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A world of end-of-the-world predictions

March 22, 2009|Steve Harvey
  • In ?Earthquake,? Charlton Heston and Monica Lewis try to get out of a tough spot. Destruction also rained down on L.A. in ?War of the Worlds? and ?Independence Day.?
In ?Earthquake,? Charlton Heston and Monica Lewis try to get out of a tough… (Performing Arts Special…)

On Sept. 21, 1945, Pasadena minister Charles Long and his followers stayed up all night, reading Scripture and waiting for the world to blow up, as Long had predicted.

"Many had sold their possessions, paid their debts and made peace with their neighbors," The Times reported.

To their considerable surprise, the sun greeted them the next morning. The minister matter-of-factly explained that he had made a "minor error in his calculations," The Times said.

Sixty-four years later, there still seems no end to end-of-the-world forecasts.

The latest concerns a supposed ancient Maya prophecy that pinpoints Dec. 21, 2012, as doomsday (a Friday, in case you were making plans).

Late last year, a group of New Age entrepreneurs sponsored a 2012 conference in San Francisco for which attendees paid $300 each to hear debates on such topics as whether the Maya were actually space aliens.

Catastrophe scenarios are old hat for this state, whether concocted by holy men, authors or moviemakers. And Southern California is often the focus, no surprise considering the region's reputation for kookiness and its propensity for earthquakes.

Successors to Pasadena's Long in the doomsday category included a Hollywood evangelist who hurt his credibility in 1980 by being tardy for his end-of-the-world news conference. He admitted that he had overslept.

Another clairvoyant, Ernesto Montgomery, assured L.A. reporters that his earth-shaking prediction for Oct. 17, 1992, would come true because, "I have an antenna behind each ear, and they throb when an earthquake is coming."

Several weeks after the 1994 Northridge quake, a bizarre urban folk tale had it that police were pulling over erratic drivers on Pacific Coast Highway only to be told that a poltergeist was to blame. The spirit was supposedly appearing in their rear-view mirrors, whispering to them that another big temblor was coming. (Talk about back-seat drivers.)

But many who have predicted the end for Southern California have done so from a distance.

In 1981, Joseph Granville, a stock market expert based in the East, announced that a quake would hit L.A. at 5:31 a.m. Aug 10. Like more recent stock market experts, he would prove unreliable.

An outsider with a particularly spotty accuracy record is Nostradamus.

One group of followers quoting the 16th century French seer said the Big One would strike here May 10, 1988. Two Phoenix disc jockeys, thrilled about Arizona becoming oceanfront property, traveled west with four 250-pound men, who performed jumping jacks on Venice Beach to bolster the tectonic forces.

Five years later, a group of psychics at a UFO conference in Nevada cited Nostradamus' writings for their assertion that L.A. would be flattened May 8 at 7:05 p.m. It's evidently important for seers to be as exact as possible for the well-being of affected residents.

L.A. catastrophe scenarios have also become a part of the culture, for better or worse. "The Last Days of the Late, Great State of California," a 1968 novel by Curt Gentry, depicted the city tumbling into the Pacific on Feb. 12, 1969. (Sorry, we didn't get the time.)

The rock group Shango followed with a song that included the immortal lyrics: "Where can we go when there's no San Diego? Ssh! Better get ready to tie up the boat in Idaho. Do you know the swim? You better learn quick, Jim."

L.A. has, of course, been destroyed on the big screen in a number of imaginative ways -- from Martian invasions in "War of the Worlds" (1953) and "Independence Day" (1996) to the Big One in "Earthquake" (1974) and a nuclear attack in "Miracle Mile" (1989).

Not so well remembered is the Rev. Long of the 1945 scare. If he did revise the date, no one was listening. His name seems to have faded from history soon after the sun rose that September day.

But he is fondly recalled by East L.A.-born Val Rodriguez, then a Roosevelt High School student. Rodriguez ditched school the day before the world was to end. Upon his return, he recalled, his excuse was " 'I stayed home to prepare for doomsday.' I told them that I was concerned about my pets. The attendance counselor called the boys' VP, who in turn called the principal to hear my excuse. They bought it! No swats."

Rodriguez grew up to become a high school teacher.

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steveharvey9@gmail.com

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