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A Few Of History's Worst Predictions

May 07, 1988|MARK LANDSBAUM

Alas for the ignorant minds of the seers.

--Virgil

Southern California's widely predicted earthquake to end all earthquakes is one of the longest-standing and most frequently repeated prognostications.

Unfortunately, when the appointed day passes without the earth rumbling, there always seems to be someone around to predict another date.

The real problem with those who claim to know the future is that they are difficult to discredit.

"They get a lot of publicity before the event and if the event doesn't happen, nobody ever hears about them," said Dale Brown, program coordinator for the Orange County Fire Department's emergency management division.

Here are a few of history's worst predictions. Take that, prognosticators, soothsayers and tea leaf readers:

* In 1833, William Miller, claiming to be in direct contact with God and using complex numerological calculations based on his understanding of the Bible, foretold the end of the world. Next year, Miller tried again. As you know, he was wrong, again. Nine years later, same story. Miller tried one last time. The world would end, he proclaimed, at midnight March 21, 1844.

* Wilbur Glenn Voliva of Zion, Ill., was just as certain that the end was near as he was that the earth was flat. He not only was certain, he predicted the exact date the world would end. He did this several times: 1923, 1927, 1930, 1935. He died in 1942, a few decades sooner than he expected. Voliva had predicted he would live to 120.

* In 1948, the Chicago Daily Tribune proclaimed the nation's next President with this famous headline: "Dewey Defeats Truman!"

* In 1987, the widely respected Sports Illustrated magazine, in no uncertain terms, picked the Cleveland Indians to win their division. The woeful Indians finished dead last.

* In "A Short History of the Future," published in 1936, John Langdon-Davies declared flatly: "By 1960 work will be limited to three hours a day." Of course this was the same guy who also said, "By 1975 parents will have ceased to bring up their children in private family units."

* Los Angeles-area psychic Maria Graciette once looked into the future and predicted that in 1987 a U.S. mayor would be reelected after a sex-change operation to become a woman.

* A one-time paper hanger and astrology devotee by the name of Adolf Hitler promised: "Today Germany, tomorrow the world!"

* The Globe newspaper tabloid advised its readers that actor-comedian Bob Newhart would become a national hero in 1987 by talking an airplane hijacker into surrendering.

* And for those who have forgotten, it was at the onset of 1984 that the Rev. Woods Mattingly, leader of the Seeker's Quest Ministry in San Jose, predicted that the California coast would drop into the ocean that year.

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