Doomsday, East Patchogue, 1925

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Almost since the moment the ink dried on the Book of Revelation, seers and scriptural interpreters have been announcing the precise date and time at which the faithful would be whisked off to heaven and those left behind abandoned to immediate and unpleasant annihilation.

And so, 86 years before Harold Camping and the foretold events of May 21, 2011, there, in a shack on a hillside on the outskirts of East Patchogue, Long Island, was Robert Reidt, New York’s very own prophet of the apocalypse, a German-born house painter, paperhanger and adherent of a Seventh-day Adventist named Margaret Rowen who had set the Day of Judgment as Feb. 6, 1925.

For his efforts, Reidt earned, if not an immediate seat on the eternal throne, a run of breathlessly derisive front-page coverage in the New York Times of its day, which, judging by the clips, was a decidedly more freewheeling day than this one....

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