The last time the end of the world was at hand, the weather was just fair, but in a warning to the heathens, temperatures in Los Angeles were rising.
The mayor threatened to depose a political boss in a primary. Police braced for anarchists and Reds to converge on the city to hear Emma Goldman discuss politics and free love. A national religion reeled from the disclosure the day before that its leader had "fallen like Lucifer" and had been expelled for seducing little boys.
It was June 6, 1906 — 6/6/06, the dreaded date of triple sixes that echoes the Mark of the Beast, the coming of the Antichrist and the prophecy of the Apocalypse — the destruction of the world in the ultimate showdown between good and evil.
It doesn't appear that the world suffered much, according to the Los Angeles Times of June 7, 1906, which chronicled the events of June 6. (Remember this was in the days before cable television and the web made all news just minutes old.) Nor did the evil-doers appear to have the upper hand.
Like many things, the End of the World always had better word-of-mouth than press. Advertising the threat was always most potent than the event, even now as another 6/6/06 threatens.
A century ago was a decade after the early horror film, Georges Méliès's "Le Manoir du Diable," but more than six decades before the Devil scored in Roman Polanski's "Rosemary's Baby." The 1968 film classic was followed by a spate of films dealing with Devil worship, the Apocalypse and the end of the world.
Hollywood marketeers and others are hoping to build on that streak this June 6.
"The Omen," a remake of the 1976 horror hit of the same name, will open after a campaign exploiting 666, the number, name or mark of Satan. Hollywood may have joined the ranks of those trying to make a profit from the numerology that swirls around the Bible, but the fascination goes much deeper, crosses all cultures and surpasses all epochs. The only advance by the modern era is a faster, slicker technology to take advantage of ideas whose roots predate most religions.
Thousands of titles have been published about the Devil or the Apocalypse and such works are often best-sellers. Dozens of movies have incorporated all or parts of the same themes, titillating millions of people.
The Internet, the great conveyor belt of popular culture, is hardly immune. Google "666" and more than 108 million references pop up. In a modern twist by those trying to decipher when and how the world will end, some argue that www, the letters that begin every web address, is really 666 in its English disguise (after a side trip through Hebrew).
And the end of the world is coming, insist people as varied as homeless prophets on skid rows to sincere congregants of a variety of religions. Divined by the brilliant manipulation of numbers and secret clues, the date of the End has been prophesized countless times throughout history as people prepared their souls and bodies (think Y2K) for the crash. We are a species that enjoys uncovering conspiracies, unraveling numeric riddles and seeking to impose order on what appears to be in flux.
Above all, we want to take a peek at the back of the book to learn the answer to all of our deep questions. For many, that means a careful reading of Revelation, the last work included in the New Testament.
The battle between good and evil ending in a utopia goes back millenniums. The Persian prophet Zoraster, whose influence is still felt in India and Iran, preached a version as far back as 1500 BC. Jewish prophets in the Old Testament picked up the same themes. One of the most graphic is the Book of Daniel, where a prophetic dream promises the righteous of Israel that they will inherit a great kingdom after four evil kingdoms are vanquished.
Much of that imagery survives in the Book of Revelation, probably written more than 250 years later, according to scholars. Revelation was included as the last book of the New Testament sometime late in the 4th century.
Revelation makes the Apocalypse up close and personal and sets the pattern for the subsequent centuries of false predictions, conspiracies and numerological puzzles. These are techniques that also fuel "The Da Vinci Code," the conspiracy and murder novel that sold more than 40 million copies and the movie that backers now hope will earn hundreds of millions of dollars.
It is in the New Testament that 666 makes its appearance as the sign of evil, the Beast, the Devil, the Antichrist who marks the forehead or right hand of all as a sign of his supremacy. Because Greek and Hebrew letters are associated with numbers, the letters of the name of Evil spell out the numbers 666. Some argue the sign is really 616, but 666, with its outsized numerological mysteries, seems to be the favorite interpretation.
There is no shortage of human and natural disasters throughout history, but key dates, revolving around the trinity of sixes seems to draw special attention. In 1666, the Great Fire of London terrified the faithful fearing the Devil's revenge.
By the mid-19th century in the United States, apocalyptic prophecy and utopian visions of all types were being reported. Following in the footsteps of 16th-century Anabaptists, preacher William Miller predicted the return of Christ in 1844. When the date came -- and went — he issued a new deadline. It too passed without the promised Apocalypse, as did 2000, the time of the Second Coming computed in 1650.
It was around 1860 that a Brit, John Nelson Darby, came to the United States to preach some of the key ideas that would flower more than century later. Darby argued that true believers would experience a Rapture, leaving the unsaved on Earth for seven years of Tribulation. During that period, most would die, but some would be saved. Darby also predicted that the Jews would return to Israel, a step in the coming battle between good and evil.
Good expects to win Armageddon, but concedes that evil is sly and ingenious. Some argue that 666 is already embedded in ubiquitous bar codes on products from fruit to nuts. Others worry about an evil world government as a step in the plans of the Antichrist. They hope for a good leader to defeat the heathens and eventually relinquish his power in Jerusalem, where Christ will establish his Utopia — ideas outlined in the 10th century by a French monk.
Looking through the pages of the Los Angeles Times of 100 years ago shows that the mainstream media was less concerned with the eschatological significance of the date than with the earthly events of the day. Weeks after the Great Quake in San Francisco, donor fatigue was a concern for a local fundraising campaign for the YMCA. A woman had fallen in love with a man named Love. Residents in South Pasadena (not Magog) were agog over a municipal failure to quarantine a household for smallpox.
Even on June 6, 1966 (four sixes!), the possibility of the end of the world didn't make it onto the front page. The big story was a record spacewalk during the Gemini 9 mission, when an astronaut floated through Heaven's anteroom without fear of exciting the memory of John Milton, let alone William Blake.
With the next 6/6/06 approaching, Californians again prepare to face the worst.
It's Primary Day.
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