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Crowd gathers at Griffith Observatory to mark non-apocalypse

The facility extends its hours to observe the passing of the Maya apocalypse threat.

December 23, 2012|By Frank Shyong, Los Angeles Times
  • Mary Brown uses a telescope to observe the sky from the grounds of the Griffith Observatory during the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year.
Mary Brown uses a telescope to observe the sky from the grounds of the Griffith… (Rick Loomis, Los Angeles…)

In the end, chances of a Maya apocalypse Friday night were infinitesimal — in fact nonexistent, according to a group of NASA experts.

But that didn't stop some Angelenos from cashing in on the notion of "no tomorrow." Across the city, businesses offered bomb shelters, T-shirts, "Mayan sweepstakes" and bucket list raffles. Nightclubs threw apocalypse-themed DJ parties. Even T.G.I. Friday's got into the spirit with a "Last Friday" celebration at the Hollywood & Highland Center.

Griffith Observatory took an aggressive stance against the doomsayers, holding a special gathering with educational talks and lectures debunking the apocalypse and extending its hours to one minute past midnight.

"We decided, well, we'll stay open and get everyone past the 13th baktun," Director Ed Krupp said, referring to the Maya calendar period that was supposed to end.

Hundreds lined up to peer through telescopes that magnified the night sky by up to a thousand times and trade rumors of planetary alignments and apocalypse parties.

Rick Matlock, 40, of San Pedro said the prophecy rumors never troubled him. He came to the observatory to help his son, a Cub Scout, earn an astronomy badge.

"I woke up this morning and checked Facebook, and guess what? Everyone was still alive," Matlock said.

Quashing the Maya apocalypse rumor has taken nearly a decade, said Griffith astronomical observer Anthony Cook. The rumors began in 2002, when conspiracy theorists decided that the observatory's closing was an attempt to hide the passage of Nbiru, supposedly a stealth planet, which according to one theory was supposed to crash into Earth on Dec. 21.

"Of course, we were just under renovation," Cook said.

Krupp said media attention on "this Mayan calendar business" began to create public anxiety. He fielded calls from nervous parents and teachers, while observatory guides reported that Maya apocalypse questions dominated the conversations on tours.

Michael Kirkpatrick was also worried, but for a different reason. If a secret planet collided with and destroyed the Earth, he would be out $1,000.

The 61-year-old retiree had struck a bet with his sister, whom he called a "crystal gazer." He plans to collect when he heads over to her house for Christmas.

"I know she's going to [skip out] on it, though," Kirkpatrick said.

With 10 minutes to midnight, about 300 people gathered at the steps out front. Excitement rippled through the crowd and some tried to start the wave. Couples held each other close, as children rubbed sleep from their eyes.

With 10 seconds to go, the crowd took up the countdown and thrust smartphones into the air:

"5, 4, 3, 2, 1..."

Then, it all ended with a bang — or rather a man striking a large bronze-colored gong, followed by cheers.

The crowd dispersed quickly. One man shouted, "Los Angeles, ladies and gentlemen!"

In the distance, the lights of the city shimmered, dreamlike.

frank.shyong@latimes.com

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