It was an unusual morning on New Year’s Day in 1949 when James T. Mangan rolled into an unsuspecting courthouse to make the largest legal claim ever to cross the desk of a judge. Space exploration was just beginning to become a reality with big plans on the horizon for the USSR’s “Object D.” Unaware of these developments, a strange man went to court in Cook County, Illinois and laid claim to the entire universe, which he said would henceforth be known as Celestia. Mangan’s story is the tale of a man who attempted to sue the Universe into his own pocket.
Working from a Chicago mailbox, Mangan had prepared his case ahead of time. It would be no small task to gain recognition as owner of the whole universe, and the journey for Mangan had begun a mere two weeks prior. On December 20, 1948 the would-be galactic emperor sat in his study speaking with his associate Ernest Eckland when he remarked about the sheer magnitude of space. And at that moment an idea formed that would take the west on its strangest and possibly its largest legal case in history.
Mangan’s claim took several clerks and printers by surprise, and soon a chain of telephone calls sparked across wires to attempt to confirm if what he was doing was possible. Hoping to cover all of his bases, Mangan had his declaration chronicled with the Cook County Recorder – who then contacted the State’s Attorney who could find no legal precedent denying Mangan his claim. After that, the litigant took what he called his own “immodest idea” through the crucible of paperwork to get his claim recognized. He contacted the leaders of foreign nations, attempted to gain recognition from the United Nations, and even declared Earth itself an occupant of his own micronation. He then proceeded to state that the planet would become his own property if it did not leave the universe within what he called a “reasonable period of time,” or nine minutes.
Unable to move the entire planet beyond the edge of the universe, the borders of which are still hotly contested, Mangan then moved his plan to its next super-villainous stage. He claimed that too.
Mangan suggested that the headquarters of the universe be moved to the American Midwest somewhere and that this new nation would not be a democracy, but rather what he considered his own form of intellectual despotism.
But there was yet another problem. Many land owners whose property rights extended indefinitely up included vast scopes of the universe as no boundaries had been placed upon them. This simple oversight, he stated, was one of the greatest in our planet’s history as the Earth’s surface is curved. Because of this, and the unlimited ownership of space moving outward, whole planets and galaxies could theoretically be claimed on a technicality.
But was he serious? Aside from issuing passports to astronauts, and protesting the invasion of his nation by satellites like “Object D” (also known as Sputnik), Mangan attempted to use his strange view of the world to bring global peace, and move the land-loving 1940’s into the space age. And while he may not have quite had the Earth in his pocket, a few fans of this would-be universal conquerer say he was indeed the owner of a heart the size of a planet. He died in 1970 at the age of 74.