The Magnet 21: Dictator of the Vacuum of Space

In 1948 James T. Mangan declared the entire universe to be a country under his protection

Anyone can start their own micronation. The hard part is getting the snobbish macronations to accept you into their club. Wikipedia has a list of about 90 micronations from the past and present. Carla and I even visited one of them — Christiania, a micronation established in 1971 on abandoned military barracks in Denmark. We spent a summer afternoon there in the late 1980s. We ate in a cafe, watched naked carpenters remodel a building, interviewed a teenager who worked in the post office, and turned down a couple of aggressive hashish and psychedelic mushroom dealers in the community marketplace. Christiania is still around, but after going through some rough patches with murderous biker gangs running things, it’s a lot less anarchistic now. Even with a population of 1,000 residents and 50 years of history behind it, Christiania hasn’t achieved official nation status, but I don’t think any of its residents really care what the United Nations thinks of it.

On the other hand, the founder of the Nation of Celestial Space (aka Celestia) wanted nothing more than to have the United Nations recognize his micronation. James Thomas Mangan, a 52-year-old Chicago publicist, self-help author, and industrial designer founded the Nation of Celestial Space in 1948, claiming the entirety of outer space, ‘‘specifically exempting from claim every celestial body, whether star, planet, satellite, or comet, and every fragment.” In other words, Celestia owned no matter — just the empty space the matter occupied. (Celestia’s charter made an exception for the Moon, Venus, and Mars and its two moons as “Proclaimed Protectorates.”)

Mangan’s grandson, Todd Walter Stump (Duke of the Milky Way), wrote in 2005 that Mangan’s claim to the universe was typical of ‘‘an enormous personality who had an insatiable curiosity, a voracious appetite for argument, and a catholic array of interests. Papa was one of the lucky few whose vocation and avocation were the same. He was a promoter of ideas… But make no mistake: the creation of the Nation of Celestial Space was a completely forthright and serious endeavor.’’

From 1948 until his death in 1970, Mangan worked tirelessly to convince the world to recognize the Nation of Celestial Space, which had been ‘‘instituted solely for Peace and Service to Man.”

The first four articles of Celestia’s constitution were:

Article One: There shall never be any taxes on property in Celestia

Article Two: No amendment can ever be made to this constitution changing Article One

Article Three: No military conscription, and no conscription of any kind, shall ever be legalized in Celestia

Article Four: no amendment can ever be made to this constitution changing Article three

Mangan registered Celestia with the Cook County, Illinois Recorder and mailed letters to the secretaries of state from 74 countries and the United Nations asking them to formally recognize the Nation of Celestial Space. They ignored him. “Only my wife, my son, and my partner see the depth of it,” he told a reporter in the May 1949 issue of Science Illustrated. “This is a new, bold, immodest idea.” In 1958 Mangan took it upon himself to travel to the UN building in New York City and run the Celestia flag up a pole alongside the other national flags flying there. UN security personnel quickly removed the flag and told Mangan not to try it again.

As the self-appointed Founder and First Representative of Celestia, Mangan had dictatorial powers over the universe. He warned world governments that satellites and space stations would not be welcome in his country, at least not without his express permission. Even television and radio signals were “trespassers” who were “violating the law right now.” He also said that “all space capsules, space junk hardware floating in the sky, are there by sufferance of Celestia and may be ordered out at any moment as violating the sovereignty of Celestia.” (He did, however, give a distillery in Kentucky the right to manufacture whiskey in outer space, an undertaker a license to perform burials in space, and a man named Harold Henry Elsesser permission to “use and operate in any way he desires the space inside his own bowling ball.” )

Mangan also wasn’t above abusing his power. After a police officer issued a $1 traffic ticket to one of Mangan’s family members, Mangan sent a letter to the cop, warning him that he would become ‘‘the first man in History to be declared Persona Non Grata in Outer Space and a dunce for not knowing international protocol and being so backward in the Space Age.”

To generate revenue, Mangan sold “perfect spheres of pure space, slightly larger than the earth” for the modest sum of one dollar apiece. Those who paid became “participants” (Celestia didn’t have citizens) and were granted “suggestion rights or thinking rights” but not voting rights (“I don’t like voting,” he said).

Mangan also funded his project by issuing postage stamps, passports to the Moon, paper currency, and gold, silver, and brass coins with the profile of his daughter, Ruth Marie, “the pleasantest person in the universe,” to whom he bestowed the title "Princess of the Nation of Celestial Space." In 1962, Mangan sent a passport to astronaut John Glenn who wrote back thanking him. “Looks like I’m all set now,” he said. These coins and other memorabilia are now highly-sought-after items in the collectibles market.

By 1963, over 36,000 people had become participants, according to a letter Mangan wrote to the curator of coin displays at the Smithsonian Institute. “This is not a fly-by-night project, Doctor,” Mangan told the curator. “I have kept it up with intensive publication for 14 years and have received much encouragement from men of fine repute.”

Mangan, who died in 1970, encouraged his children to continue his quixotic quest to have the Nation of Celestial Space officially recognized by other countries. He seemed unperturbed by a 1966 UN resolution that “outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty.”

Was Mangan mentally ill? Was he a prankster? Was he trying to make a satiric point about the absurdity of claiming the universe? I’m not sure, but I think he was serious about his desire to encourage people to consider the future of human endeavor in space and promote its use for peaceful projects. And I appreciate that he did it in an amusing, attention-grabbing way.

Bibliography:

Thanks for reading! The Magnet is written by Mark Frauenfelder and edited by Carla Sinclair.