Owner of the Moon
In 1951 Jenaro Gajardo first arrived in Talca, Chile. He was 33, single, a sometime poet, a painter, and newly licensed lawyer- which bears on the events that would make him most memorable to history. He arrived with aspirations, and expectations for his life, as one from an educated and once privileged family might; he fully expected to be welcomed into the most respected local gentlemen’s organization, Club Talca, where he was recommended for membership by friends. Furthermore, he arrived in Talca with some inherited notoriety; his family background made him of interest to local society, because his hyper-intellectual great grandparents had refused to pass on the family name to their own children. (Seven in number; apparently they weren’t too intellectual for at least one popular activity.)
It was their children’s given or proper names that are memorable. One was named Arquímedes (Archimedes) Capitán; another Australia Tonel (winecask); another Chile Mapocho (the main river flowing through Santiago); another Sanson (Samson) Radical; and so on. Most of these name-challenged children became quite accomplished adults in various fields, perhaps in part, goaded to excel by their bizarre names. For example, Jenaro’s aunt Justicia Espada (Justice Sword) became the first woman engineer in the Americas.
As to the Club Talca, while Gajardo was generally welcomed, he lacked a single, but essential, requirement: All members had to be propertied, to own property- which seemed to Jenaro a distant possibility- and one he rejected for his own eccentric egalitarian reasons. And indeed his pursuits attracted attention in this rural south central Chilean town.
Shortly after his arrival, Jenaro had started an astronomical society – Sociedad Telescópica Interplanetaria. (Interplanetary Telescopic Society). Whether the formation of the society was part of an obscure long term plan to qualify for the Club Talca is unknown; but the Society attracted important members of the community, like local Bishop Manuel Larrain, whose active participation and aristocratic name gave pause to people who might have derided the main objective of the Society: “To establish a reception committee for the arrival of extraterrestrials.“
It is September 1954. Jenaro is only very occasionally a guest at the meeting of the Club Talca. Yet he resents not being a full member of the Talcan elite; he is personally offended by the requirement that only property owners can be members. He remains at a loss to see how can he qualify without actually owning ‘property’ , and at the same time make clear to his colleagues the uncivil and prejudiced nature of that bar to membership. Tonight he has been a guest at the Club but is required to leave when the business portion of the program starts. He departs the privileged address at 1 Oriente, walks alone down past the nearly deserted Plaza Central; the system that places so much importance on material possessions festers like a thorn in his foot as he moves dejectedly on. A brilliant full moon is overhead. He looks at it pensively, and suddenly realizes:
“No one owns the moon. Yet! It is a natural satellite of Earth, held in the gravitational grasp of the planet, exactly like the continents that float on the molten magma below!” That night he pores over his law books. The next morning, 25 Sept 1954, he appears at the office of Talcan Notary Public César Jiménez Fuenzalida to make his claim:
“I am here to inscribe my ownership, dating from 1857, of the moon, a satellite of Earth.” (That 1857 reference was a formal requirement for such property claim declarations at the time). Without comment he pushes forward his formal claim:
“Jenaro Gajardo Vera, es dueño, desde antes del año 1857, uniendo su posesión a la de sus antecesores, del astro, satélite único de la Tierra, de un diámetro de 3.475.00 kilómetros, denominada LUNA, y cuyos deslindes por ser esferoidal son: Norte, Sur, Oriente y Poniente, espacio sideral.
(Jenaro Gajardo Vera is owner, since before 1857, assuming the Rights of his forebears, to the only satellite of Earth, with a diameter of 3,475 km, called MOON, whose spheroidal limits are North, South, East, and West, in sideral space. ( The 1857 reference is a legalistic detail required by the statute for such claims.)
On studying the application the Notary comments: “Look here sir. Technically, your document meets the requirements; it will suffice to start the process. The moon is in the gravitational control of the Earth, or belongs to Earth. It has borders, and dimensions, limits; But you are going to be labeld a lunatic. Or worse”. To which Gajardo responds acidly, characteristically:
“You are too kind, sir.” The notary is not amused, or too literally oriented to respond in the same vein, and continues:
“ Before it can be inscribed as your property you must publish your Claim in the Official Newspaper three times in accord with the law. That’ll run you about forty two thousand pesos.” And nervously, in an atypical attempt at humor adds, “Reasonable, considering the millions of hectares.”
A month later, title in hand, Gajardo is accepted as a full member of the Club Talca. Shortly thereafter the news appears world wide: “Chilean lawyer is owner of the Moon.” Suddenly the obscure eccentric is the focus of much attention. When the newly propertied lawyer appears on a national (now international) TV show “Sabados Gigantes” , host Don Francisco ( Mario Kreutzerger) comments in his characteristic direct fashion: “People think you’re nuts.” Gajardo replies:
“I’ll tell you why I claimed the moon. I don’t like people who live on this Earth. I don’t like that we haven’t been able to eliminate hatred, envy, accusations, rancor…”
Impuestos Internos (Chilean equivalent to the IRS) sends inspectors to impose taxes on his property. Gajardo responds: “I have no objection to the tax due. However, I insist that, in accord with the law, you first send an assessor to my property to make the required measurements. That is what assessors must do to meet the legal requirements. After, we’ll talk further.” Apparently there is no subsequent site visit by the Chilean tax assessors.
A minister of the Supreme Court, Rubén Galecio Gómez, asks Gajardo: “Well, if you claimed the moon, I could do the same for the planet Mars.” Gajardo replies: “No you could not, because the law prevents anyone from claiming property that does not belong to Earth, such as Mars. “
The Club members have a good laugh, appreciate the astuteness of Jenaro’s maneuver, and understand his objection to the property requirement- but don’t change their bylaws. The matter fades into the stacks of dry, dusty yellowing archives of old newspapers.
But in 1969 the USA prepares to send astronauts to the moon. An open letter from Gajardo appears in USA News and other news papers here, as well as in Chile; it asks he be allowed to meet the moon visitors on their return. There is no public response from the US. Jenaro retains Chilean legal counsel Enrique Monti Forno to assert his ownership. Monti finds that in 1967 international agreements limited any ownership of private property to 80 km above the earth; but Gajardo’s claim had been made based on ownership by his forebears long prior to that agreement. Gajardo claims that that President Nixon made a request for permission to land on the moon, and that he gave his consent with provisions that the moon not be claimed by the US, remain unexploited, and accessible to all terrestrials on similar terms. A landing fee paid is reported as $1, US. While certainly these requirements are consistent with Gajardo’s philosophy, no written documentation is available.
Gajardo dies in 1998; a woman in France claims she has inherited the moon; yet there the matter also dies. The face looking sideways at us out from the photo above, however, lives on today in a nephew, who looks identical: not only that, but he is an eccentric elderly man of letters, devoted to global Quijotesque exploits that are entertaining to readers of newspapers, but have little other significance for most terrestrials. He lives so marginally, alone in an old run- down inherited house, that recently a thief who broke in found nothing worth taking: an old typewriter, many hundreds of books on shelves or tables, or in stacks, and thousands of old newspapers and magazines, the objects of the author’s work; saucers and cups filled with butts smoked to the bitter end, and filters that had been defiantly torn off before lighting up; but no food worth eating, and no TV. In a moment of compassion, comprehension, or confusion the miscreant leaves a small radio behind. What are the intruder’s thoughts, what the details of his life? One wants to know, because every life is a mythic song unsung until someone listens. I like to think he heard Jenaro’s song, echoing down the musty hallways of time.
*This is creative non fiction. It is all factual; I did not create Jenaro Gajardo. His outrageous and endearing eccentricity with regard Club Talca and his moon are entirely his own creation. Entering his name in a browser will confirm that. the same is true of Justicia Espada Acuña De Gajardo, and the Talca Interplanetary Telescopic Society. On the other hand, factual material extraneous to Mr. Gajardo occasionally is included in order to create an informative, readable narrative, and most quoted conversation is imagined. jl