10 Stories: The End of the World! Chronicling America

In celebration of the release of the 10 millionth page of Chronicling America, our free, online searchable database of historical U.S. newspapers, the reference librarians in our Serials & Government Publications Division have selected some interesting subjects and articles from the archives. We’ve been sharing them in a series of Throwback Thursday #TBT blog posts.

Today we return to our historical newspaper archives for stories about the END OF THE WORLD! Just goes to show you, people seem to be worried about these things all the time. The big question: when?

image of comet striking and shattering the earth

“Scientists predict that the comet of 1866 will strike the earth Monday and this is what will happen.” Well, there you have it. Detail from the Daily Inter Mountain of Butte, Mont., Nov. 11, 1899.

1867: “The Year of Terrors
“Outpouring of the Vials of Wrath—Volcanoes, Earthquakes, Cyclones—Tremendous Convulsions on Earth and in the Heavens—Meteors, Comets, and Revolutions—The Islands that Flee Away, and the Mountains that are not Found—The Appalling Wonders of 1867.” And that’s just the headline! Philadelphia Evening Telegraph, Dec. 6, 1867.

1875: “The End of the World
The Helena Weekly Herald of Nov. 18, 1875, leads with this pretty dire account, but we’re not so sure the editors buy into it, as it appears adjacent to details on how to subscribe to the paper for up to a year.

Monday, Nov. 13, 1899: “The Earth Will Come to an End Monday
Among the most specific predictions ever, courtesy of another one of those pesky eminent Viennese scientists. Daily Inter-Mountain of Butte, Mont., Nov. 11, 1899.

1901: “What Has Happened Once Will Occur Again—The Law of Cycles
So says the San Francisco Call of Oct. 4, 1896: “Five Years From Next December, the Sun and the Planets Will Bear about the Same Relation to the Earth as in the Year of the Great Deluge.” Well, they were off by five years, the specific plague and a degree of magnitude—but San Francisco DID get a cataclysmic earthquake and fire in 1906.

1910: “Halley’s Comet Is Already Making Trouble on Earth
As in ancient times, the occasional astronomical anomaly can get folks worked up, as the New York Tribune scoffs on May 8, 1910. “Hysterical People Consulting Astrologers and Expecting the Worst.” Plus: “There Was Fear in Chicago…” those skittish midwesterners!

1918-ish: “Will End of World Come After the War?
The religious writer for the Seattle Star suggests modern signs of biblical prophecies of end times following World War I, described at the time as “the War to End All Wars,” Oct. 3, 1917.

Dec. 17, 1919: “Tremendous World Catastrophe to Happen on Dec. 17?
“Professor Porta Insists That the Peculiar Grouping of the Planets Next Month Will Produce a Gigantic Sun Spot Which Will Explode the Earth’s Volcanoes, Shake Us with Earthquakes and Bury Us with Floods, but the Government Scientists Explain Why All This Is Not Likely to Happen.” Terror and reassurance, all in one extended headline in the Washington Times, Nov. 9, 1919.

Mid-20th Century: “A Coming Cataclysm
In the Pittsburg[h] (Pa.) Dispatch of Sept. 14, 1890, Professor Jos. Rodes Buchanan is quoted quite correctly predicting social and political upheaval (and war) in Europe within a decade, then goes on to suggest social and political revolution in the United States. He was close on the latter: there was a great deal of social change during the first two decades in the U.S., but nothing approaching “cataclysmic” revolution.

Not 1933: “When Will the World Come to an End?
In which J.P. Cole refutes a prior assertion by J.T. Boyd that the world will be destroyed by a comet in 1933. However, Cole makes no specific predictions of his own. St. Paul (Minn.) Globe, Jan. 18, 1903.

Any Time Now: “Science Finds a Force That Could Blow Up the Earth
A somewhat clear-eyed discussion of the “explosive power of hydrogen,” which we still hope today “is more likely to serve life than to endanger it.” Richmond Times-Dispatch, May 14, 1922.

Millions of Years Away: “End of the World
To end on a calming note: Camille Flammarion presents a reasoned view in describing “various ways in which our Earth may cease to exist.” Take heart: our fate appears to be quite some time off. New York Tribune, April 8, 1906.

Speaking of Chronicling America, the National Endowment for the Humanities (our partner in the project) has launched a nationwide contest, challenging you to produce creative web-based projects using data pulled from the newspaper archives website. We’re looking for data visualizations, web-based tools or other innovative web-based projects using the open data found on Chronicling America. NEH will award cash prizes, and the contest closes June 15, 2016.

Launched by the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) in 2007, Chronicling America provides enhanced and permanent access to historically significant newspapers published in the United States between 1836 and 1922. It is part of the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP), a joint effort between the two agencies and partners in 40 states and territories. Start exploring the first draft of history today at chroniclingamerica.loc.gov and help us celebrate on Twitter and Facebook by sharing your findings and using the hashtags #ChronAm #10Million.

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