Though it reads like science fiction or an April Fool’s prank, this story was presented as news — and published on the front page of the Sunday New York Tribune in 1920.
Scientists, agreeing Martians are super-race, believe that planet may be signaling to us
Life on our distant neighbor is “grand, intense, formidable,” says M Perrier
Professor Lowell held that Martians were far advanced in inventions and science
by Arnold D Prince
If it should prove to be the case after all that those mysterious Marconi “messages” came from Mars or even Venus, the next problem of importance will be the kind of people who sent them. For, of course, if the earth is to have new neighbors with whom to exchange gossip across the back yard of the sidereal firmament, it will want to know something about them. It will want to know something of their habits, appearance, how they dress, act and possibly their views on interplanetary relations. All sorts of situations may arise wherein a mutual understanding of personal traits, characteristics and general disposition will aid in establishing and preserving amicable relations.
Signor Marconi, unfortunately, was not able to throw much light on the subject. Virtually all that came within the scope of his observation was that when prosecuting wireless experiments certain “signals occurred” with persistent regularity which could not be explained on the theory of casual interference. As these signals had been received “simultaneously at New York and London with identical intensity,” he admitted the possibility of their being attempts by the inhabitants of “other planets to communicate” with us.
Venus or Mars?
Subsequent discussion, in which scientists in Great Britain, France and the United States participated, disclosed an almost hopeless confusion of views on the reasonableness of this conclusion, but resulted in an agreement on one point at least, which was that if any attempts had been made to communicate at all, they must have originated from Mars or Venus, the only worlds outside our own upon which there is a possibility of human habitation.
What kind of people, then, inhabit these two planets? In seeking an answer to this question the inquirer is thrown back almost exclusively, of course, on the conclusions of the scientists who have made a study of the subject. No one, so far as known, is in a position to give first hand information. Nor is there anything specially helpful in such suggestions as emanated recently from one authority, who, when asked his opinion as to the population on Venus, replied with hopeful animation that they were “chorus girls.” Such jocularity is merely beclouding the issue and adding difficulties to a problem that is difficult enough as it is.
Among scientists who have won the right to speak with authority the foremost was the late Professor Percival Lowell, director of the observatory at Flagstaff, Arizona.
Professor Lowell was the brother of Abbott Lawrence Lowell, president of Harvard University. Before taking charge at Flagstaff, he had been attached to the observatory at Harvard and had conducted astronomical investigations in many parts of the world, including Japan, Tripoli, the Andes and other countries. He had delivered lectures on his findings before important scientific societies in Great Britain and the United States.
Not only was Professor Lowell convinced that Mars was inhabited, but he believed the people had a much higher degree of intelligence than those on earth. He dwelt particularly on their inventive genius.
“Quite possibly,” wrote Professor Lowell in his book, “the Martian folk are possessed of inventions of which we have not dreamed, and with them electrophones and kinetoscopes are things of a bygone past, preserved with veneration in museums as relics of the clumsy contrivances of the simple childhood of the race.
“Certainly, what we see hints at the existence of beings who are in advance of, not behind, us in the journey of life.
“Startling as the outcome of these observations may appear at first, in truth there is nothing startling about it whatever. Such possibility has been quite on the cards ever since the existence of Mars itself was recognized by the Chaldean shepherds, or whoever the still more primitive astronomers may have been. Its strangeness is a purely subjective phenomenon, arising from the instinctive reluctance of mind to admit the possibility of peers. Such would be comic were it not the inevitable consequence of the constitution of the universe. To be shy of anything resembling himself is part and parcel of man’s own individuality.
Like the savage, who fears nothing so much as a strange man; like Crusoe, who grows pale at the sight of footprints not his own, the civilized thinker turns from the thought of mind other than he himself knows.”
The peculiar relevancy of this view to the discussion resulting from Signor Marconi’s announcement will strike anyone who reads Professor Lowell’s statement. His brother scientists were indeed “shy,” as he had predicted, of the deductions reached by him, but they at least contained the views of the Flagstaff astronomer as to the kind of people, who, if we accept the pleasing possibility suggested by Signor Marconi, are trying to “strike up a speaking acquaintance” with us. Not only are they masters in the knowledge of electricity, but they have already relegated to the museum of antiquities many of the discoveries in that field which we, here on earth, look upon as last minute achievements in scientific effort.
Professor Lowell, while commenting strongly on the intellectual attainments of the Martians, made little or no reference to the actual appearance of the folk living on that distant planet. True, he did say in another part of his book that they probably were not interested in party politics, and that, judging from their canals, they were favored by a “comprehensiveness” of mind much more embracive than that “which presided over the various departments of our own public works” in the United States, but as politicians look much like other persons very little could be gained from that.