Selected correspondence received by Professor Hans Dorfenheimer during the “Martian Troubles” (1908-1909), compiled by Gary Cuba
Illustration by Justine McGreevy
Rev. Richard Gauss
Denver, Colorado, September 3, 1908
Professor Doctor Hans Dorfenheimer, Göttingen, Germany
Dear Prof. Dorfenheimer,
In reply to your recent letter, I’m very sorry that I cannot offer any substantial help with respect to your inquiry. If I understood it correctly, you are exploring a possible connection between the unusual seismological & meteorological events that affected Russian Siberia in June of this year, and a queer notion once proposed by my grandfather, Carl Friedrich Gauss, in or about 1820.
Sadly, my father, Eugene Gauss, did not correspond with his father Carl, and consequently, nothing of interest passed to me after Eugene’s death. Or, I should say, nothing passed but his own reflective memories of my grandfather.
Indeed, notwithstanding that Carl Friedrich Gauss was–and is still–universally regarded as the most brilliant polymath of his era, Eugene thought him to be a thoroughly despicable, crass, self-serving and uncompassionate person. That is why my father emigrated to America at the age of nineteen, in 1830. So far as I know, he never contacted my grandfather following his relocation to this country.
As to your specific question of whether Carl Gauss had ever visited Russia to discuss his idea of creating, by means of selective cutting and planting, a Pythagorean symbol composed of “enormous swaths of trees” in Siberia, therewith to communicate our sentient existence to “people on nearby planets”: I cannot answer that, lacking as I do any definite knowledge of it. But given the fact of his great reputation within international scholastic circles at the time, I am quite sure Prof. Gauss could have easily gained an audience with the Russian tsar–or entrance to the highest court of any European ruler of the era, for that matter.
But I emphasize that this is sheer speculation on my part. If it happened at all, I suspect it could only have been during the tsarist reign of Alexander I, who (if I have my history correct) was fairly liberal and worldly in matters of this nature. I think it much less likely to have occurred after 1825, under the rule of Alexander’s more insular successor, Nicholas I.
If I may suggest it–and if you have not already done so–you should consider contacting the children of my deceased uncle William (Wilhelm) Gauss, also living in America. William maintained good relations with Grandfather Gauss, and I know they corresponded regularly. Perhaps one of his offspring can provide you with more concrete answers in the form of copies of written documents. I’ve enclosed a list of their names and current addresses with this letter.
Yours Very Respectfully,
Rev. Richard Gauss
P.S. — Being mildly interested in science & technology, I have read a few translated Russian newspaper articles covering the Siberian event in question, as they have filtered their way into the Western press. I remember in particular that these included eyewitness accounts from the indigenous natives living in Karelinski village, near to the site of the disturbance, who claimed to have seen a “bluish-white heavenly body, which for 10 minutes moved downwards” prior to the huge explosion. They described the body as a “pipe,” or cylinder-shaped. It all seemed very odd to me.
Wm. S. Gauss, Jr.
St. Louis, Missouri, December 15, 1908
Professor Doctor Hans Dorfenheimer, Cambridge, England
How dare you seek to impugn the reputation of my grandfather, the great Carl Friedrich Gauss! Shame on you, sir; shame on you for suggesting that he in any way instigated the current problems in Europe!
My grandfather was a loving man, a doting father, a gentle soul, generous to a fault, and a true friend of all humanity. If you could but read the many intimate letters that he wrote to my father, William Sr.–which are now in my possession–this would become plainly obvious.
However, copies of these letters will not be forthcoming, as I am convinced you will twist and distort them to serve your own questionable ends. Yes, some of them may be pertinent to your inquiry–specifically, those letters relating to my grandfather’s accounts of his activities between 1820-1825. But I will not give you the pleasure of learning their finer content.
I put it to you, sir: Is it not a much more likely hypothesis that the recent proliferation of gas and electrical lighting used across the globe was the thing that attracted the attention of these “Martians,” whose nefarious engines of destruction now strut unimpeded across the Eurasian landmass? I would certainly think so.
In any event, while I am sorry for your recent personal travails and your forced relocation from your homeland, I remain convinced that this is a European problem, and, in consequence of that, its solution lies rightfully in European hands. You have cannons and armies of your own. America need not become involved in the morass.
The ocean is wide and deep, sir, and we do not have time to intervene with your issues. We have better business to attend to.
William Gauss, Jr
Miss Wilhemina Gauss
Sacramento, Calif., February 4, 1909
Professor Doctor Hans Dorfenheimer, New York
My Dearest Professor Dorfenheimer,
Oh! how my heart ached when I read your recent post. You poor, poor man, to have suffered and lost so much. I am overjoyed that you have managed to reach America in the midst of the calamity that now befalls the rest of the world. Yet I worry that our safety is not secure, that the machinations of our celestial enemy are focused on finding a way to overcome the American continent at this very moment.
I cannot express how sorry I am that my brother William was not responsive to your inquiry. He is a wealthy businessman, conservative in his politics–and I always knew him to be somewhat lacking in basic human compassion. God forgive me for saying this of my own flesh and blood, but it is nothing but the truth.
Yet I am glad to hear that my cousin Richard was more sympathetic to your cause. He is a good man, a kind, God-fearing and discerning individual.
My brother William holds physical claim to those of grandfather’s letters which passed down from our father, so I am unable to provide you with any tangible documentation to support your hypothesis. However, I once read each and every one of those letters, and I remember their contents very well. Even though old age may rattle my body to its bones, my mind remains clear as a crystal goblet.
While it seems a moot point at this horrendous juncture in our world’s history, I can tell you, unequivocally, that my grandfather indeed visited Russia on several occasions– specifically, in 1821, 1823 and 1824. More to the point, as related in his correspondence, he did so in conjunction with his scheme to establish a “Pythagorean message” in Siberia, just as you surmised in your letter. While he knew he would likely not live to see the fruits of his idea ripen, those seeds were nevertheless sown, literally.
It is not surprising to me that no other records of this project can be found. One need only consider the disruptive history of Russia over most of the last century to explain part of it. On my grandfather’s side, he was always known to be reluctant to publish anything before it reached a state of full intellectual maturity.
Here is what I believe, based on the facts as I know them: That my grandfather, Carl Friedrich Gauss, did indeed persuade Tsar Alexander the First to craft a gargantuan arboreal symbol on the face of the Earth so as to communicate our human intelligence to the universe at large; that this symbol, once it achieved its full-grown glory, was noticed at length by the people on Mars; and that those people, living as they are outside of God’s influence, found the notion of our separate existence so obscene, so abhorrent, that they could think of no other recourse but to attack and destroy us. I presume it took them a number of years to develop the means to do this.
I’m quite sure Tsar Alexander is now rolling in his grave, since he surely must have believed such extraterrestrial people, if they existed, would pay honor to the Russian Empire as the highest exemplar of the human species–being that the geographic locus of that incredible invitation lay within his borders. Instead, his was the first country to be destroyed by the invaders!
I further believe the Martians blew up the Siberian symbol with some manner of powerful explosive as they steered their massive warship through our Earth’s aether. That would account for the registration on your various & sundry scientific instruments (whose methods of operation will, I fear, forever remain arcane to me). I think these off-world entities did that out of sheer spite, as a means of announcing their presence and malicious intent.
But I am a silly goose, much given to flights of fancy. I read too many romantic fantasies. In truth, I am nothing but an elderly spinster lady who knows nothing of the wider world or of worlds outside this one; nor do I know anything of science or technology. I only know that I am very afraid for all of us.
Please sir, I invite you–no, I implore you: Make your way to Sacramento where you will find succor while you repair your physical and intellectual health. Call it woman’s intuition, but I do not trust the safety of the East Coast.
With Great Fondness and Sympathy,
Weenah (Wilhemina) Gauss
Rev. Richard Gauss
Denver, Colorado, March 28, 1909
Professor Doctor Hans Dorfenheimer, Sacramento, California
(c/o Wilhelmina Gauss)
Dear Prof. Dorfenheimer (and my favorite cousin Weenah),
I was happy to receive Weenah’s telegram concerning your safe arrival in Sacramento. I’m sure my cousin is taking good care of you! I can only advise you to lie back and enjoy it while you can.
Sadly, things remain ominous on the Eastern front–as I assume both of you already know from your own newspapers. Everything east of the Mississippi now appears to be under Martian control. St. Louis lies in ruins, and I fear for the fate of William and his family.
We’ve been getting quite a massive influx of refugees here in Denver. They are a ragged lot, bone-tired, starving, utterly pathetic individuals. I and my fellow citizens have opened up our homes and hearts to help accommodate them until other arrangements can be made. Unfortunately, it’s hard to see what those precise arrangements would be, at this tumultuous juncture.
We hear late reports of Martian forays into Kansas, although the advance of the enemy’s main front appears to have halted at the Mississippi. I presume this is only a temporary cessation of hostilities, a short pause in their forward drive taken for the purpose of “consolidating their gains” in the East.
Of course, this is just a delicate euphemism for the Martians’ actual modus operandi, which is to seek out and annihilate all human life. I expect I’ll be forced to move westward soon enough, as just another scuttling refugee. Do you have a spare corner in which I may rest my weary head, Weenah?
We are all getting much too old for this.
Tell me, Professor, now that we know with reasonable certitude what brought the Martians here, have you conceived of an equally persuasive symbol to make them go away?
Forgive me my sarcasm, please. I haven’t gotten much sleep lately.
Until we can meet again under better circumstances–whether it be in this world or in the next, more sublime one–I give you both my most heartfelt regards,
Vancouver, BC, Canada, April 15, 1909
Prof. Dr. Hans Dorfenheimer, Sacramento, California
Dr. Hans D.:
Forgive the haste with which I compose this note, as I am very busy at the moment. I learned of your queer hypothesis regarding the genesis of the recent Martian visitation from a mutual friend, Prof. Larsson, late of Stockholm, who is presently residing–I should say “hunkering,” as are we all–in Duluth, Minnesota.
I must tell you that I chuckled heartily when I heard your theory–but warmly so, I assure you. At last, someone blames a person other than me for the awful circumstances we now endure! For it is a fact that many have pointed to my experiments in high-energy signal transmission, which I conducted between 1902-1906 at Wycliffe, New York, as instigating the Martian attack–and which, to their minds, formed sufficient grounds to lynch me from the nearest lamppost. That is in large part the reason for my recent relocation to Canada.
In fact, I have been convinced of the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial life since 1899, fully ten years ago. I drew this conclusion from radio signals I received unexpectedly while experimenting with long-distance wireless telegraphy and power transmission at my laboratory, then located in Colorado Springs. I knew from the direction of their source that the signals were not of Earthly origin, but rather came from a place external to our home globe.
No one believed me then, but no matter. It was nothing but another dreary page in an equally dreary book already filled with the professional slights and undeserved bad luck that characterize the greater part of my career.
Unfortunately, while I now slave feverishly to complete an electrical weapon that can be used against the foul Martian invaders, the work would have come much easier if I’d received the financial recompense that my prior inventions and ideas deserved. Most of the fruits of my many valuable inspirations were stolen, or reneged upon, or sucked away by those several individuals who have unconscionably taken my ideas and practical groundwork as their own. (As merely one example, I can only hope the bones of that Dago bastard Guglielmo Marconi now lie in a charred heap on unconsecrated ground!)
I hesitate to ask this of a colleague, but do you have access to any funds you can send my way, to help further my efforts here in Vancouver? Anything at all would be greatly appreciated. (I currently am in demand of large amounts of high-purity copper wire–extremely large amounts of it, in fact.) Consider it a down payment on our survival as a species–something I can promise to deliver if and when I ever gain the capital means to complete this very complex, advanced machine of mine!
Prof. Jason Wagner
Los Angeles, Calif., April 30, 1909
Prof. Dr. Hans Dorfenheimer, Sacramento, California
My Dear Prof. Dorfenheimer,
I read your recent letter with great interest. Its background seemed incredible to me, but I am forced to take it as truth, owing to your very sagacious and persistent historical detection efforts. Kudos to you for that!
As you properly pointed out, an image of the Pythagorean design you described–namely, a right triangle with squares extending from each side–would of course be “incorrect” if rendered on a spherical surface. For that matter, it would be just as incorrect if rendered on a negatively curved (e.g., a saddle-shaped) surface. The triangle’s angles would not total 180 degrees, and the squares would not be “true.” In either situation, the areas of the sides’ squares, whose surfaces would be either geodesic or hyperbolic according to the case, would not tally up correctly to yield the Pythagorean equivalency.
Further, we must assume that Prof. Gauss knew this to be true. Although the earliest publications relating to non-Euclidian geometry are normally credited to Lobachevsky in 1829, and to Bolyai’s independent work just a few years later, Gauss claimed to have explored these mathematical spaces a number of years prior. Unfortunately, he did not deign to publish anything of his earlier work in this area.
As to your speculations about how this “error” may have played out in the minds of our Martian enemy, I’m afraid you’re on your own, there. While I admit to reading the “scientifical fictions” of Mssrs. Verne and Wells for diversion and pleasure, I have a hard time relating such wild tales to happenings in the real world–including even its crueler and more unusual vagaries like the one that now impinges upon all of us.
Yes, I suppose the Martians could possess an odd enough mentality that they construed the mathematical error as anathema, something that must needs be extinguished from the universe quickly and without remorse, at whatever cost.
I can even add my own speculation here, that Gauss’s original hope was for his intentional error to provide a greater inducement to off-world people to visit, so that they might offer their advanced knowledge to help “correct” our apparent failings in a peaceful and magnanimous manner–and in the process of doing so, to provide additional benefits of a wondrously advanced nature to our Earthbound race.
But these suppositions are all too tenuous; I cannot force myself to assign them as much as an ounce of credibility. Moreover, even if either were to be true, I hardly see what practical value it can have for us at this late stage of our demise.
I wish you well, sir, and I hope against hope that we both live long enough to dwell at length upon these notions in person someday, in calm, retrospective fashion over a glass of warm brandy.
Very Truly Yours,
P.S. — I’ve taken the liberty of forwarding your letter to Dr. Sigmund Freud, late of Vienna, now the new head of our Dept. of Behavioral Psychology. He may have something further to add on the subject.
Rev. Richard Gauss
Denver, Colorado, July 7, 1909
Prof. and Mrs. Hans Dorfenheimer, Sacramento, Calif.
Dear Hans and Weenah,
So very much has happened over the last few weeks, I hardly know where to begin!
But surely, the first order of business is to congratulate the two of you on your recent marriage. My only sorrow is that I could not have been there to perform the rites myself. I admit to being perplexed about one thing though, Weenah: Why did it take you seventy-five years to find the right man?!
I jest, of course. I trust you’ll forgive me my levity; recent events have made me somewhat giddy. Seriously, I am overjoyed that Providence worked to bring you both together at long last in order to solve Nature’s most sublime and sweetest mystery, that of Love.
And more solutions have come in the wake of your union. Following your suggestion, Professor, the Marconi radio wave transmitter we erected on the summit of Pike’s Peak went into energized operation in mid-June, beaming a continuous, sequential series of non-repetitive random number pulses across the High Plains region, powerful enough to cover the entire Martian front and resonate within any electrical apparatuses that would have controlled the enemy’s war engines and their means of communication.
As you suspected–and for reasons we are likely never to fully understand–the Martians were indeed mortally afraid of any manifestation of irrational, irresolvable mathematics. And as your colleague Dr. Freud in Los Angeles correctly observed, any sufficiently powerful fear, if not otherwise controlled, must inevitably lead to reactive obsession, neurosis, and after that, psychosis and eventual dissolution.
Such was the case with this peculiar Martian race. They simply could not withstand being inundated with numerical data that had no basis for solution, no rhyme or reason to it–they could only interpret the ever-expanding number set as a “mathematical error” of the highest order. Ultimately, the stark terror of it drove them totally, irrevocably insane.
We are receiving early reports from our eastern patrols, returning with news of toppled, inert Martian machines strewn across the wide prairies. Inside them lay the dead and rotting corpses of the Martians themselves, their bloated octopoidal forms horrific to behold. There is evidence aplenty to show that they took their own lives.
However unlikely it may be that they possessed divine souls, I still pray for them; I hope that our Lord, whose unbounded mercy and grace must surely extend throughout the Infinite Universe, will forgive them and offer them some manner of final peace.
I also hope, as we put our world back together again in the coming years, that we can conquer our own innate fears and compulsions–the darker parts dwelling within each of us, which have led us to make so many similar, disastrous mistakes throughout our own planetary history.
But this should be a day of rejoicing! Weenah, you will undoubtedly have your hands full dealing with the accolades, the ceremonies, the relentless press of worshipful citizens as they do rightful honor to the greatest hero on Earth: your husband, Professor Doctor Hans Dorfenheimer. Huzzah!
I will visit you in Sacramento as soon as local matters settle down a bit here. In the meantime, may we all pause to thank God for preserving us through the action of His most blessed gift: our human intellect, and the unbridled creative capacity that abides within.
With Love, Respect, and Grateful Appreciation,
Few among us today fail to pay continuing homage to the memory of Professor Doctor Hans Dorfenheimer for his key role in overcoming the devastating 1908-9 Martian invasion, which came so very close to exterminating all human life on Earth. Born in Bonn, Germany in 1851, he became a respected Professor of Science History at the University of Göttingen, where he studied and taught until his forced emigration to the United States in early 1909. He married Wilhemina Gauss later that year in Sacramento, California, and resided there happily until his death in 1933. While he left no biological heirs, no man could ever claim to have had more friends than he.
Gary Cuba’s fiction has appeared in nearly fifty magazines and anthologies to date. He lives in South Carolina with his wife. For links to some of his other work, visit his website at http://www.thefoggiestnotion.com. “Gauss’s Invitation” was originally published in War of the Worlds: Frontlines, ed. by J. Schnarr (Northern Frights Publishing, 2010).
Justine McGreevy is a slowly recovering perfectionist, writer, and artist. She creates realities to make our own seem slightly less terrifying. Her work can be viewed at http://www.behance.net/Fickle_Muse and you can follow her on Twitter @Fickle_Muse.
(Author’s note: Carl Friedrich Gauss’s 1820 proposal to create a huge arboreal Pythagorean diagram in Siberia as a means of communicating with extraterrestrial beings is factual.)