A Note on the Flat Earth Lecture

To view the lecture, click here.

This typewritten copy of a newspaper article was sent to me many years ago by my good friend Bob Schadewald, who, alas, died at the early age of 57 in March 2000. Bob was the expert on the history of the Flat Earth movement, and though his magnum opus on the subject, The Plane Truth: a History of the Flat Earth Movement (of which I am the proud owner of a partial draft), was never published (*), a book of his studies was published by his family after his death – Worlds of Their Own, subtitled “A Brief History of Misguided Ideas, Creationism, Flat-Earthism, Energy Scams and the Velikovsky Affair.” It was published in 2008. [Bob was a great opponent of Creationism; very knowledgeable about perpetual motion machines; and conducted the last interview with Immanuel Velikovsky just before his (Velikovsky’s) death in November 1979.]

Bob had the rare (?) distinction of being thrown out of Charles K. Johnson’s (American) Flat Earth Society for his “spherical tendencies” and his “inability to face the plane truth.” I myself was a member of this august society, though I had to join it under a false name on account of my known association with Bob. (My false name was Paul Drysdale Pascoe – the initials, I recall, coming from my brother’s PDP8 computer, and the Drysdale, I think, from Mr Drysdale in the Beverley Hillbillies!) With my membership came a huge flat-earth map and copies of the society’s journal, Flat Earth News, which ran with some wonderful headlines like, “The Sun does not set”, “Water is flat – Earth is flat”, “Sun is a light 32 miles across” and “Galileo was a liar.”

My membership certificate and the flat-earth map are reproduced here.

Eventually I too was thrown out of the society – or, to be more accurate, quietly dropped from its membership list. Following a bright idea of one of my students, I had invented a fictitious Admiral Goodwin, and I had told Johnson that the old Admiral, a very experienced sailor, had pointed out to me that if the flat-earth map were correct, then the Tropic of Capricorn would be much longer than the Tropic of Cancer. Since every old salt knows they are the same length, the Earth can’t be flat. Johnson wrote back to me to say that Admiral Goodwin was “a goddam liar” and that my subscription had ‘lapsed’. Though he stopped short of expelling me, I got the distinct impression that I was no longer welcome, and that it would be a waste of time trying to renew my subscription. And that, as they say, was that.

Johnson died in 2001, at the age of 76, his eccentricities being well enough known to merit an obituary in the New York Times on March 25th of that year.

But getting back to the typescript of the flat-earth lecture reproduced here, I was eventually able to confirm that, as Bob suspected, the account was from the Hampshire Telegraph & Sussex Chronicle for Saturday March 28th 1896. It makes for delightful reading, and it really makes one suspect that folk went along to such lectures for a bit of light entertainment in the days before cinema and TV. (I suspect that many a Victorian evangelical meeting was attended by many for much the same reason.)

As regards the queries Bob raised in the footnotes on the second page of his typescript: a develene was a type of whistle; Homocea was an ointment advertised as "a wonderful remedy" for all skin irritations, cuts, chilblains and even piles, its advertising slogan being "Homocea touches the spot"; and a lob-taw was a very large marble, which, being spherical, made a handy model Sun!

The history of the Flat Earth movement is covered in Chapter 2 of my book with Patrick Moore, More Things in Heaven and Earth (see the "Velikovsky and the Patrick Moore book" section of the home page.) Bob Schadewald, of course, was a great help in writing that chapter.

(*) Note

Since the above account was written, a virtually complete, though in places clearly unfinished, edition of The Plane Truth has been published as an ebook by Michael Behrend. This was possible because Bob Schadewald’s sister, Lois, turned out to have a more complete draft than the copy given to me by Bob in 1984. The book, together with a Preface by Lois Schadewald, can now be downloaded from Michael's website, or read online, at: