Sure beats little green men.
When people imagine Martians, they tend to think of variations on human life. Percival Lowell, expounding the theory that the mythical canals of Mars were created by martians, even imagined the kind of bureaucracy they'd have to develop for such a public works project. Martians, that is to say, generally reflect life on Earth the way a western tends to show the values and tensions of the year it was made, not only the year in which it was set.
But then along comes this theory of Martians published in The Salt Lake Tribune in 1912. Here we see that Martian life is all vegetation, but it's watched over and controlled by one enormous eye shooting what must be 100 miles into space.
What did this massive Martian brain think about? "The vast intellect of Mars is occupied with the problems of gaining subsistence from the dying planet and then with investigations of the boundless universe that lies within its sight," the Tribune said.
The paper attributes the theory to William Campbell, who was the director of the Lick Observatory. But that's a bald fabrication, as Campbell explained in a later letter. Really, it's not obvious who proposed the fantastic and fantastical story of Martians. There's no byline on the story and it resided in a part of the paper that contained other barely believable "weird" news.
It grew out of some ideas that Lowell and others had about the canals being lined with vegetation that varied seasonally. But from there, it's pure creativity, weirdness, and pencil sketches.
You can read the whole article here, but here is the best (i.e. most fascinatingly wrong) paragraph:
Before considering this theory further, we must bear in mind a few of the proved facts about Mars. It has atmosphere, seasons, land, water, storms, clouds and mountains. It also rains and snows on Mars, as it does with us. Great white patches appear periodically upon its surface. These may be accumulations of snow and they have also been called "eyes."
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Alexis C. Madrigal is a staff writer at The Atlantic. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology.