How Many Ways Can You Say Goodbye? by Kate Jonez

According to the Mayan calendar, the world is scheduled to come to an end on Dec. 21 2012 (an element disputed by Silvia-Moreno Garcia’s previous post). This is not the first (or chances are, the last) end of the world scare. People have been watching and waiting for the end of the world for as long as there have been people on Earth. Throughout history, prophesies and signs of impending doom have kept hope for a catastrophic end alive.  Below are some of the best heavy hitters knocking at doom’s door.
2800 Assyrian Tablet

According to Isaac Asimov’s Book of Facts, archaeologists found what is perhaps the first warning that the end was near on a clay tablet from Assyria. The tablet from 2800 B.C. bears the inscription, “Our Earth is degenerate in these later days; there are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end; bribery and corruption are common; children no longer obey their parents; every man wants to write a book and the end of the world is evidently approaching.” Turns out that these things were just part of life.

Y1K Turn of the Century

While we’re more familiar with the Y2K hysteria a decade ago, at the turn of the century, folk were  greeteing Y1K or “mutation de l’an mil.” with similar trepidation. The only problem was that no one really agreed on the date. Rural life was measured mainly by cycles of nature, rather than by calendar. The date of Christmas, Easter, and the New Year were frequently disputed.

That being said, the close of  999 ignited fear for the end of the world. Similar fears were also expressed in 997, 998,  and 1001.

According to Bernard McGinn, from the Univ. of Chicago “Medieval folk lived in a more or less constant state of apocalyptic expectation.” The world was, after all, a thousand years old. How long could it last?

14th Century The Black Plague

In the Fourteenth Century The black plague spread across Europe and killed one third of the population. Many believed this was a prelude to the end of the world. Medieval medicine was no match for such a disease. In panic, people turned to religion for a cure. Of the many often strange and cruel remedies, perhaps the most unfortunate was the proclamation that all witches and their cat familiars be exterminated. Without cats, the rat population grew and along with it the number fleas that spread the plague.

May 19, 1910 Halley’s Comet

Every 74-79 years the tail of Halley’s comet passes through Earth’s atmosphere. During the lead up to the 1910 appearance of the comet, fears about the imminent end of the World grew to a monumental pitch. Many believed the comet’s tail was made of cyanide gas and would poison Earth’s atmosphere. Crooks made a killing selling comet pills which offered immunity to the poisonous comet.

World War III

Fear of global nuclear destruction reached it’s peak in the 2nd half of the 20th Century. An arms race between the U.S and the Soviet Union led many to fear that the Earth wouldn’t be around much longer. Albert Einstein responded when asked what weapons would be used to fight World War III that, “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” Especially during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, bomb shelters stocked with survival supplies became popular with people who feared the end was near.

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