The Men Who Claimed to Own Outer Space

NASA/Getty Images
NASA/Getty Images

On July 20, 1969, after more than a decade of feverishly competing against the Russians, NASA ended the space race and pulled off one of the most incredible scientific achievements of all time: They put Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon, with Michael Collins attending from nearby.

Its one-time owner, A. Dean Lindsay, probably would have considered the feat trespassing.

In 1937, Lindsay turned up at a Pittsburgh Notary Public’s office with documents declaring that he owned “the property known as planets, islands-of-space or other matter, henceforth to be known as ‘A.D. Lindsay’s archapellago [sic].’” He omitted Earth from his claim, apparently reasoning that it belonged to everyone who called it home. And though he originally left Saturn and the moon for other enterprising intergalactic real estate moguls, Lindsay soon took those, too, submitting separate claims for each.

He sent his documents, and payment for officially recording his claims, to the clerk of the Superior Court in his hometown of Ocilla, Georgia. It's not clear what the clerk thought of the claims, but they were duly recorded on June 28, 1937.

Lindsay included “improvements, ways, waters, water courses, rights, liberties, privileges, hereditaments and appurtenances ... and the revisions and remainders, rents, issues, and profits thereof; and all the estate, right, title, interest, property, claim and demand whatsoever, in law, equity or otherwise, howsoever, of, in and to the same and every part thereof” of his lands, but he didn't claim the outer space surrounding the moon and other celestial bodies he claimed to own. Those areas were snapped up in 1948 by James T. Mangan, a self-help guru who declared all of outer space, minus the celestial bodies, the “Nation of Celestial Space,” or “Celestia.” He presented his “Charter of Celestia” to the Recorder of Deeds and Titles of Cook County, Illinois, who was initially flummoxed but eventually entered the charter into the record. Mangan even applied for membership in the United Nations, but was denied.

Mangan and Lindsay’s ownership claims were both thwarted when the Outer Space Treaty entered into legal force in 1967. The treaty declared that space is free for all nations to explore, and sovereign claims cannot be made.

Still, the treaty didn’t stop Dennis Hope from deeming himself the “omnipitant [sic] ruler of the lighted lunar surface” in 1980. He claimed—via a “Declaration of Ownership” sent to the U.S., the USSR, and the UN General Assembly—our moon, plus the other eight planets and their moons. Unlike Lindsay, who refused to sell even a square inch of his “land,” Hope’s sole stated intent is to cash in by selling parcels of his galactic property. As of 2013, he said he had sold 611 million acres on the moon, 325 million acres on Mars, and a combined 125 million acres on Venus, Io, and Mercury.

Hope says the 1967 Outer Space Treaty doesn’t apply to his case because it prohibits claims by nations, not individuals. But Tanja Masson-Zwaan, president of the International Institute of Space Law, told National Geographic in 2009 that the treaty prohibits claims by both nations and private citizens. “What [Hope] is doing does not give people buying pieces of paper the right to ownership of the moon,” she clarified.

The moon and the planets aren't the only celestial bodies that have been claimed. A 2015 law signed by President Obama attempted to carve out at least one area where individuals can claim rights in outer space: asteroids. According to the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, “any asteroid resources obtained in outer space are the property of the entity that obtained them.” However, other countries—citing the 1967 Outer Space Treaty—say those rights aren’t the United States’s to give.

All of this space appropriation would have been entirely unwelcome news to A. Dean Lindsay, who was thoroughly convinced that he had obtained sole ownership of all of it. “Can you believe it?” he wrote in a letter to a friend in the 1930s. “That I own the Moon and the Sun, the stars, the comets, meteors, asteroids—everything, everywhere beyond this world?”

The Truth Behind Italy's Abandoned 'Ghost Mansion'

YouTube/Atlas Obscura
YouTube/Atlas Obscura

The forests east of Lake Como, Italy, are home to a foreboding ruin. Some call it the Casa Delle Streghe (House of Witches), or the Red House, after the patches of rust-colored paint that still coat parts of the exterior. Its most common nickname, however, is the Ghost Mansion.

Since its construction in the 1850s, the mansion—officially known as the Villa De Vecchi—has reportedly been the site of a string of tragedies, including the murder of the family of the Italian count who built it, as well as the count's suicide. It's also said that everyone's favorite occultist, Aleister Crowley, visited in the 1920s, leading to a succession of satanic rituals and orgies. By the 1960s, the mansion was abandoned, and since then both nature and vandals have helped the house fall into dangerous decay. The only permanent residents are said to be a small army of ghosts, who especially love to play the mansion's piano at night—even though it's long since been smashed to bits.

The intrepid explorers of Atlas Obscura recently visited the mansion and interviewed Giuseppe Negri, whose grandfather and great-grandfather were gardeners there. See what he thinks of the legends, and the reality behind the mansion, in the video below.

Tennis: The Sport that Loves to Kill Royalty

 Rischgitz, Getty Images
Rischgitz, Getty Images

During medieval times, Roger Federer's killer backhand might have been considered, well, actually killer. The elegant and graceful game of tennis was responsible for so many royal deaths that it could make an executioner jealous.

Start with Louis X of France. One of the 14th century's most avid players of jeu de paume (an early, racquet-less form of tennis that involved hitting the ball with the palm of the hands), Louis famously constructed the world's first modern indoor tennis courts, allowing him to play his beloved sport year-round. In June 1316, Louis played a heated game and reportedly became extremely dehydrated. To cool down, the panting king glugged a giant urn of chilled wine … and promptly died.

The cause of Louis X's death—whether from alcohol poisoning, overheating, or some preexisting condition—is unknown. We do know, however, that the 26-year-old monarch left no male heirs (besides a posthumous infant son who died within the week), and when his brothers likewise failed to have boys, the Capetian dynasty ended, creating conditions that eventually led to the Hundred Years' War.

The next tennis-related fatality struck in 1437. Known for having a physique of "excessive corpulence," King James I of Scotland supposedly played the game to keep his bloating belly in check. Problem was, he kept losing tennis balls to a pesky sewer drain. (As a contemporary put it, "[T]he balls that he played with oft ran in at that fowle hole.") To fix the problem, James had the sewer sealed.

Three days later, a group of assassins crept into King James I's lodgings. Hearing them approach, James lifted a floorboard and plunged into the sewer, hoping to make his exit by crawling out the exterior pipes. Unfortunately, the escape was the same pipe he had sealed. James was trapped and thusly murdered.

Half a century later, the deadly sport struck again when an overexcited King Charles VIII of France met his maker after rushing through a poorly maintained castle in an effort to see a highly anticipated game of tennis. According to The Memoirs of Philip de Commines:

"[He] took his queen … by the hand, and led her out of her chamber to a place where she had never been before, to see them play at tennis in the castle-ditch … It was the nastiest place about the castle, broken down at the entrance, and everybody committed a nuisance [that is, peed] in it that would. The king was not a tall man, yet he knocked his head as he went in."

Hours later, the 27-year-old king collapsed and died.

The list of tennis-related demises goes on. In 1751, King George II's son Frederick, the Prince of Wales and heir apparent, died of a reported lung abscess. (Doctors at the time blamed a tennis or cricket ball that had earlier struck his chest.) And Queen Anne Boleyn was watching a tennis match in 1536 when she received orders to present herself to the Privy Council, which informed her of her ensuing execution.

As Boleyn was being beheaded, her husband, King Henry VIII, attended to other duties. As one version of the events goes, he was busy playing a leisurely game ... of tennis.

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