The world is probably going to end tomorrow! Alternately, the world is definitely not going to end tomorrow! Frequent, vigorous, nonsensical, and ultimately unsuccessful apocalyptic predictions are a part of our shared cultural heritage; making them is a tradition we're simply carrying forward.
5. Some time in the 1600s: Christopher Columbus
Most of us know Christopher Columbus as a guy who sailed the ocean blue/ genocidal maniac, but he was also fascinated by the apocalypse, and toward the end of his life wrote The Book of Prophecies, which drew apocalyptic theories from the Old and New Testament, as well as his own era, to try to convince King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella to sponsor new voyages that would help bring around the end times and the return of Christ. In fact, some claim that his entire voyage to the ‘new world’ was part of an attempt to discover a new route to Jerusalem, the first step toward bringing about the end of days. He died in 1506, convinced the end was quite near.
4. 1999: Charles Berlitz
Charles Berlitz was a Yale magna cum laude and an heir to the Berlitz language school company, and he helped pioneer the recording of foreign language lessons on tape. But who cares about any of that stuff! Berlitz’s real legacy was that he predicted the end of the world. In 1982, he published Doomsday 1999: Countdown to the Apocalypse, which made the case that because of problems like famine, overpopulation, and climate change, the world would end around 1999 (certainly not the most far-out claim on this list). His other books, on topics like the lost city of Atlantis, the Bermuda Triangle, and Roswell UFOs, are available on Amazon, in case you’re still trying to figure out what to get anyone for Christmas.
3. March 1982: John Gribbin and Stephen Plagemann
In 1974, a book called The Jupiter Effect, written by two actual scientists, predicted that because of planetary alignment, the world would end in March of 1982. The book was a runaway best-seller, and created the annoying "planetary alignment apocalypse” theory, which many confused college freshman who stink of bong water believe to this very day. Gribbin repudiated the book’s theory in 1980 in an article in New Scientist, claiming that in his reasoning, he had been “too clever by half” — but that didn’t stop him from writing, with co-author Plagemann, a sequel called The Jupiter Effect Reconsidered, in 1982. The follow-up linked a number of recent-at-the-time natural disasters — including the eruption of Mt. Saint Helens — with their theories from the first book.
2. May 19, 1780: The people of New England
This was less a failed prediction than a failed ... interpretation. On this extraordinarily overcast day in New England, fog combined with smoke from a forest fire to create what seemed to locals to be a nightfall that lasted all day and through the next. Many thought it meant the world was ending — a theory that went so far as to be discussed during a Connecticut state legislature session. Abraham Davenport, a legislator, comforted his panicking fellow legislators, who wanted to adjourn work for the day, by saying “The day of judgment is either approaching, or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause of an adjournment; if it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. I wish therefore that candles may be brought.” This earned him the honor of being immortalized in verse by the writer John Greenleaf Whittier. Fun game to play: Tell your friends and co-workers that work shouldn’t be canceled on Friday, and see if anyone writes a poem about you!
1. 1806: The Prophet Hen of Leeds
“The Prophet Hen of Leeds” was exactly what it sounds like: a hen that laid eggs with the cryptic, apocalyptic message “Christ is Coming” written on them. The hen attracted huge crowds of visitors, who briefly believed that she really did have some inner apoco-knowledge that could only be expressed via egg. But it was soon revealed that the hen's owner had been etching the messages on the eggs in acid, shoving them back up the hen's egg hole, and acting surprised when they came out again. Oh man, that old trick?!
The only thing we really know about the apocalypse is that if the world ever does end, we’ll never see it coming (that’s either from the Bible or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). So try to keep calm, carry on, and enjoy your Mayan-themed pizza party — who knows if it’s your last?
Gabrielle Moss does all her writing from a steel-reinforced bunker, miles beneath the Earth’s surface. You can follow her on Twitter @gaby_moss.