William Miller was a genius, or a stark-raving lunatic. I am not sure which.
Miller was born in 1782 in New England. He farmed for a living and was a former atheist. In 1831, he began making predictions about the end of the world after studying the Books of Daniel and Revelation. In 1833, he claimed his predictions were true when shooting stars began to fall to earth, and in 1843 when a comet appeared in the sky.
This was only the beginning. It got worse.
Miller eventually convinced the New York Herald to publish his prediction that the world would end by fire on April 3, 1843.
People began to follow Miller’s word. Not a lot of them at first, but enough. Miller convinced people that the dead would pass to heaven first. Fanatics of his teachings began murdering relatives and committing suicide to ensure first passage. No legal proceedings were launched against him.
As the big day neared, thousands of people gathered for the final sendoff. Suddenly, there was a loud, eerie sound across the valley. People panicked. They screamed and they prayed until it was discovered the village idiot was making the noise.
Nothing happened, except one person broke his arm trying to fly to heaven by using turkey wings attached to his shoulders.
You can’t make this stuff up!
So what did a red-faced Miller do after all this? He simply moved the date to July 7.
The remaining Millerites prepared for the big day. When they arrived, they bought accessories [including ascension robes to get to heaven] and waited for the big event. Many had already dug family graves, which begged the question, who was going to bury them if the world ended?
What did Miller do? He just moved the date up to March 21, 1844. No big deal.
By the way, guess who sold most of the accessories to the people? You guessed it. Miller!
March 21 rolled around and thousands gathered again. This time they just sat in graveyards, not beside prepared graves. At the appointed hour, a thunderstorm stuck, but it soon abated after drenching the Millerites.
What did Miller do? He just moved the date up to Oct. 22, 1844.
After making another huge profit, of course!
Oct. 22 came and thousands again gathered. One farmer, so dedicated to Miller’s cause, bought ascension robes for all his cattle to take them to heaven. From Miller, of course.
“It’s a very long trip and kids want milk,” said the farmer.
That was enough. The once-strong 100,000 Millerites disbanded the group. Miller still had a few thousand followers and ended his days by delivering over 3,200 speeches predicting the end of the world.
Was Miller crazy or was he a genius? I doubt it. He amassed a fortune with his tales of Armageddon.
We will never know what Miller actually believed. We do know one thing, however. He got very, very rich by tapping into people’s fears.
He was not the first, nor will he be the last, to take advantage of people ready to clutch onto a belief to give them purpose in life.
Brilliant or crazy, Miller was the ultimate snake oil salesman.