By jim zbick
This year, doomsday prophets will be getting much mileage out of the Mayan calendar, which reportedly runs out of days just before Christmas.
Doomsday prophecies are nothing new in our history. In early January 1912, Lee J. Spangler of York County was proclaimed as "the last of the prophets."
Spangler was expecting "nothing but trouble for 1912," according to an article in the Tamaqua Courier headlined "Prophet Sees Awful Things."
"The struggles between capital and labor will become keener than ever before and there will be a business depression, the worst in many years," the article stated.
Spangler also said the "people will be punished for their wickedness and there will be much distress in the big cities, especially wicked New York."
Not only would the poor be hurting, but he foretold that the "monied kings of Wall Street" would also suffer greatly.
Unlike many doomsayers, however, Lee Spangler did not think the world would end in 1912.
"Of one thing Spangler seems certain," the Courier stated, "and that is that the world will not come to an end until 1915."
Coming into 1912, Spangler did not have too good a track record as a prognosticator. In fact, he was at least 0-for-1 in his end-of-the-world predictions. Four years earlier, The New York Times covered Spangler's prediction that the world would end on Sunday, Dec. 27, 1908. How he was able to resurrect a new following of believers after that debacle is indeed a mystery.
"Spangler had predicted it would (end), and Spangler himself slipped away in advance of his followers' disappointment," the Times reported during the 1908 incident. "Awaiting the final trumpet blast of an angel, the prophet's followers spent a very uneasy night."
The Washington Post also ran Spangler's end-of-the-world prediction on its front page. He set the end for high noon and ground zero was to be Nyack, N.Y., an inner suburb of New York City located 19 miles north of the Manhattan boundary.
Spangler reportedly told Mrs. Henrietta Murdock, the "high priestess of the saints" to await the rolling up of the sky as a scroll – that the Lord had called him – and that "he was going to go right into heaven in advance of the general cataclysm."
"The truth is that he went right out of the back door of Mrs. Murdock's house on lower Main street, over the back fence, and into a buggy," a Post writer joked.
Murdock, meanwhile, announced that if the earth did not come to an end, or if Prophet Spangler did not return to Nyack at 6 o'clock in the evening, she was going "to become an infidel and remain such to the end of her days."
At dawn, the Times reported that the party – all women including some little girls – "performed their ablutions and put on white dresses, especially made for the occasion."
Spangler was nowhere to be seen.
The reporter said the 20 women and girls then walked in procession to the railway station to meet "a party of Saints" who were expected on the early morning train.
"In due time the train arrived. Not a Saint was seen – unless it be the milkman arriving with the early morning supply," the Times reporter mused.
By this time, the report stated that a crowd of about "150 rude citizens" had gathered behind the "faithful."
"They made fun of the disciples of Spangler when no Saints appeared," the reporter said. "Undiscouraged, however, the white-robed ones, followed by the rude citizens, marched sorrowfully to Oak Hill Cemetery. Why there, no one seems to know, unless it be that the cemetery appealed to them as a happy hunting ground."
Here, the procession was confronted by police superintendent Halsted, who did not approve of the mass gathering. A rumor had filtered back to Halsted that many in the group were armed – with eggs.
"The rumor was enough for Halsted," a reporter said, adding that the police official did not like "the looks of the 150 followers of the white-robed ones, and drove them from the grounds."
After leaving the cemetery, the Spangler faithful journeyed up South Mountain where the congregation was to assemble. The trek up the snowy slope was a hard climb for some.
"One of those who had faith and much weight fainted because of the steepness of the grade," a reporter noted. "All waited for the trumpet call of the angel, but after a while they got tired, as nothing happened. Then they dispersed."
Spangler did not win over any converts that day. In fact, a warrant was out for his arrest as "a public nuisance."
"There is a feeling of strong indignation in the town over the harm Spangler has wrought by his delusive preachings," a reporter said.
Fortunately, Spangler's wayward party did not suffer the tragic results that the Heaven's Gate cult did nine decades later. On March 26, 1997, Marshall Applewhite convinced followers to commit suicide so that their souls could board a UFO that would take them to another "level of existence above human."
Applewhite committed suicide with 39 other members in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., by mixing phenobarbital with applesauce or pudding, then washing it down with vodka.