Well, I got up this morning and, outside of a light layer of snow on the ground, it looked pretty much the same as yesterday. The world is still here and the Mayans have got some explaining to do for getting us all worked up. Or were the Mayans just pulling our leg the whole time?
I’m not sure about that but I am pretty sure that this won’t be the last time someone predicts that the end of the world is upon us. It’s happened on a regular basis throughout the history of civilization. We seem to have some sort of predisposition for doomed thought that pops up in a big way every generation or so, a doomsayer getting everybody’s panties in a knot with their what-seems-rational-at-the-moment reasoning for the coming apocalypse.
One of my favorite apocalypses (how often do you get to say that?) was the End of the World of 1843 and 1844 as predicted by William Miller right here in the state of New York, which was fertile ground at that time for new religion movements. Mormonism and Seventh-Day-Adventism, which sprang from Miller’s preaching, are the two best examples.
Miller was a preacher who came to the conclusion that the end was near through a complex system of mathematical calculations based on his readings of the Old Testament. He traveled throughout the northeast through the 1830′s and 40′s, preaching his prophecy of the coming end of the world. It’s said that he spoke to over a million people during his promotion of the event and that over a hundred thousand actually chose to follow his instructions to sell their worldly possessions and gather on the hilltops with him, all dressed in white robes, in March of 1843 to await the coming of the the lord and their rapture from this doomed place. A great testament to the persuasive power of Miller’s preaching of his rationale for the prophecy.
It was a big deal at the time, with headlines carrying news of the prophecy and the hordes gathering for the end. But the day came with a fizzle, not a boom. When nothing happened at this event, an embarrassed Miller ran the numbers again. I think he forgot to carry the seven as he added one column. Whatever the case, he revised the date to a day in October of 1844.
I’m told that the world didn’t end on that particular day. It was called The Great Disappointment and many of Miller’s followers abandoned him. Some went on to form the Seventh Day Adventists. Miller never gave up his belief in the ultimate truth of his prophecy, dying a few years later in 1849.
The chart at the top is one that Miller published to illustrate how he came to his conclusion. Much of the design and artwork was done by one of Miller’s followers, William Matthew Prior, the famed American folk portrait painter who I featured in a post on his work recently. You can see this amazing sheet at the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown along with two portraits of Miller done by prior. One is a spirit portrait, done afterMiller’s death. It is Prior’s interpretation of Miller’s essential spirit, not the physical entity he inhabited while alive.
The Prior show, along with my own exhibit there, closes at the end of next Sunday, December 30. So time is short– for these shows, not this world.