Apocalypse Then

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As I was re-shelving materials earlier this month, I dropped a copy of White Pine Whispers by local author Larry B. Massie. When I picked it up, it was turned to the opening page of a chapter entitled 'When Doomsday Came and Went'. In it, he relates the story of a population awaiting the arrival of a date that was foretold to bring with it the end of the world. With December 21 fast-approaching, I thought it would make for an appropriate read.

Massie opens the chapter with a brief story of Daniel B. Eldred, a pioneer notable for having given the city of Climax its name. Allegedly, Eldred had set out for Kalamazoo on the morning of October 19, 1844 when a linchpin came loose from his wagon and one of his wheels became unstable as a result. Upon nearing Galesburg, he sought the attention of a blacksmith. The blacksmith began to work to carefully reshape the linchpin to ensure a proper fit when Eldred asked that he just "Drive it in; it will answer for three days. I shan't want it after that as the world is coming to an end."

Eldred was a Millerite, a group that believed that the world would end on March 21, 1844, and led by the farmer-turned-preacher, William Miller. Miller had become enamored with the biblical passage Daniel 8:14 which stated, "Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed." He deemed these words prophetic and believed that this foretold the second coming of Christ which would coincide with a cleansing of the Earth by fire. Additionally, he suggested that the 2,300 days mentioned in the passage should be interpreted as 2,300 years and would have begun in 457 BCE, the year that the fifth king of the Achaeminid Empire, Artaxerxes I of Persia decreed that Jerusalem would be rebuilt.

When the day dawned on March 22nd without incident, some Millerites had been rattled in what became known as the "Great Disappointment", but most maintained their faith that the prophecy would hold true by the end of the year. After some recalculations and number-crunching, Miller settled on October 22nd as the day that would mark the end of the 2,300 year period. By the time that the date arrived, Daniel Eldred of Climax was one of several hundred thousand Millerites who were anxiously awaiting the apocalypse. Eldred and many others had abandoned their professional duties since March of that year. Children had stopped attending school, debts had been settled, and fields that should have been nearing harvest lay fallow.

The second "Great Disappointment" occurred when October 22 gave way to October 23. By this point, Eldred and many others in Michigan and elsewhere were financially ruined, having staked their livelihoods on the notion that they would no longer have any need for earthly pursuits. Eldred sold his farm in Climax and relocated to Virginia, presumably after fixing his wagon's linchpin a bit more thoroughly.

The most enduring legacy of this story was the founding of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, organized by a group of Millerites that remained dedicated to the idea that the prophecy would eventually come true. Nearby Battle Creek, MI quickly became the nexus of the Church's activities under the leadership of Ellen G. Harmon and James White, devout Millerites who married and relocated there in 1855.

White Pine Whispers is a collection of short stories and essays concerning Michigan's history on topics as diverse as the effects of the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918 and the history of the sport of Lacrosse. It and many other books by Larry B. Massie are available in the Local History Room.


White Pine Whispers

Posted by Patrick Jouppi at 12/31/2012 02:47:15 PM | 

Thank you for sharing the local history, really means a lot!
Chris Harris
Posted by: Chris Harris ( Email ) at 1/31/2013 9:02 AM

You wrote: "... Daniel B. Eldred, a pioneer notable for having given the city of Climax its name."

The only cities in Kalamazoo County are Kalamazoo, Portage, Galesburg, and Parchment. Climax is a village: http://www.climaxmichigan.net/
Posted by: Jeffrey Alan Messer ( Email ) at 5/30/2013 2:52 PM

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