JF Ptak Science Books Post 1988
People get stuff wrong.--(could've been said by) R.P. Feynman
Some five years after Percy Lowell filed his Gigantic Situation of intelligent life on Maris in 1906, and 14 years after H.G. Wells' octopusian Martian invasion, the Salt Lake Tribune published this limb-numbing story on solar-flare-sized plant eyeball creatures who were said to inhabit Mars. Rather they lived of Mars--the eyeball plant was thousands of miles big, growing along the surface of Mars, and then rising up above it to survey itself and its dominion via an unlashed and unlidded eggy eyeball of stupendous size mileage.
But when you squint and feel the whole scenario out, you can sort of see how someone might've come up with this solution to the Martian canals. Or canali, as they were first described in in 1877 in Italian by the very busy and very astute G.V. Schiaparelli--it was unfortunate that the need for mistranslating the word from Italian into "canals" rather than 'channels", but wicked imagination must've taken hold of Lowell, and he ran with the idea that the markings on the surface of the planet were of intelligent design. (I'm sorry that Schiaparelli is remembered mostly for this particular contribution to astronomy in the popular mind--he was really a pretty extraordinary scientist and historian of science, and in his exceptional biography in the 1910 volume of the Astrophysical Journal there is a long and lauditory appraisal of his life and career, without a peep/mention of the infamous canali).
And by "squinting" acknowledgement I mean squinting very hard--at least it could account for the changing seasonal forms of the canals, as their positions would change if the thing was alive. Of course, the whole "living planet" deal doesn't work out so well physically and biologically, though it is a smashing good idea for a scifi story, especially one appearing in 1912. Lowell had a very difficult time explaining the movements of these figures, because--according to his theory--the Martians would've been constructing positively enormous canals that stretch across the planet which were also wide enough to be visible via telescope from Earth--with changing positions, that would mean, possibly, that the Martians would fill these things back up again at the turn of the season, and then build and fill the next, and so on. It would be an interesting calculation to see how much real estate was being moved on Mars every year.
Lowell did come up with an explanation for this seeming motion--turgidly, he felt that the canals themselves didn't actually moved; rather, it was a huge movable biomass on the canals at were changing so much the activity could be seem fro space. There were many problems with the theory, as very ably pointed out by the great Alfred Russell Wallace, who eviscerated Lowell and his intelligent Martian life idea (published in his Mars and its Canals published in 1906 which was followed by Mars as the Abode of Life in 1909) in his own book, Is Mars Habitable? (1907). The Mars business eclipses Lowell's other very capable work, or at least so it seems--when the man died in 1910, he was buried on Mars Hill at the observatory in Flagstaff.
The Giant All-Seeing Eyeball was hoisted high in the Tribune, given supposed life by the very highly capable astronomer W.W. Campbell (1862-1930, with his biography here at the National Academy of Science), who is quoted by the paper as being the source of this preposterous theory. Campbell was not pleased by this--not at all. And I can well imagine why.
I can't consider the Salt Lake paper's story a hoax (as in the case of the great Moon hoax perpetrated in the pages of the New York Sun in 1835), mainly because it is surrounded by other crazy/funny stories--and it didn't try to present the story as a piece of non-fiction, as is classically the case with hoaxes. The Tribune followed up this story on the very next page with one on how the English aristocracy was turning into gorillas.