The Mapparium at Mary Baker Eddy Library in Boston, Massachusetts, is a huge, 30 foot tall globe of bronze and glass that has no parallel anywhere else on earth, not because of its size —there are much larger globes elsewhere— but because of the way the map of the world is presented.
At the Mapparium, the earth’s surface has been turned inside-out, or rather outside-in. Viewers walk into the glass globe via an elevated bridge, that goes right through the globe, and crane their necks to see North America and Europe. The map of the world has been projected on the inside surface of the globe and illuminated by bright lights placed outside. Because the map projection is on the inside concave surface of the sphere rather than on the outside, every part of the globe faces the observer making it possible to view the entire planet from pole to pole with non of the distortion in area and distance that occurs on a regular globe or a on a flat map.
The world you thought you knew suddenly looks unfamiliar. Africa becomes a huge hulking mass and Greenland is nowhere as close in size as we take it to be. Places that appear far apart on a regular map now looks much closer, and flights that take you over places you thought were out of the way now suddenly makes sense.
An unintentional by-product of the Mapparium’s spherical structure is its great acoustic. A whisper at one end of the globe is heard loud and clear at the other.
The Mapparium is the brainchild of Boston architect Chester Lindsay Churchill, who was commissioned to build the headquarters of the Christian Science Publishing Society founded by Mary Baker Eddy in 1908. Churchill had visited the New York Daily News office in the early 1930s and was impressed by the 12-foot-diameter solid globe that rotated on its axis in the center of the lobby. Churchill suggested a similar but significantly larger attraction for the Publishing Society’s headquarters. He proposed that the Mapparium would symbolize the international character and “world-consciousness” of the Publishing Society’s activities
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The Mapparium took three years to design and build. When it was finally opened in 1935, it became an instant hit attracting more than 50,000 visitors in the first four months. Originally, Churchill designed the glass panels to be replaceable so that the map could be updated as the political boundaries of the world changed. But the cost of redoing the entire map deterred the society every time the idea was proposed. Eventually, they decided that the historical value of the Mapparium was too great and should never be changed. The political map of the Mapparium is thus frozen at 1934.
This feature originally appeared in Amusing Planet.