of the cliff just around the corner a bit from here, I’d end up in the valley below!!

    Interesting post, Mr. Parrot…I guess Charles Johnson realised his mistake when he fell off earth in 2001.

    Reply
  • Yorkshire Pudding 16th March 2016

    “Restoring the World to Sanity” is surely an ironic strapline. Johnson was obviously as mad as a box of frogs.

    Reply
  • Melody Steenkamp 16th March 2016

    as mane people there are, as many different opinions there are too… i guess that holding on to a kind of belief in something gives rest to a restless soul?
    I am not that kind of person, always curious to something i don’t know but does interest me…

    Have a nice ABC-Wedneday-day / – week
    ♫ M e l ☺ d y ♫ (abc-w-team)

    Reply
  • artmusedog and carol 16th March 2016

    Informative post on Johnson for J ~ always glad to see someone ‘stand up’ for their beliefs ~

    Happy Week to you ~ ^_^

    Reply
    • Yorkshire Pudding 16th March 2016

      “Always glad”? Adolf Hitler stood up for his beliefs so did the Khmer Rouge. Glad about that?

      Reply
  • Roger Green 17th March 2016

    Beliefs that defy fact are extremely exhausting to debate.

    ROG, ABCW

    Reply
  • Reader Wil 17th March 2016

    People who strongly belief in their own truths, cannot be convinced. Nevertheless they are very interesting people. Your posts are always intriguing.
    Have a great week.
    Wil, ABCW Team

    Reply
  • Sharp Little Pencil 17th March 2016

    Well, I didn’t know about Mr. Johnson… but there are a frightening number of residents in the States who do believe in flat earth, as well as many other “conspiracy theories.” This is a fascinating story that reminds me of why I am grateful for my public school education! Amy

    Reply

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