Beck & Beck Attorneys October 2019

PRESIDENT ADAMS’ JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH Ambassador to the Mole People

Today, some of the most fantastic discoveries are being made in the far reaches of space, but there was a time when people were more interested in what was going on beneath their feet. In the early 1820s, a United States army officer named John Cleves Symmes Jr. traveled the country teaching audiences about the Hollow Earth Theory. Symmes and some others at the time believed the Earth was made up of several solid spheres, one inside of another. They also believed each of these subterranean worlds was habitable and full of life. This is

the national observatory, and secured funding for the Smithsonian Institution. It’s possible Adams’ interest in Symmes’ trip to the North Pole was less about the Hollow Earth Theory and meeting the mole people than his larger interest in learning more about such a remote part of the world. However, Adams’ reputation as a naturalist didn’t protect him from scrutiny.

Even in the early 1800s, the Hollow Earth Theory was like the Flat Earth Theory today; there were a couple avid supporters, but most people

where the myth of the mole people originated. Symmes wanted to lead an expedition to the North Pole, where he believed he would find an entrance to the center of the Earth. He went to Congress and lobbied for money to fund his expedition. Congress shot him down, but Symmes found an ally in an unlikely place: President John Quincy Adams. John Quincy Adams was the sixth president of the United States and son of the second president and founding father, John Adams. He traveled the world with his father, graduated from Harvard with honors, helped create

knew it was ridiculous. Having a sitting U.S. president greenlight the expedition was shocking. However, you didn’t learn about Symmes’ expedition in your history class for a reason. Adams wasn’t a popular president, and not just because he might have wanted to meet the mole people. He only served one term. By the time the expedition started to get off the ground, Andrew Jackson had been elected, and he quickly killed the project. In 1936, Congress would approve funding for an expedition to the South Pole, though this expedition focused on exploring the surface of the Earth, not what is underneath it.

Halloween Decorations or Fighting Words? A GRAVE LEGAL MATTER

We’ve all played a harmless trick or two, but sometimes, Halloween shenanigans get out of hand. They can lead to hurt feelings, outraged neighbors, and, in the case of Purtell v. Mason, a lawsuit. In the days leading up to Halloween, all was not quiet in the village of Bloomingdale. Previously parked in a storage unit, Jeff and Vicki Purtell’s 38-foot RV was now parked in front of their house. In protest, neighbors petitioned to town officials, wanting an ordinance put in place to prohibit RV parking on residential property. While the ordinance was under consideration, Jeff Purtell took matters into his own hands. He erected six wooden tombstones in his front yard. They seemed to be innocuous Halloween decorations, but these

tombstones displayed a special message for the neighbors. Each headstone was inscribed with a sarcastic message and house number, implying the occupants’ death dates. These messages soon caught the neighbors’ attention.

“Bette wasn’t ready, but here she lies, ever since that night she died. Twelve feet deep in this trench, still wasn’t deep enough for that stench! 1690.”

Insulted and a little afraid, Purtell’s neighbors called the police to have the headstones removed. After a couple of visits, Officer Bruce Mason arrived and threatened to arrest Purtell if he didn’t take the tombstones down. Purtell obliged, but the matter wasn’t put to rest. The Verdict Purtell sued Officer Mason on the grounds of violating his rights to free speech, and the case made it all the way to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Judge Sykes ruled that the tombstones did not constitute fighting words and were protected under the First Amendment. However, she also ruled that Officer Mason was entitled to qualified immunity, as any reasonable officer would act the same under the circumstances. The bigger question might be how this case made it all the way to the U.S. Court of Appeals. As Judge Sykes wrote in her opinion, “Lawsuits like this one cast the legal profession in a bad light and contribute to the impression that Americans are an overlawyered and excessively litigious people.”

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