Summer Vacation, 1976

“There is a Growing Tendency to Think of Man as a Rationally Thinking Being… Which is Absurd. There is simply no evidence of any intelligence on the Earth.”

When I was growing up, my family would sometimes go back to my grandfather’s farm in South Dakota for a couple of weeks in the summer. I loved that place. It was so different from the world I knew. It was so alien, in fact, that my grandparents didn’t even own a television.

In 1976, when I was in my early teens, we somehow managed to go back for six weeks (I’m not sure, but that might have been the summer of the spreader.). Interestingly, the prospect of spending a summer without a television didn’t bother me at all—except for one thing…

That was summer that NASA landed Viking 1 on Mars. That was a big event. It was NASA’s first robotic probe to land on Mars. Among the various scientific equipment aboard, it had a biology lab. They were looking for life on Mars! Microbial life seemed a very real possibility back then. This was our best chance to find it. And I was stuck in the middle of Buttsuck, South Dakota, miles from a television.

Road trip!

It looked something like this.

We drove there and back in our 1969 Chevy station wagon. It was decadent! It had air conditioning and seat belts. Our prior car, a 1965 Ford Mustang, had neither (Actually, I think the Mustang had seat belts in the front. I guess the rear passengers, like rabbits, were expendable.).

We’d stop for gas and food at the wonderful truck stops and tourist traps along the interstate. I loved to buy their postcards of giant grasshoppers:


… jack rabbits:


… fur-bearing trout:

If you catch enough, you can make a coat

… and, the most famous of all, of course, the jackalope:

Not bad for the days before Photoshop

A lot of the gift shops also sold this book:

Fun trivia.  Most of it may have even been true.

It was filled with all sorts of fun trivia about U.S. history. It was a good book to read on the trip, so I bought it. Here are the titles of some of the short articles:

  • The last man to invade U.S. ended up as a guest at a banquet
  • She was first woman in United States to wear pants—by an act of Congress!
  • Five presidents have had beards and all five were Republicans
  • Famous ghosts still walk halls of White House
  • The day president U.S. Grant was arrested for speeding

Some of this book’s trivia I later confirmed in other books. One or two I’ve found were common myths. But overall, it was a fun read.

I have a good memory. Looking through this book today, I see that I have actually retained most of these stories in my massive brain.

One of those articles that I always remembered was the story of the Millerites, which I have reproduced below. I remembered it during the recent Harold Camping laugh-fest.

Reading this article back then in the summer of ’76 was my first exposure to the concept of the doomsday cult. I had always known that there were crazy fundies perpetually predicting the end of the world. Until that point, I never knew that some of them were insane enough to actually abandon work, leave their fields unplanted, and sit on a hillside waiting to be raptured.

Welcome to the real America, kid. Ugly, isn’t it? (I wonder what I would have thought if I had known that 30 years later, I’d embark upon a 5+ year quest to document and expose the dangers of this insanity.)

So for your enlightenment, here is the article that I read that summer 35 years ago:

You're not going to believe this, but the world is ending tomorrow!

(Click to embiggen, if you can stand to see fundie craziness at full size.)

I love the last two words of that title: “It Didn’t!” Really? I would have thought he wouldn’t have needed to tell us. (At the very least, he should have preceded it with the words “Spoiler Alert!”)

That article doesn’t tell the entire story, though (and it gets a few of the minor details wrong). Those people didn’t just “[start] life all over again”. Nor did they learn their lesson. They became the Seventh Day Adventists.

Thinking back now on that article, I see a similarity between what I wanted to do that summer in 1976 and what the Millerites wanted to do in their day. Yet in that similarity I see an even bigger difference.

Both of us looked to the heavens.

The Millerites, though, were looking to a delusion of the past and hoping for the demise of mankind.

I was looking to man-made robot on Mars and dreaming of our future.

7 Responses to “Summer Vacation, 1976”

  1. L.Long Says:

    The cartoon is the reason there are no extensive space alien activity here. They came, they saw, they went home disappointed there was no intelligence found.

  2. Thomas Says:

    This is not entirely relevant to what you posted, but the end of the world bit reminded me to mention it.

    Mormons scare the shit out of me.

    That is all.

  3. Parrotlover77 Says:

    Dude, Chuck Jones and Tex Avery pwn. Aliens would see those cartoons and realize that they are far inferior in every possible way to humanity. Now, if they saw some Disney garbage, the story might be different.

    That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

    Enjoy your vaca, Ron!

  4. Lindsay Says:

    I hope your family made a stop at least once to Wall Drug. The signs draw you in…and then you find out once you get there that there is absolutely nothing there except cheap trinkets. At least there is a giant jackalope sitting outside the place.

    It never ceases to amaze me that doomsday cults continually pop up. Isn’t that some ego, to believe you calculated the date the world ends from a 2000 year old text and convince others that you are correct.

    I will at least give the Marshall Applewhite from the Heaven’s Gate cult creativity points by combining aliens with quasi-Christian belief.

  5. Ron Britton Says:


    Of course we went to Wall Drug! I love Wall Drug! I love all those hokey tourist traps. The best part was all the horrible animatronics out back.

  6. Parrotlover77 Says:

    I had never heard of Wall Drug, but had to google after seeing it mentioned here. It was about what I expected.

    At the border of North and South Carolina on I-95, there is a tourist trap called “South of the Border” (which is ironic becaues it’s actually just on the North Carolina side). It’s got a stereotypical 1950s Mexican vibe to the place. I’ve never stopped in, but heard it’s pretty cheesy. I drive past it every time I drive down to Florida to visit family.

    They take the ballistic billboard approach. For about 150 miles north and south of their location, you see a sign at least every mile. It’s always got some corny word-play, like “You’ve never sausage a place” and then there’s a giant sausage poking out of the billboard in 3D.

    The best part is how overtly racist all their marketing is. Their mascot is Pedro, a goofy buck-toothed smiling “Mexican” who is also portrayed asleep on a cactus. Yeah…

    I’m sure all the white old southerners feel worldly and open minded when they visit.

  7. anti_supernaturalist Says:

    nuclear nihilism
    fundie funded wake-up message for “God”

    Alpha and Omega — A notion of an impending end-to-time is a novelty among religious big-lies. Before 1200 BCE with zoroastrianism, there were no near-eastern apocalypses. For them to arise a more insidious big-lie must be forged, a moralized cosmos created by a beneficent god.

    “The LORD upholdeth all that fall, and raiseth up all those that be bowed down.” (Ps 145:14 KJV) The downtrodden and revenge-filled could at last claim a religious ideology all their own, one with gutter appeal.

    The infection spread to become the imperial Persian state religion (600 – 250 BCE) and reached jews in exile in Babylon (586 – 538 BCE). It entered anti-Macedonian and later anti-Roman propaganda by rebellious jews (140 BCE – 135 CE), handed on to xians (50 CE – today), re-gifted to islam (600 CE – today). Now perhaps one-third of Earth’s people carries the doomsday virus if only latently.

    • Secularized as “MAD”, mutually assured nuclear destruction, and ballyhooed by televangelist frauds: Revelation, “John”s copycat text (about 110 CE) cannot be understood in isolation, as demonstrated by Norm Cohn’s work: Cosmos, Chaos, and the World to Come [2nd ed Yale. 2000].

    Cohn chronicles jubilation of “the children of light” hoping for renewal through destruction of the world. They are granted a revenge satisfying prevision of seeing their enemies “the children of darkness” consigned to eternal torture.

    • Understanding apocalypses within the near eastern group of religions lies in realizing that each gets created during a time of foreign oppression — invasion and occupation. Each chronicles desires for this-worldly revenge which can not be expressed except in words, words veiled out of fear in obscure religious symbols and arcane references.

    US fundies’ dark love affair with modern Israel encourages its far-right political groups to initiate a mid-east nuclear cataclysm — a preemptive strike against Iran — to jump start Armageddon. Giving “God” a wake-up call to initiate a triumphal return for his only son, comix book Christ-Cosmic-Avenger®.

    Sickness unto death, indeed.

    the anti_supernaturalist