Although a few key recent events — a monkey wearing a shearling coat running amok in a Toronto IKEA, the release of a Pizza Hut perfume and the potential for a Kris Jenner-hosted daytime talk show — have undoubtedly pointed in the direction of end times, both NASA and the U.S. government have a resolute message for us all:

Come the 21st day of December 2012, none of the following — alone or in any sort of cataclysmic combination — will occur: Galactic alignment, geomagnetic reversal, polar shifts, solar storms, meteor strikes, the collision of Earth and a rogue Sumerian planet named Nibiru, and/or an invasion by E.T.’s malevolent cousins from the Zeta Reticuli star system. Also, sorry to disappoint, but there will be no zombies. However, Dec. 21 is the first day of winter, so if you’re heading outside en route to your PETA-approved underground bunker or the 65-foot ark parked in your driveway, you may want to consider swapping out that tinfoil hat with a snug wool beanie. It’s also safe to say you can go ahead and cancel those tickets to Serbia or the south of France.

Dec. 21, 2012 — or the Mayan apocalypse, as it’s fondly referred — marks what’s believed to be the expiration of a 5,125-year-long cycle in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar. According to researchers, the calendar doesn’t actually come to a conclusion on the date that many a serious doomsday prepper, soothsayer and New Age adherent has had circled on their Gregorian wall calendars in thick red marker since Jan. 1. Rather, it marks the start of a new cycle or b’ak’tun. In this case, the 14th b’ak’tun will commence and life will go on as normal. (That said, it’s probably a fantastic day to finish up your holiday shopping since your eschatological-minded neighbors will most likely remain in hiding and not flood the local Bed Bath & Beyond).

Although Dec. 21 is truly the “big one” when it comes to modern day doomsday scenarios, dozens upon dozens of similar — and failed — apocalyptic forecasts, both religious and secular, have come before it (the 18th and 19th centuries were truly primo for end times predictions). Here’s a look at a few recent prophesied last days that were — surprise, surprise — followed by a next day.

crystal ballFeb. 4, 1962

Crystal ball-gazing celebrity psychic Jeane Dixon passed away in 1997 after a lifetime of making high-profile hit-or-miss predictions (the assassination of John F. Kennedy Jr. among them), writing horoscope books for dogs (OK, there was only one, but she also published an astrological cookbook) and advising high-profile clients (Nancy Reagan was one). Dixon, a devout Catholic and household name in the 1960s due to her syndicated newspaper column, was also in the habit of making predictions of the apocalyptic variety.

On Feb. 4, 1962, Dixon predicted a planetary alignment that would bring about the end of the world. We’re still holding our breath for that one. But Dixon has a rather distressing outstanding prediction that’s only a few years away; in her book “The Call to Glory,” the controversial seer predicted that in 2020, Armageddon will take place followed by a 17-year period that will entail a returned-to-Earth Jesus duking it out with the Unholy Trinity: Satan, the Antichrist and the False Prophet. Here’s hoping that that prediction, like Dixon’s earlier claim that Russia would be the first country to put a man on the moon, can be filed in her rather sizable “miss” file.

Watchtower logo Jehovah's Witnesses1975

It’s been a good while since the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Brooklyn-headquartered Christian Restorationist denomination best known for eschewing holidays, rejecting blood transfusions and prolific doorbell-ringing activities, have unleashed an official Armageddon prediction. For a while there, particularly before the turn of the 20th century, forecasting the Second Coming of Christ was the Watchtower Society’s real bread and butter (the legal and administrative arm of Jehovah’s Witnesses seems more preoccupied with real estate transactions these days).

Since its formation in the 1870s by minister and self-proclaimed “God’s mouthpiece” Charles Taze Russell, the Watchtower Society has fingered — and then revised — several specific Second Coming-centric predictions: 1878 (revised to 1881), 1914, 1918 and 1925. The most recent failed prediction came in 1975, a year, yet again, believed to be the beginning of Christ’s millennial reign. Starting in the late '60s and leading up to 1975, the church was mobilized by the “apparent” Armageddon (later cautiously downgraded to a mere “possibility”). Proselytizing activities increased, membership grew and many Witnesses went into full-on end days prep mode by selling property, cashing in insurance policies, etc. When 1975 came and went without incident, church leaders entered a serious period of denial, blame and regret (guess that’s what happens when you prophesize the end of the world and it doesn’t happen), initially claiming that the creation dates of Adam and Eve had been miscalculated resulting in prophetic error. Whoops.

Pat RobertsonOctober/November 1982

Televangelist, businessman and bigot extraordinaire Pat Robertson has a knack for raising ire with implications that the Sept. 11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina and several natural disasters were, in fact, the wrath of God brought on by abortion policy and homosexuals. And what do you know? The 82-year-old “700 Club” host is also skilled at making failed predictions on a regular basis, doomsday scenarios included.

In 1976, Robertson penciled in October/November 1982 as the official start date for the end times (because God told him so, allegedly). He stuck with his claim, stating again during a 1980 broadcast of the “700 Club”: “I guarantee you by the end of 1982, there is going to be a judgment on the world.” In 2011, Robertson, along with Harold Camping, Dorothy Martin, Elizabeth Clare Prophet, Lee Jang Rim and Credonia Mwerinde, was honored with the Ig Nobel Prize in Mathematics for his invaluable contribution to the realm of failed doomsday predictions. Or, in the words of the 2011 Ig Nobel Committee, “for teaching the world to be careful when making mathematical assumptions and calculations.” When not concocting predictions and making outlandish/offensive proclamations, Robertson continues to push for the legalization for marijuana.

March 26, 1997

The Heaven’s Gate doomsday scenario resulted in a full-on media frenzy not just because of its UFO-centric outlandishness, but because of its tragic outcome: the largest mass suicide to occur within the United States. (The loss of life during 1978’s Jonestown massacre was much greater. However, that mass suicide was carried out largely by Americans living in Guyana). Led by Marshall Applewhite — in addition to being a controlling cult leader, the former singer, repressed homosexual and “Star Trek” enthusiast also fancied himself the reincarnation of Jesus Christ — the Heaven’s Gate cult was firm in the belief that the destruction (or “recycling”) of Earth was imminent and that the only way to evacuate was to hitch a ride on an alien spacecraft trailing the comet Hale-Bopp. Applewhite believed that Bonnie Nettles, the cult’s co-leader who had died from liver cancer 12 years prior, was aboard the alien spacecraft in question. And as the story goes, the only way to board the spacecraft and escape the destruction of Earth to reach a “level of existence above human” was via suicide.

Heaven's Gate NikesOn March 26, 1997, the bodies of 38 Heaven’s Gate members and 65-year-old Applewhite were found in a rented mansion in a chichi San Diego suburb. It’s believed that the suicides took place over a three-day span and were carried out through the ingestion of poison and/or asphyxiation. The deceased, all covered under alien abduction insurance purchased the previous year, were dressed identically in black shirts, sweatpants and, most infamously, Nike Decades sneakers (the “Swoosh” was thought to resemble a comet). Each member carried $5.75 in their pockets and sported the same shortly cropped hairstyle. And in a sad and strange twist, among the dead was the brother of Nichelle Nichols, an actress famous for her groundbreaking role on “Star Trek.”

July 1999

Although not a prediction made in modern times, a compilation of doomsday prophesies that didn’t pan out just wouldn’t be complete without the inclusion of famed 16th century seer/author/gout sufferer Michel de Nostradame. Perhaps the most famed of Nostradamus’ many disaster-centric predictions is this tidbit, Century 10, Quatrain 72, taken from his “Prophesies” (keep in mind that the original translation from French has been altered numerous times over the years, so who knows what he actually means):

The year 1999, seventh month, From the sky will come a great King of Terror
To bring back to life the Great King of the Mongols,
Before and after Mars to reign by good luck.
Alrighty then. If we remember correctly, nothing particularly terrifying descended from the skies in July 1999. However, there was another world-altering event that went down that month: Victoria “Posh Spice” Adams married David Beckham.

New Year 2000 celebration, protestJan. 1, 2000

For most folks, it’s a touch difficult to recall the ample amount of cataclysmic scenarios forecasted by a motley crew of religious leaders, psychics and esoteric cults — Edgar Cayce, Sun Myung Moon, Ed Dobson and noted Teletubby hater Jerry Falwell, just to name a few — for Jan. 1, 2000, or the year 2000 in general. After all, you were probably too busy bugging out over a software bug known as the Y2K bug. It was widely believed that the Y2K problem, a massive glitch resulting from computers incorrectly shifting from 1999 to 2000, could potentially usher in the end of modern civilization when the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve. In anticipation of any sort of issues, governments across the globe launched exhaustive — and expensive — initiatives to correct the problem. Awareness campaigns geared to stamp out widespread panic were also launched although many folks had already begun preparations for a tech meltdown- cum-apocalypse. Needless to say, a fair amount of people spent Dec. 31,1999, huddled in their basements with crank radios and an endless supply of granola bars instead of out on the streets guzzling celebratory champagne.

In the end, some minor data-related problems did occur across the globe on Jan. 1, but the chaos-in-the-streets manmade doomsday scenario obviously didn’t play out. Ready for a trip down a paranoia-tinged memory lane? Please, take a gander at this 5-part infomercial from 1999 dubbed “How To Prepare Your Family for Y2K.”

doomsday billboard May 21, 2011May 21, 2011

Where to even begin with poor old Harold Camping, Evangelical Christian radio personality, Biblical number cruncher and professional foot-in-mouther? It makes sense to start with May 21, 2011, a date that by Camping’s widely publicized estimates would usher in the delightful double-header of both the Rapture and Judgment Day. Eighty-nine-year-old Camping was pretty damned certain — “beyond the shadow of a doubt” — that on that day, Jesus would return to Earth and a small chunk of the world’s population would ascend to heaven. As for everyone else (i.e. the non-righteous), they’d be stuck on Earth and left to deal with catastrophic earthquakes (remember, they were supposed to start at 6 p.m. sharp?) fire, brimstone and all that jazz for a total of five months until Oct. 21 when the world officially came to an end.

Two days later in a press appearance, Camping acknowledged that he had muffed up and tweaked his prophesy: Although a “spiritual judgment” did indeed occur on May 21, Oct. 21 would be the date that the Rapture and the end of the world would occur — no five-month hell on earth waiting period this time around. Whoops, my bad! Camping, who suffered a stroke in June 2011, has since retired from the businesses of rescheduling end times predictions. Previous to his freakout-inducing 2011 forecasts, he had predicted that the Rapture would occur on three different dates in September/October of 1994 and on March 31, 1995.

Other notable entrants in the end time predication failure hall of shame:

  • 1936, 1943, 1972, 1975 (Herbert Armstrong; the Rapture)
  • April 26, 1980 (Leland Jensen; nuclear apocalypse)
  • May 21, 1982 (Benjamin Creme; the Second Coming)
  • April 29, 1987 (Leland Jensen; destruction caused by Halley’s Comet)
  • 1988, etc. (Hal Lindsey; the Rapture)
  • September/October 1988, September 1989, etc. (Edgar Whisenant; the Rapture)
  • April 23, 1990 (Elizabeth Clare Prophet; nuclear apocalypse)
  • 1993 (David Berg/Children of God; the Second Coming)
  • Aug. 18, 1999 (The Amazing Criswell; the end of the world)
  • May 27, 2012 (Ronald Weinland; the Second Coming)
Related doomsday stories on MNN:

Click for photo credits

Photo credits:

Crystal ball: Phil McDonald/Shutterstock

Logo: Wikimedia Commons

Pat Robertson: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Nikes: Hector Mata/AFP/Getty Images

Y2K: John Gurzinski/AFP/Getty Images

Billboard: BFS Man/Flickr

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

7 recent failed doomsday predictions
Apocalypse never, or at least not right now: As people keep an eye on the Mayan calendar, we look back at a few (obviously) incorrect end-times prophesies.