Signs in the Heavens
Pretend and real heavenly events panicked those who looked for signs in the sun, moon and stars. On
6, 1881, the skies over and New England,
Vermont – over two hundred thousand square miles –
turned yellow. The cause was uncertain, though probably a forest fire in the
wilds of New
Hampshire Northern Canada. This was startling event.
Yellow haze hung in the upper atmosphere undisturbed by a steady breeze. In
some areas the haze reached the ground. Schools were dismissed and workers sent
home or work proceeded under candle light. Chickens roosted, night insects
chirped, birds slept. While some saw it as an interesting phenomenon needing a
good, scientific explanation, many panicked. The Friends Intelligencer
said: “Among those who apprehended that the weird prophecies of the seers of
concerning the earth’s destruction are to find literal fulfillment in our day
there was general apprehension that the last day of the human race had come.” Israel
Abraham Brown of
, wrote to the East
Kingston, New Hampshire , Republican,
suggesting that it was a last-days sign: Springfield, Massachusetts
‘The sky was draped in a kind of fog, a little too light for smoke, and a little too dark for steam.’ As all our wise men have failed to give a scientific reply to the question of your correspondent, allow me to suggest that a ‘fog which is a little too light for smoke, and a little too dark for steam’ may properly be called a ‘vapour of smoke’ – and whether it be from a supernatural cause or from unexplained or unknown natural causes – it looks, and I have no doubt is one of the wonders of the fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel, as declared by the apostle Peter in Acts 11, 19 and 20: ‘I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: the sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come.’
Brown was serious. So were a multitude of others struck by the similarity between the event and Bible prophecy.
adherents were not persuaded. They expected other events that year. Watch Tower
As we noted in a previous chapter, Albert Jones focused on the perihelion of planets on
June 19, 1881, mentioning it in Bible Students
Tract number six. He believed Thomas Wilson’s booklet and other similar
predictions supported his expectations. He was not alone. Many outside the movement did as well,
including Barbour and his followers. Aged Barton Speak, who billed himself as
“an old Jacksonian Democrat,” wrote: Watch
It is now , and I am just in from the Stars. You know this is the night of the conjunction of the big stars, that is, the planets, and to-morrow – Sunday – is to be the end of the world; that is certain so called wise men have said so. I ope this will prove a blessed Saturday night for you if it is the last one. How little the beaux that sit in conjunction with their lasses to-night know what is going on overhead. They don’t know that the big stars of the solar system move up into a straight line with the sun, to-night. That is so. … If there isn’t a big disturbance to-morrow, I don’t want to be told … that when the earth gets out on a dress parade with the sun and other big bodies in the sky there must of necessity be a big disturbance …. The fact is, I don’t’ believe that a disturbance will take place.
Speak was right, of course, or we wouldn’t be writing this and you wouldn’t be reading it. Writers from The Restitution speculated on the supposed perihelion of planets, taking the mater seriously. In May 1879, a F. W. Haskell of
, wrote to Barbour asking: Lynn,
Have you seen an article in the papers on the conjunction of the four planets with the sun, which is supposed to explain the pestilence and miasmatic pressure brought to bear on the earth, and which is to vibrate with convulsions and thus scatter disease and death to its inhabitants? There was an article in a
paper last week, warning the people to take care of their health, as they will
soon be called upon to face a season of pestilence such as has not visited our
earth since the christian era. [sic] They ignore the ending of the gospel age,
and yet are looking for the very things foretold. Boston
Barbour didn’t append an answer to Haskell’s letter, but in the next issue recommended the booklet published by Thomas Wilson which we discussed on chapter [#]. Published under two titles, the one noted by Barbour was Star Prophecies, or a View of Coming Disasters on the Earth from1881 to 1885, as Viewed from an Atronomical and Astrological Standpoint. Its ideas persuaded readers of both magazines.
also published John Collom’s The Prophetic Numbers of Daniel and the
Revelation which focused on pyramid measurements and planetary perihelia.
Other books and pamphlets, almost without number, did as well. Wilson
 Yellow Day: Friends Intelligencer,
September 17, 1881, page 489.
 Quoted in Historic Magazine and Notes and Querries¸ October/November 1882, page 66.
 Letter from an Old Jacksonian Democrat,
, Sentinel and
Pennsylvania June 22, 1881.
 F. W. Haskell to Barbour in the May 1879 Herald of the Morning, page 56.