Dr. Know: Hollow Earth, Stars of David, and Demolished Covington

The good doctor explores troubling issues, including questionable scientific theories, the meanings of a six-pointed star, and what the IRS Center replaced.

The movie Godzilla vs. Kong includes a trip to “Hollow Earth.” I think a past article of yours mentioned someone from Cincinnati who promoted that idea. He gave lectures in the 1800s insisting our planet is hollow. Please remind me of this “brilliant” scientist. —YOU HAD ME AT HOLLOW

Illustration by Lars Leetaru

Since we’re entering the season of summer reruns, and since Godzilla vs. Kong reruns every possible monster-movie cliché, the Doctor shall indulge your request to re-summarize Cincinnati’s hollow-headed hollow-earth advocate.

John Cleves Symmes Jr. was most notable for the things he was not. He was not the man for whom Symmes Township is named, nor was he even that man’s son—just his nephew. He was not from Cincinnati but New Jersey, and lived in these parts only in Newport and Hamilton. But Mr. Symmes was most accomplished, by far, at not being a scientist. He printed circulars espousing his theory of Earth having a hollow center accessible at both poles and received wide recognition from the scientific community, mostly in the form of laughter.

Symmes has now added one more “not” to his biography: not receiving credit for the dubious scientific un-fire audience booster, “based on actual events,” and made their story so much more believable.

On Main Street in Newtown is the Newtown Feed and Supply store. I’m curious about the large built-in Star of David at the second-floor window. Their website doesn’t explain the star, it just says the building is a former Odd Fellows lodge. That just confuses me even more. —FUNNY, IT LOOKS JEWISH

As you point out, the six-pointed star—the hexagram—is today assumed by most people to mean the Star of David (insert joke about Jewish lawyer defending trademark). But that geometric symbol appears throughout human history and all over the world (insert joke about Jews wandering for 40 years, not asking directions).

In addition to being a religious symbol for Hindus and pre-Islamic Arabs (insert “oy vey”), the star was once regularly displayed in Medieval Europe as a protection against fire and then as a symbol for a saloon or brewery. In fact, you’ll find that same star at Cincinnati’s old Clyffside Brewery at 244 W. McMicken Ave. (again with the directions).

Newtown Feed and Supply’s charming building was constructed in 1900 as a lodge for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. Through the centuries, the Odd Fellows have gone through many schisms and symbols. Sadly, the Doctor must report that he has failed to find a direct link between the Newtown building’s star and any other Odd Fellows symbology (insert joke about just not studying hard enough and disappointing your mother). He’ll keep trying.

As Covington’s old IRS Center finally comes down, everyone is predicting what will go there next. But I’m curious about what was there before. Countless people must have been thrown out of their homes and businesses. Can you tell us who they were and what happened to them? —IMMINENT DOMAIN

You are pulling on a scab. In 1964, those 23 acres in Covington included companies that were not, to put it mildly, environmentally enlightened. No eyebrows shot up when the new IRS facility was plunked directly atop properties that made atomic radiation detectors, X-ray equipment, carbon paper, and other materials that were far from gluten-free. Not to mention the underground gas station tanks and generous quantities of asbestos. Everybody cares about these thorny issues now; they are currently being addressed most prudently and expensively.

Then there were the neighborhood’s homeowners, mom-and-pop shops, and churches. Let’s guess what happened to them. Just snap your fingers, say the magic words, urban renewal, and suddenly they are all “slums!” Most people went quietly, accepting government offers, while some pushed back and won more money. At least a few of those former Covington residents must still be living nearby; they probably can’t wait to hear the promises being made now, compare them with what ultimately gets built, and laugh.

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