15 Final Countdowns That Weren't So Final
The end of the world has been nigh for, oh, about as long as the world has been around. People have been trying to forecast the apocalypse since before Biblical times, with no success so far. The world has yet to end, but it’s not for lack of hoping. Here are 15 final countdowns that turned out to be much less-than-final:
1. Middle East // 2800 BCE
A clay tablet dating back to 2800 BCE is said to bear an inscription stating that increase in bribery, corruption, and misbehaving children in “these latter times” undoubtedly meant the end of the world was approaching. Surprise! The world did not end.
2. The First Millennium
Some medieval scholars contend that just before the end of the first millennium, there was a widespread panic over the end of the world that included mass pilgrimages and conversions to Christianity. But, because calendars and religious prophecies can be inexact, end-of-the-world forecasters kept pushing back the exact apocalypse ETA. By around 1033—1,000 years after the death of Jesus—people were fairly sure the world wasn’t going to end anytime soon. However, some contemporary historians maintain that the rumors of doomsday prepping in 1000 CE are overblown, and people were super chill. Because humans hate getting hyped up about the apocalypse.
3. Columbus’s Prediction // 1656
Christopher Columbus was a big fan of St. Augustine, who predicted that the world would end after 7,000 years. In 1501, Columbus did his own math, calculating that based on Augustine’s logic, the world could only last another 155 years. Alas, the year 1656 came and went without incident.
4. The Great Disappointment // 1844
In the 1820s, William Miller became convinced that Jesus would return to Earth sometime around 1843. He began preaching that the world would be in flames by March 21, 1844, and some one million people attended his various meetings (though some came just for the spectacle). When March passed, Miller adjusted his prediction for seven months later, placing the end of days in October. Though many Millerites abandoned him after what came to be known as the Great Disappointment, others founded religious groups based on his teachings, like the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.
5. Halley’s Comet // 1910
Halley’s comet orbits the Earth in a 74- to 79-year cycle. In 1910, as Earth was about to pass through the comet’s tail, astronomers discovered that it contained cyanogen, a poison. One French astronomer claimed that the cyanogen gas would “impregnate the atmosphere and possibly snuff out all life on the planet” as the Earth passed through the poisonous tail. The atmosphere did not become impregnated with a poisonous gas baby, as it happened.
6. Jehovah’s Witnesses // 1914
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the year 1914 marks the beginning of the “last days” of Earth before Armageddon. The group has made numerous predictions that the world will end at different points throughout the last century, notably in 1975 and 1994. However, the world has not yet ended.
7. Apocalypse Brawl // 1915
At a Brooklyn religious convention in early 1911, a pastor stood up and claimed that Jesus would return to the Earth in 1915, heralding the end of days. According to a newspaper report, he cut a divisive figure on the early 20th century Christian scene; he was alternately booed out of the hall by detractors and shouted for by supporters. Another evangelical leader stood up and declared 1915 to be far too soon—just before touting his own theory that the world would end in 1921.
8. Explosion of the Sun // 1919
In 1919, a meteorologist announced that due to electromagnetic energy from the alignments of six planets in December, the sun would explode, destroying the world. (The world did not end.)
9. Seekers // 1955
In 1954, an Illinois housewife claimed aliens sent her messages about mass destruction that would occur the next year, bringing about the end of the world for those not saved by extraterrestrials. She was later arrested and put in a psych ward on charges of inciting a riot on Christmas Eve. Crowds of people blocked traffic in her hometown after she predicted aliens would lift her and her followers up. Sadly, for her, no aliens showed up.
10. The Rapture // 1988
In the late ‘80s, a former NASA engineer published a pamphlet called “88 Reasons Why The Rapture Will Be In 1988,” predicting that the world would end between September 11 and 13, 1988, during Rosh Hashanah. The armchair prophet distributed his material to 200,000 pastors. When September came and went, he revised his estimate to October 3. The world did not end.
11. The Children of God’s 1993 Apocalypse
A new religious movement founded by a former Baptist in California predicted that the second coming of Jesus would occur in 1993. The group still exists in communes all over the world, and maintains that the second coming is near. The world has not ended.
12. Two More Raptures // 1994 and 2011
When the world did not end on September 6, 1994, as one influential California-based evangelist preacher and radio broadcaster predicted, he merely revised his estimates, citing a mathematical error. He spent millions of dollars from his Christian radio empire advertising Judgment Day as May 21, 2011. When that date passed, he proclaimed that the world would end in October of that year. Later, he posted a note on his website apologizing for his failed prophesy, admitting that he had no evidence that the end of the world was near.
13. Y2K // 1999
Just before the beginning of the new millennium, people started freaking out about what the major change in dates would mean for technology. Would all computers, built to abbreviate 1999 as 99, crash when they were forced to roll over to 00? Would banks cease to function? The president of the United States signed a law to encourage companies to share data about readying for Y2K. Police prepped emergency bunkers, people holed up with cans of Spam, and news organizations hauled out emergency generators. Worldwide, people spent about $300 billion to upgrade computers for January 1, 2000. The world did not end.
14. Mayan Doomsday // 2012
On December 21, 2012, the Mayan calendar reached the end of its 13th Bak’tun cycle, which many predicted marked the end of the world. However, they may have gotten their ancient history wrong. According to researchers, the Mayan calendar contained no such predictions. The calendar rolls over and repeats itself—but just because it’s the end of one cycle doesn’t necessarily mean that a new cycle won’t begin. Still, the doomsday predictions didn’t cease until December 21 had come and gone. The world did not end.
15. Solar Eclipse // 2015
A handful of Christian ministers predicted that a confluence of rare celestial events in March of this year was the first sign of the apocalypse. The total eclipse across the North Pole, coinciding with a supermoon and the spring equinox in late March, led some pastors to warn that the end of times was upon us. The world, needless to say, did not end.
Here we still are, despite many, many predictions to the contrary. Better luck next time, doomsdayers. Or maybe not…