my contributions to round 18 of the popular ABC Wednesday meme.
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.
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.
When 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.
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.