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
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