A Guide To The Independent Thinkers
ATTENDING SAMUEL SHENTON’S FIRST GATHERING of flat earthists was British astronomer Patrick Moore, host of BBC’s The Sky at Night. Shenton had founded the International Flat Earth Research Society in 1956 as a direct descendant of Lady Elizabeth Blount’s Universal Zetetic Society. A president was immediately established in William Mills, relative of one of Lady Blount’s closest followers, Frederick Cook. The legacy of Blount and the flat earthists who associated with her and the paper which she edited—The Earth Is Not a Globe Review—formerly commenced in the living room of Mills Finsbury Park home, where every cushion of furniture was reportedly filled. The eminent Copernican astronomer later recounted leaving that meeting “in a mood of deep thought.”
Memories of that meeting had clearly not escape Moore, some thirteen years later, when he opened a monthly episode of One Pair of Eyes, titled, Can You Speak Venusian, to boast of the letters he’d received from “people of independent thought; people who weren’t shackled by the strings of convention.” To this he quickly added, “I believe, you know, they’re all nowadays too conventional and too regimented. We believe what we’re told and we believe as we are told.” Here-in lays the premise of his program. Moore wanted to examine the alternative views of individuals who were not shackled by conventional thinking—who were quite prepared to go out on a limb and think for themselves.
Within moments of the program, having already met with a group of rambunctious, snowball pelting school boys (they’d apparently slopped a round down his neck before the camera happened to catch the crime) to challenge them as to their own unquestioning belief in gravity, Moore kindly confessed: “There is a danger that we’re going to turn into regimented sheep if we accept too much—or have we already done it? And I very much fear that I’m one of these sheep…” One such letter, which he possessed in his keeping, originated from the gentleman whose meeting he had attended some thirteen years earlier. Shenton, he says, “believes the earth is shaped like a gramophone record, with the North Pole in the middle and the wall of ice all around the edge.”
Seated in the home of the world’s flat earthist spokesman, maps, illustrations, and diagrams spread out before them on his table, Shenton seems completely unconcerned that the episode in question was filmed in the wake of the Apollo 8 mission, the first crewed spacecraft to reportedly leave low earth orbit, reach the moon, circumnavigate it, and then return. That’s not to say that thirteen brutal years of the space race hasn’t taken its toll. If anything, he comes across to his viewers as a tired old man obstinately clinging to a failed position. When the International Flat Earth Research Society was conceived in William Mills’ living room, space travel itself had yet to be achieved, and such bold blanketed statements, that Scripture itself informed his beliefs, were (how do we say it?) less of a gamble. There was indeed a time when space travel was little more than a genre of science fiction. At that meeting in 56, Shenton himself quipped: “Would sailing around the Isle of Wright prove that it were spherical?” And yet, in as little as a year, the Russians were determined to change that.
Though ailing of health and short of breath, Shenton clearly isn’t shaken at the fact that it would also first air on the 10th of May 1969, only weeks before the Apollo 11 moon landing. When speaking of earth’s origin, the waters, Shenton insisted, “were dispelled from the earth, and the whole thing was covered by a heaved-up structure, Shamayim in the Hebrew—a heaved-up structure actually in water.”
Moore quickly asks: “What about the astronauts then, if they didn’t in fact go around the earth, what did they go around?”
The astronauts simply “fired off from Cape Canaveral,” Shenton replies, “and went on an egg-shaped orbit” around the plane of the earth.
“Keeping the same height all the time?” Moore asks.
“Absolutely, sir,” Shenton speaks with generosity and kindness, giving absolutely no hint as to the innumerable correspondences he’d received from misanthropists over the last decade and a half. Orbit is nothing more than carrying a rocket up to a certain height and then leveling off.
Like a gramophone record.