23 Times the World Was Supposed to End, but Didn’t… Armageddon Outta Here
Many people around the world misunderstood the Mayan calendar and predicted that the end of the world would take place on December 21. Evidently this did not occur. But this should not have come as a great surprise considering that there is a long history of people predicting the end of the world. Here is a sampling of end of the world predictions, originally compiled by Jeremy Beadle and later augmented by the staff of The People’s Almanac.
APRIL 3, 1843—The MILLERITES
Thousands of Millerites patiently waited on hilltops in New England, solemnly expecting the end of the world. Their leader, William Miller (1782-1849), a farmer and former atheist, had picked this day after carefully studying the Books of Daniel and Revelation. His warnings began in 1831 and were subsequently confirmed by shooting stars in 1833 and the massive comet of 1843. Miller convinced the New York Herald to publish his prediction that the world would be destroyed by fire on April 3. Believing the dead would pass through to Heaven first, fanatics murdered relatives and committed suicide.
As the evening approached, there was suddenly a loud, eerie sound across the valley. Thousands stood up screaming and praying until it was discovered that the noise was a local fool blowing a large horn. Nothing else happened, except that one believer broke his arm trying to fly to Heaven, using turkey wings attached to his shoulders. Unperturbed, Miller simply moved up the date to July 7.
JULY 7, 1843—THE MILLERITES AGAIN
The true Millerites prepared with their proven thoroughness. Many families bought ascension robes (sold by Miller) and waited in carefully dug family graves. Nothing happened. Still unperturbed, Milled amended the date again, this time to March 21, 1844.
MARCH 21, 1844—THE MILLERITES ONCE AGAIN
Despite the two previous miscalculations, thousands of true believers waited. Not wishing to make coffins, many found it more convenient to sit in graveyards. At the appointed hour, a tremendous thunderstorm erupted. The Millerites were jubilant. But the storm soon abated, leaving thousands of disappointed and drenched hopefuls. Still unswayed, Miller bumped up the date to October 22, 1844.
OCTOBER 22, 1844—THE MILLERITES FACE THE GREAT DISAPPOINTMENT
After whipping themselves into a fanatical frenzy, thousands once more climbed the hilltops to await Armageddon. One farmer thoughtfully brought his cows all dressed in white ascension robes because “It’s a very long trip and the kids will want milk.” Nothing happened. This time the Millerites were perturbed. The once-powerful 100,000-strong movement disbanded and split into several sections, of which the Seventh–Day Adventists became the most numerous.
Miller managed to keep many faithful followers, and he ended his days delivering more than 3,200 speeches predicting the end of the world while he made a tidy profit selling ascension robes.
NOVEMBER 13, 1900—THE BROTHERS AND SISTERS OF RED DEATH
In czarist Russia, a district called Kargopol (about 400 miles from Saint Petersburg) contained a 200-year-old sect that called itself the Brothers and Sisters of Red Death. They shared some provocative ideas. Marriage was forbidden, but sexual intercourse was allowed, providing the sinners immediately submitted themselves to suffocation with a large red cushion. Believing that the world was due to end November 13 (November 1 Old Style), 862 members thought it would please God if they sacrificed themselves by being burned to death. When news of this plan reached Saint Petersburg, troops were rushed to Kargopol. They were too late. More than a hundred members had already perished. When the appointed day passed without catastrophe, the sect disbanded.
APRIL 25, 1943, AND APRIL 25, 2038—NOSTRADAMUS
The famous French prophet and astrologer Nostradamus (1503-1566) predicted that the world would end when Easter fell on April 25. So far this has happened in 1666, 1734, 1886, and 1943. It will occur again in 2038.
SEPTEMBER 21, 1945—REVEREND CHARLES LONG
It was the middle of the night in 1938 when Reverend Charles Long was mysteriously awakened in his Pasadena, California home. At the foot of his bed he saw a blackboard on which a ghostly hand wrote 1945. A voice later whispered that the world would end at 5:33 P.M. on September 21 of that year. Reverend Long felt duty-bound to spread the news about the coming destruction. He wrote a 70,000-word tract outlining how, on the fatal day, the earth would be vaporized and all human beings would be turned into ectoplasm. He mailed copies to the world’s major leaders. Long also rented the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, where his son held meetings during which he urged members of the audience to repent and be baptized. Together they impressed a number of people and developed a following. Seven days before doomsday the Longs and their followers gave up food, drink, and sleep—presumably forever. They sang and prayed fervently during the last hours, but nothing happened. The group eventually disbanded.
MAY 24, 1954—ITALIAN PROVERB
An Italian adage that “Rome and the world are safe, so long as the Colosseum stands” brought mass hysteria to Italy in 1954. On May 18, engineers were alarmed when huge cracks appeared in the 1,800-year-old amphitheater. Someone suggested it was a “sign” and set the day of destruction for Monday, May 24. Thousands besieged the Vatican, hoping that the pope would absolve them from their sins. Despite a sharp rebuke from a Vatican prelate, who added, “The world will see Tuesday and more Tuesdays to come,” thousands appeared in Saint Peter’s Square on May 24. The prelate was proved right, and builders were sent to repair the Colosseum.
FEBRUARY 2, 1962—HINDU ASTOLOGERS
For the first time in four centuries, eight planets were due to line up in a spectacular planetary conjunction as they entered the House of Capricorn. This was to happen on February 2, 1962, between 12:05 and 12:15 P.M. Many Indian astrologers regarded this as a terrible portent signifying the end of the world. Although Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru described the whole affair as a “matter of laughter,” throughout the whole subcontinent millions gathered in non-stop prayer meetings in hopes of calming the anger of the gods. In one marathon invoking the Hindu goddess Chandi, one and one-half tons of pure butter and thousands of marigolds were burned. The Hindu liturgy was intoned 4.8 million times by a relay of 250 priests. To be on the safe side, U Nu, the Buddhist prime minister of Burma, released 3 bullocks, 3 pigs, 9 goats, 60 hens, 60 ducks, 120 doves, 120 fish, and 218 crabs in the hope of averting the evil forces. Millions waited, and when the hour of doom passed they all gave thanks that their prayers had been answered.
DECEMBER 25, 1967—ANDERS JENSEN
On the David Frost Show, in front of millions of TV viewers, Anders Jensen, the Danish leader of the Disciples of Orthon, predicted that Christmas Day would mark the Apocalypse. The sect chose a field near Copenhagen to build an underground bunker with a twenty-ton lead roof to see them though the danger period. Fifty disciples spent Christmas Day underground. The expected nuclear explosion failed to happen. One by one the disciples reappeared from their shelter and were applauded by delighted sightseers. Jensen said, “We expected to see ash covering the ground, a red glow in the sky, and everything destroyed. It’s all a bit disappointing, but we are confident there is a simple explanation.” The disciples later sold the bunker at a profit.
SEPTEMBER 1975—VIOLA WALKER
In September of 1975, Mrs. Viola Walker of Grannis, Arkansas—then sixty-seven years old—announced to her relatives that she had received a message from God. The Second Coming and the end of the world were close at hand. Twenty-one kinfolk joined Mrs. Walker in a vigil that took place in a three-bedroom house. They stopped paying bills and took their children out of school. The vigil lasted ten months and was not brought to an end until July 16, 1976, when two deputy marshals went to the house. Everyone was evicted because the bank had foreclosed on the vigil house’s mortgage. A spokesman for the group said that they would now continue the vigil in their hearts and that their faith was not shaken.
OCTOBER 23, 1976—GEORGE KING
One day in 1954, taxi driver George King was drying dishes in his Maida Vale flat in London when he suddenly received a message from Mars that the world would end twenty-two years hence. Fortunately, King and his followers, organized as the Aetherius Society, were able to avert the catastrophe by concentrating 700 hours of prayer energy into a prayer book and releasing it in forty-eight minutes on the appointed day.
MARCH 1982—JOHN R. GRIBBIN AND STEPHEN PLAGEMANN
In 1974 astronomers John R. Gribbin and Stephen Plagemann predicted worldwide catastrophe caused by a planetary alignment they called “the Jupiter Effect.” A rare lineup of several planets on one side of the sun was supposed to exert an additional gravitational pull that would cause massive destruction on Earth. Southern California was to be the focal point, with the astronomers predicting that “the San Andreas fault will be subjected to the most massive earthquake known in the populated regions of the Earth in this century….Los Angeles will be destroyed.” Accompanying cataclysms would include disruptions in the earth’s upper atmosphere, severe climate changes, and volcanic activity around the globe.
As the date grew closer, Gribbin disavowed the prediction, but some people continued to worry.
No earthquake destroyed Los Angeles in March1982, although there was a reported increase in “end of the world” parties throughout California. A few years later, Gribbin insisted that there was indeed an increase in seismic activity during the planetary alignment, but the increase was so small it was only noticed by experts. He failed to mention that the “rare planetary alignment” actually occurs every 179 years. Gribbin and Plagemann went on to predict that because May 2000 would see an even greater lineup of planets, there could be an accompanying greater catastrophe.
MAY 1990—ELIZABETH CLARE PROPHET
Elizabeth Clare Prophet, leader of the Montana-based Church Universal and Triumphant, declared that a Soviet nuclear war would erupt sometime in May of 1990. In preparation, Prophet’s followers had been building enormous underground bunkers on the church’s 12,000-acre ranch north of Yellowstone National Park. National Park officials and local residents grew alarmed, especially when ex-church members claimed that huge caches of weapons were also being stored in the underground havens. A toxic spill of 30,000 gallons of heating fuel from the bunkers didn’t help matters much.
The fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe in 1989 did not sway Ms. Prophet from her prediction, but as May 1990 came closer, the predictions became less specific as to what exactly would happen that month. May 1990 passed without any sign of total nuclear war, and Prophet later claimed that she never predicted a specific date, simply a period of possible danger.
OCTOBER 28, 1992—LEE JANG-RIM
On October 28, 1992, the capital of South Korea virtually closed down and the streets were filled with riot police and ambulances as religious cultists awaited the “the Rapture” that would bring them to Heaven and signal the end of the world. Cult minister Lee Jang-rim of South Korea’s Dami Mission was the first to predict a doomsday of October 28, and other groups soon spread the idea throughout South Korea. Twenty thousand people around the world eventually were caught up in the hysteria, many of them in Korean communities of the United States. Four of Lee’s followers in Seoul committed suicide in preparation for the Rapture, and in Los Angeles one of the believers died after a forty-day fast.
One thousand people gathered at the mission’s main temple in Seoul on October 28, awaiting the midnight deadline. Fearing mass suicides, 1,500 riot police and more than 200 plainclothes detectives surrounded the building, closing off exits to the roof and barring the windows. A closed-circuit TV monitor displayed the followers inside, weeping, shouting, and listening to hymns played on a steel guitar.
Midnight came and passed. Ten minutes after Doomsday, a teenage boy poked his head out of a window and shouted, “Nothing’s happening!” to the police below. By morning the disappointed doom-watchers had all gone home.
Leader Lee Jang-rim was convicted on fraud charges a few months later. With the $4.4 million he had personally collected from his followers, Lee had bought large amounts of bonds that would mature well after the October 28 “End of the World.” Wherever he expected his followers to be, Lee himself planned to be around to enjoy his long-term investments.
NOVEMBER 14 AND NOVEMBER 24, 1993—MARINA TSVYGUN
It all started when Yuri Krivonogov, who had researched mind-altering drugs at the Institute of Cybernetics in Kiev, Ukraine, convinced journalist Marina Tsvygun that she was really Maria Devi Khristos—the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Tsvygun left her husband and son, dressed in white robes, and in early 1990 began preaching that Judgment Day would come on November 24, 1993, a date that she later moved up to November 14. Tsvygun eventually attracted more than 2,000 followers, some of whom jumped onstage at the Bolshoi Theater and the Grand Kremlin Palace opera house to spread their message. Tsvygun claimed that she would die in Kiev’s Saint Sophia Square and be resurrected three days later. She and her followers broke into the Cathedral of Saint Sophia and began celebrating around the altar. They were arrested. When the world did not end on November 14, Tsvygun reverted to her earlier prediction. On November 24 Tsvygun did not die and she did not resurrect. She was, however, charged with “hooliganism,” and Krivonogov was forced to face outstanding charges of extortion.
On February 1996, Tsvygun was convicted of inciting mass disorder and sentenced to four years in prison. However, she was released August 13, 1997, as part of a general amnesty to relieve overcrowded jails.
SEPTEMBER 1994—HAROLD CAMPING
In 1992, religious broadcaster Harold Camping revealed the secret he had been keeping for more than twenty years: the world would end in September 1994. Basing his prediction on a complex set of calculations, he spread the warning on his nightly talk show, which aired on forty radio stations. At first, he said the end would come between September 15 and September 27, but when September 28 unexpectedly dawned, Camping urged his listeners to wait until October 2. When that day, too, passed, Camping admitted that he may have miscalculated this Biblical data.
MAY 4, 2000—RICHARD KIENINGER
In 1963, a Chicago engineer named Richard Kieninger, using the pseudonym Eklal Kueshana, published a book called The Ultimate Frontier. In it he described a childhood visit from a mystery man known as Dr. White, who brought him an ice cream cone and informed Kieninger that he was a former Egyptian pharaoh who had been chosen to form a new society.
Kieninger saved his money and in 1973 bought a 240-acre ranch in the cornfields of south of Chicago. There he and a group of devoted followers began building the town of Stelle, where they would live until the destruction of life on Earth, which Kieninger predicted would take place on May 5, 2000. The Stelle group, which grew to about 200 people, would survive by hovering above the turmoil in lighter-than-air vehicles and would then form a new city in the Pacific Ocean.
In 1975, Kieninger was expelled from Stelle after charges of womanizing. The community continued, but eventually disavowed Kieninger’s prediction. Kieninger himself moved to Texas and founded another town, Adelphi, east of Dallas. Later, he became involved in the Republic of Texas movement, claiming that Texas had been illegally annexed by the United States, and he was convicted of mail fraud for writing checks based on the Republic.
…And One Extra…
AUGUST 14, 2126—BRIAN MARSDEN
In 1992, Brian Marsden of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics claimed that a six-mile-wide comet, known as Swift-Tuttle, was a threat to collide with Earth on August 14, 2126, although the comet’s impact would not be quite as spectacular as the collision that scientists believe wiped the dinosaurs off the face of the earth, but it could cause major disasters.
Comet Swift–Tuttle, named after its Civil War-era discoverers, passes by Earth on a regular course. Subsequent calculations by other astronomers concluded that the 2126 visit by the comet would not be as close as originally feared, so humans have nothing to worry about…until September 15, 4479.
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