Doomsday predictions that did not pan out

Mayan Calendar

Forget the Mayan Calendar. Doomsday-predictors have been foretelling the end of the world since the beginning of recorded history. Image: ArtFX Design Studios/Flickr/CC BY

With the world set to end this week, it may seem like finances don’t matter any more at all. But hold on. Before you heat your house by burning $100 bills, adopt a wait-and-see attitude. The fact is, people have been predicting the end of the world since the beginning of the world. And none of them have been right so far. Here is a survey of some relatively recent end-of-the-world predictions that fell short.

Millennium doomsday predictions that fizzled

The last large spate of doomsday theories was probably around the turn of the millennium, because big, round numbers are frightening to doom-Sayers. The most famous was probably the Y2K non-event, that predicted “the end of the world as we know it.”.

The Y2K scare warned that computers had not been programmed to read “00” in the year place of a date — ie, 01/01/00. Therefore, the theory went, when the calendar did roll over from 1999 to 2000, all computers would shut down, causing a massive, global system meltdown that would bring society, commerce and the power grid to a screeching halt.

Thousands prepared for the non-event, buying generators and stocking up on bottled water and MREs.

Then 01/01/00 came with only a few minor power outages that were quickly repaired.

Isabel Suarez runs the Mistica sect on mystic Mount Banahaw in the Republic of the Philippines. In 1999 she predicted that earthquakes, floods and famines would destroy mankind as the millennium turned. Pilgrims flocked from all over to wait for the end. It didn’t come, but Mount Banahaw is still regularly visited by pilgrims.

Evangelical doomsday scenarios

Evangelist Pat Robertson, host of TV’s “The 700 Club,” said in 1976 that the world would end in 1982. As the date got closer, he never flinched. In 1980 he re-upped his message by saying, “I guarantee you by the end of 1982 there is going to be a judgment on the world.” The judgement was apparently that it would become 1983, because that is what happened without apocalyptic incident.

Just last year, Christan radio broadcaster Harold Camping told the faithful to be prepared, that the rapture would take place on May 21, 2011. But on May 22, the believers were all still standing on Earthly firmament. To his credit, after his fail, Camping quit the prediction business, calling his premonition an “incorrect and sinful statement.”

Comet-based doomsday fails

Halley’s Comet has zipped past the Earth every 75 to 76 years since at least the time of the Babylonians. Yet for some reason some believed that its passing in 1910 would bring with it a tail of poisonous gases that would pass into the Earth’s atmosphere and “possibly snuff out all life on the planet.” This speculation even made the front page of the new York Times, leading to a widespread panic and a spike in the gas mask market.

Then the comet passed and everyone breathed easier.

One of the more disturbing doomsday predictions was associated with another comet, Hale-Bopp. The celestial object was scheduled to move past our planet in 1997. Before its arrival, however, Chuck Shramek, an amateur astronomer, claimed to have taken a hazy picture of Hale-Bopp, showing a ringed-object trailing it.

Then the California-based cult Heaven’s Gate, headed by Marshall Applewhite, decided to run with that.

Applewhite told his 38 followers that a spaceship following the comet would “transport their spirits aboard for a journey to another planet” and that “their souls would ascend to the spaceship and be given new bodies.” But that would happen only after they took their own lives. So that is what they all did. Ironically, one of the suicides was Thomas Nichols, whose sister had been in space many times as Lieutenant Uhura on “Star Trek.”

Later it was discovered that Shramek’s picture was a doctored fake all along.


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