by Lois Schadewald

The Plane Truth by my brother Bob (Robert J. Schadewald) has been a work in progress since at least 1984, although I’m sure the idea of it dates to the 1970s.  It’s a work that is unfinished in places, perhaps more detailed than one would have thought possible in places, perfectly constructed in places, and all over the (flat) map in still other places.  Bob worked on The Plane Truth until the week he died in 2000.  Of all things, completing this book to his satisfaction was of the utmost importance to him.  I believe that the book remained unfinished because Bob felt that it never met his standards closely enough to be published.  Bob hovered over this book and wouldn’t allow it to come to fruition.  My brother was an incredibly talented writer, but in some ways, I think, he was never totally satisfied with anything he had written.  So he kept writing and rewriting this book.  The dull glow of this not-quite-finished hue is evident in places within this work, but also the eloquence and beauty of Bob’s finished writing shines in other places.

The Plane Truth is offered for what it is: an unfinished scholarly work on the history and background of flat-earth belief sprinkled through with the characters and colorful personalities of those involved.  “It’s a small, flat world” was a phrase Bob often used when hearing of some unlikely coincidence.  For Bob, flat-earth analogy could fit almost any situation.  When he discussed creationism (the precursor of intelligent design) he would explain the argumentation creationists used by comparing it to the argumentation Victorian, England, flat-earthers used.  (Spoiler alert: they’re the same.) When creationists promoted a Two-Model Theory (creation/evolution) bill to be taught in schools, Bob wrote a bill called A Balanced Treatment of Flat-Earth Science and Spherical-Earth Science Act.  The reaction of Charles Johnson (then president of the Flat Earth Society) can be found in Chapter 9: “Johnson and Johnson”. 

It’s hard to know how Bob would have felt now with so many references to flat earth in use.  Some examples include Thomas Friedman’s books, The World is Flat and Hot, Flat and Crowded; Flat Earth Productions (a digital visual effects company); Flat Earth Veggie Crisps; and, here in Minnesota, Flat Earth beer.  I know for certain that he would have loved that last one. 

My brother was a student of pseudoscience.  It fascinated Bob to try to understand how someone could so firmly believe in an idea that almost everyone else would consider an indicator of insanity or, at least, naiveté.  Bob studied not only flat-earth belief, but also creationism, perpetual motion, alternative geodesy (geocentricity, hollow earth, pole shift), Big Foot, the Loch Ness monster, and Tesla-mania, to name a few.  Of all the pseudosciences Bob studied, flat-earth belief was one of the first and always his favorite.  He studied flat-earth belief and history from about 1974.  He formed acquaintances with as many people as he could find who believed that the Earth is flat.  He travelled to England to research original materials of the British flat-earthers, and he corresponded with like-minded people all over the world in his quest to find out as much as he could about the development and fluctuations of flat-earth belief.  He was considered a world expert on the topic. 

Although belief in a flat earth dates to pre-biblical times, modern flat-earth belief got its start in Trowbridge, England, during an evening lecture on January 15, 1849.  The Bible, said the lecturer who called himself “Parallax,” teaches that the earth is flat.  Modern astronomy, he said, is based on mere theories.  Zetetic astronomy deals in facts.  This itinerant lecturer is the main subject of Chapter 1, “The Founding Father.” Zetetic astronomy is dealt with in further detail in Appendix B, “Additional Notes on Zetetic Astronomy.”

The Victorian flat-earthers managed to spread their belief to the far corners of the world.  Chapters 1 through 4 and 7 discuss the flat-earth movement in Victorian England from its inception in 1849 with Samuel Rowbotham, to its decline which began when Lady Elizabeth Anne Mould Blount left the flat-earth movement in 1923.  Chapters 5, 8, and 9 discuss the American flat-earthers, William Carpenter (who immigrated to America from England in 1879), Wilbur Glenn Voliva (who presided over a flat-earth theocracy in Zion, Illinois, in 1906), and Charles Johnson (president of the Flat Earth Society from 1972 to 2001), respectively.  Chapter 6, “Elsewhere Across the Plane,” discusses flat-earthers in Canada, South Africa, and New Zealand.  Chapter 6 is probably the most unfinished piece to be found in this work.  Chapter 9, “Johnson and Johnson,” was also unfinished, but has been made more complete by additions from myself and Bob Forrest.  It contains some duplicated material from articles written by Bob about Charles Johnson that can be found on the web. 

This ebook would have never been possible if it hadn’t been for Bob Forrest contacting my sister-in-law, Wendy, to ask permission to publish the first four chapters as an open source book.  As it turns out, my brother had sent these four chapters to Bob Forrest in Manchester in 1984.  Wendy contacted me to get my opinion of this, I thought it was a great idea and contacted Bob Forrest to let him know that I had the remaining chapters of the book in my possession.  So it was that we decided to publish the book in its entirety.  Bob Forrest’s friend, Michael Behrend, provided the expertise of converting the Word files that I had into ebook format.  Michael Behrend and Bob Forrest also added illustrations that were missing.  Both edited the chapters, correcting spelling errors, incorrect terminology, incorrect dates and so forth.  Their combined knowledge of flat-earth history was invaluable.  I had considered trying to publish The Plane Truth on my own, but I could have never fact checked it.  I don’t have that type of knowledge.  This book is vastly improved by the input of both Bob Forrest and Michael Behrend, and I know my brother would have been very grateful for the work they’ve done.  I am also very grateful for their work and so happy to see my brother’s favorite project completed and made available for anyone with similar interests. 

Bob left a list of people he wanted to acknowledge for their help with The Plane Truth.  I offer it here with no embellishment (except the few comments Bob left) and two additions of my own—Michael Behrend and Sue O’Donnell, for her help with editing.

  1. Manny Sillman
  2. Paul Nelson
  3. Bob Forrest
  4. Charles Johnson (once nominated me to Outstanding Young Men of America)
  5. SDA guys
  6. Washington people re DeFord
  7. Chuck Long (donated material)
  8. Martin Gardner (ditto)
  9. Ronald Numbers (ditto)
  10. Dennis Lien
  11. Duane T. Gish provided numerous insights into the psychology of flat-earthism.
  12. Mrs. H. I. Moran, City Librarian of the Durban (South Africa) Municipal Library.
  13. Frank Awbrey
  14. Mrs. Gail H. McFarlane, Glasgow University Library
  15. Robert C. McGregor, Glasgow District Libraries
  16. Geoffrey Davenport, Royal College of Physicians
  17. Catherine Boden, William Salt Library, Stafford, England

More of Bob’s writings can be found in the book Worlds of Their Own: A Brief History of Misguided Ideas: Creationism, Flat-Earthism, Energy Scams, and the Velikovsky Affair, a collection of Bob’s work that I published in 2008 after Bob’s death.

Lois Schadewald, July 2015