In the beginning — 1976, in this case — David DeLorme created the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer, the indispensable book of maps Mainers still rely on for getting around in the absence of cell service. Later, as personal computers made their way into homes, David’s namesake business, DeLorme Publishing Company, released Street Atlas USA, on CD-ROM, and it became, for a spell, the most popular digital mapping product in the country. In the late 1990s, David, a freewheeling autodidact who prized big ideas, had what was, in a literal sense, his biggest idea yet: to build a 1-to-1,000,000 scale model of Earth that, just like the real thing, would tilt, rotate, and revolve. It would be housed in a three-story glass atrium, at the new headquarters the DeLorme company was building in Yarmouth, an awe-inspiring symbol not only of the company’s technological prowess but also of a world getting smaller and more connected every day.
Caleb Mason, a former DeLorme VP of consumer products, remembers thinking the giant globe represented something else too: “That very fine line that geniuses have between is this insane, or is this brilliant? Can it be done, or is it going to just fail?”
Two years of work went into what came to be known as Eartha. Drawing inspiration from light but sturdy geodesic domes, David and his staff of 200, who all impacted the project in some way, engineered an aluminum truss structure mounted on a motorized cantilever arm. The shell is covered in 792 panels that feature a composite of satellite imagery, shaded relief, and road maps. Cartographer Mabel Ney helped compile the 140 gigabytes of data needed to make Eartha a reality. At the time, she says, it was an almost unprecedented amount of digital information, and if she were to write her own obituary someday, Eartha would take up a lot of real estate “because it means that much to have been part of it.”
Brook DeLorme, David’s daughter, was a teenager when she’d see her father, out in the parking lot of the company’s old Freeport office, spray-painting circles to get a feel for Eartha’s waistline — 42 feet, in the end. A story among former DeLorme employees has it that, late one night, while the globe was under construction, David was spied riding it around in circles, like a carousel.
Employees have often been found in quiet contemplation around Eartha. “Just to go sit and relax in front of the globe could stimulate some subconscious inspiration,” Mason says. The public often stops in for looks too, curiosity piqued by the glimpse that can be had from I-295. Mason recalls meeting a World War II veteran who teared up, reminded of where he had been and of friends he’d lost. Another time, Neil Armstrong paid Eartha a visit and gazed down on the model planet from the third-floor balcony, a perspective that must have felt somewhat familiar. And, one night, Mason found a young man, seemingly high on something, crouched in an Atlas-like pose in the pit beneath Eartha.
Years ago, when the original panels started to cave in, Brook DeLorme climbed chimp-like up into the globe, to prop them up with braces fashioned from curtain-rod hangers and blank CDs. When Garmin acquired DeLorme, in 2016, Eartha went right on spinning, and Brook says that as long as her family owns the building, Eartha will get whatever care it needs. In fact, the globe just got a facelift around its 25th birthday, with every tattered, faded section replaced. Now, the blues and greens look as vivid as ever. And David DeLorme still calls Brook to tell her when he’s driving by the office at night. Eartha looks particularly beautiful all lit up after dark, leisurely pirouetting into a seeming infinity.