Thursday, June 23, 2011

Breaking News From Hot Springs, S.D.: Earth is Square!


When it comes to unusual maps and history, I’m always a sucker for a good story.

So, how could I pass up commenting on this piece on the History Blog that described the donation of a truly rare item to the Library of Congress by former North Dakota State Senator Don Homuth

Apparently the Library of Congress does not yet have its very own copy of Orlando Ferguson’s  treatise published in 1893 in Hot Springs, South Dakota entitled “Map of a Square and Stationary Earth”, in which Ferguson makes it perfectly clear that the Earth is not a sphere, but rather a square.  There are only a few known copies of this groundbreaking treatise, which, of course, is hard to fathom, considering its scientific importance and insight.

So, exactly who was this mysterious deep thinker and scientific “wunderkind” -  Orlando Ferguson of South Dakota?

Sadly, there’s no extant copy of the census for 1890 that might help reveal his identity.  However, the 1900 and the earlier 1880 Federal censuses give us a clue.

According to the 1900 census, Orlando Ferguson was a resident of  Jackson, Fall River County, South Dakota, and had been born in November 1846 in Illinois.  His father was born in Virginia and his mother in North Carolina.  He was married about 1873 to an Illinois-born woman named Marguerite.  

The father of nine children, he appears to have moved to South Dakota sometime after the birth of his son William in Missouri in December 1881 and before the birth of his son D. T. in South Dakota in May of 1884.

In 1900, he identified himself as a “Doctor of Medicine.”

He must have studied really hard, because 20 years earlier, he can be found in Lamar Township, Barton County, Missouri, with his wife and his two oldest children, as a hotel keeper, which, as we all know, provides much of the necessary training to become a “Doctor of Medicine”, at least in some parts of these United States.

He likely died before 1910, because in that year, his widow was listed in the census as running a “bath and boarding house.”  (Income from the “doctor biz” can be notoriously unreliable, but nearly everyone needs a bath now and then.)

Ferguson was obviously a man of many talents. Hotel keeper, doctor, author, bathhouse proprietor, there was seemingly no end to his many endeavours.

Did I mention "Astronomer"?

In 1891, Ferguson published a 42 page document called “The Latest Theories of Astronomy: The Globe Theory of Earth Refuted.”

Then, a few years later, he began a monthly journal, which he no doubt intended to be his “magnum opus” and, if enough subscribers joined him, his meal-ticket to a comfortable retirement.

In the 1896 edition of “Miscellaneous Notes and Queries: A Monthly Magazine of Folk-Lore, Mathematics, Mystics, Arts, Scicnce [sic], Etc.” Vol XIV, published by S.C. and L.M. Gould of Manchester, N.H., the following announcement appeared:  

The Square World is the name of a new monthly venture published at Hot Springs, South Dakota, and edited by Orlando Ferguson. Its leading text, is: "And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth," found in the Apocalypse (vii, 1). Illustrated with a map of the land and water surface on a square plane. He quotes the following text under the caption of " Prophecy of the Street Cars ": "The chariots shall rage through the streets, they shall jostle one against another in the broad ways, they shall seem like torches, they shall run like lightning." Fifty cents a year.”

Orlando Ferguson didn’t have much success creating a following for his “flat, square earth theory” in the 1890s.  “The Square World” never seemed to catch on.

Unfortunately, considering the current state of scientific denialism in the United States today, he’d have a much better chance of gathering a larger following.  And maybe even a political constituency.

I’m looking forward to the political debates of 2012; chances are, there will be at least one candidate who, in addition to espousing the “square earth” idea, will insist that early humans kept dinosaurs as pets, just like they showed on the “Flintstones.”

I wonder which one it will be? 

Beuhler?  Beuhler?

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