It's end of the world as we know it, and Maryland feels fine

Prophecy that world will end May 21, 2011, doesn't exactly have us feeling doomed

May 20, 2011|By Jill Rosen and Jean Marbella, The Baltimore Sun

It's not the end of the world.

And even if it is, most folks in Maryland seemed ready to go down with a stiff drink and a serious belly laugh this week — even as believers nationwide prepared for a prophesied May 21, 2011, rapture.

In Baltimore, people seemed more focused on the Preakness than on the apocalypse, though the end of the world was supposed to begin just as the race was about to start. Over the last week, "Save the Date" billboards began appearing around town, catching people's eyes as they motored past. Joining the signs were sizable ads in The Baltimore Sun and displays on area bus shelters.

After spotting one of the billboards in White Marsh a number of times, instead of quitting her job, cashing in her retirement plan or attempting a quick run through her bucket list, Joppatowne's Jean Miskimon couldn't stop giggling.

She and her family were laughing about it the other night when her 18-year-old son came up with a plan. He wanted to take the family's old clothes and drop entire outfits here and there around town — to make it look like "people were pulled right out of their clothes and taken into heaven," she said.

"I said you'd have to leave the underwear too, otherwise it wouldn't be real," Miskimon says, still laughing. "And then I told him he really couldn't do it. And he said he knew that."

The latest end-of-days buzz began with California radio preacher Harold Camping's prophecy that pinpoints May 21 as the day Christians will be gathered into the heavens to meet Christ. While true believers experience rapture, those left behind are slated for five months of trials and tribulations. After that, the Earth will be destroyed, according to the 89-year-old Camping, who is based in Oakland, Calif.

"It's going to be pretty ugly," says Art Bullard, 62, of Sacramento, an adherent who started listening to Camping's Family Radio broadcasts about 15 years ago and has become convinced that his timeline calculations are accurate. "People will be running for their lives."

Camping, who is not an ordained minister, could not be reached to comment, but his radio network arranged for Bullard, a retired groundskeeper for the state of California, to respond to an interview request from The Sun. Bullard said he has attended Camping's "teaching hours" in Oakland, which are taped for broadcast, and studies his interpretations of the Bible.

Bullard said he accepts that most people, starting with his own wife, don't believe the apocalypse is coming on Saturday.

"See you May 22, I'll buy you a beer," his friends tease him. But Bullard hopes to be long gone by then. "I'm as convinced this is going to happen as I'm convinced that Jesus Christ is my savior."

It was difficult to find anyone locally who shared Bullard's conviction — at least anyone willing to share his or her name.

All of those billboards and newspaper ads were placed by a Catonsville man who declined to be identified. He told The Sun he spent $63,000 in order to, as he put it, "blow the trumpet" of God's will. The trumpeting included five large billboards and 23 smaller ones throughout the Baltimore area.

Across the country this week, as some were preparing to meet their maker, others saw opportunity.

Someone online was selling "I Survived May 21, 2011" T-shirts for $14.95.

By lunchtime Friday, more than half a million people — more than a few in Baltimore — had RSVP'd to a Post Rapture Looting event organized on Facebook.

An atheist-run business that offers to take care of pets in the event of their owners' rapture was enjoying a spike in business.

Bart Centre, creator and co-owner of Eternal Earth-Bound Pets, said after a 27 percent jump in business over the first quarter of this year, he decided to raise his rates. From the previous $110 for 10 years' coverage for the first pet plus $15 for each additional pet, it now costs $135 and $20 for each additional animal.

A retired retail executive, Centre, 62, began the business about two years ago after writing a book, "The Atheist Camel Chronicle," in which he speculated that there was money to be made off those who believe in the rapture.

Over the 26 states he serves — Maryland isn't one of them — Centre has 260 clients.

Despite the windfall, Centre is dismissive of the end-of-the-world talk. He plans to spend Sunday playing with his own two dogs and "telling people who ask for refunds, 'No.'"

In South Baltimore, the No Idea Tavern was advertising "super soul saving specials" for Saturday. There would be heaven and hell shots, drink deals for anyone who comes in with a picture of themselves next to one of the Judgment Day billboards and — at the hour of rapture — a round of drinks on the house.

"People just need a reason to drink," says bar owner Jason Zink. "And I found it funny how much attention it's been getting, so why not celebrate it?"

In his radio address Friday morning, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg joked that should the world end on Saturday, city residents needn't worry about returning library books. Alternate-side parking, he added, would also be suspended.

No word from Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake on whether Baltimore residents would be so lucky.

In Prince George's County, the Rev. Kevin Aston leads a church that would seem to be as in tune to the end of the world as anyone. His ministry is called Prepare for the Rapture.

On Friday, Aston wasn't exactly preparing — that is, any more than any believer would on any given day. In fact, he'd just stopped by the grocery store to pick up cake for a church birthday party on Sunday.

So that means he believes there will be a Sunday?

"I can't be sure," he said, laughing. "It's within the realm of God's possibilities."

Baltimore Sun reporter Mary Carole McCauley contributed to this article.

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