Johvanni Colon and Eddie Perez didn’t know that they had staked out a nearly 375-year-old launching pad for the End of Times when they picked the New Haven Green to await the strike of 6 p.m. Saturday.
The pair decided to find an open-air spot to observe what might or might not happen at the hour that Family Radio Network preacher Harold Camping had told the world that righteous people would be swept up into heaven in the biblically envisioned “Rapture,” setting off months of hell on earth leading to the destruction of those left behind.
It turns out that a doomsday preacher from another era, John Davenport, had the same apocalyptic inauguration of Judgment Day on his mind. So New Haven was laid out to accommodate the masses of people who it was believed would be swept up in the Rapture, when it arrives. New Haven’s founding Puritans figured the Green would make an ideal spot for the airlift.
As it turned out, the Rapture didn’t arrive at 6 p.m. Saturday. That was OK with Colon, a self-described anxiety-prone man of 22. He said didn’t quite think the end of the world was coming. But he wasn’t sure. “You never know,” he said.
So at 5:45 p.m. a bench on the Green served as a pew for Colon and his friend Eddie Perez. They sat with their back to the flagpole in a carefully chosen location for prime viewing, just in case. Perez was smoking rather nervously.
“We figure we have enough time to run if the financial center comes down,” Colon said.
Earlier in the afternoon the two friends had emailed each other and began to talk about the prediction.
“An open field seemed like a very good idea,” said Perez.
“We’d heard about the end of the world so many times. It doesn’t faze you,” Perez added.
Still, at 5:55 he checked his watch against the clock at the top of City Hall. There was a minute’s discrepancy.
“Time to move to the open field,” he said.
Colon admitted his heart was beating a little more rapidly as the hands of the clock atop city Hall neared six.
If Camping’s apocalyptic vision turned out to be true, that would be a shame too, Colon said. “I have no job, I’m not in school. I’m just trying to figure out life. Hey, bad timing. I start my life, and then it’s over. It sucks.”
“Yeah, we want our money back,” said Perez, an army reservist, and the more skeptical of the pair. The two moved farther out into the open field of the great Green.
At the risk of giving a history quiz at potentially our last moments on earth, a reporter asked: Did either of the young men know that New Haven’s Green is as big as it is because the zealous Puritan founders wanted a space large enough to accommodate all 144,000 souls scheduled to be raptured up per prophesies in the Book of Revelation?
The Green was measured to the size of the Hebrew encampments in the Book of Exodus, with just the right number of cubits to accommodate the saved if they stood precisely shoulder to shoulder. That’s why Elm City’s Green is the biggest in New England.
Perez and Colon said they hadn’t know they had come to the right place, the ground zero for the Rapture. Location, location, location.
At 5:57 the Green looked normal as could be. Passersby carried some packages from here to there in front of a litter can urging all to give Mother Earth a helping hand.
Clearly, if the Proprietors of the Green had planned for such a doomsday in their bylaws, or if the Town Green Special Services District’s smiling ambassadors had made preparations, they weren’t in evidence.
Four bicyclists dropped their wheels on the Green grass and began a picnic. A young man lay on his back on the bench by the fountain and was reading. If there was something palpably eerie in the air, it was a little kid riding his bike along the lanes of the Green and crying out some indecipherable and inconsolable call of distress.
Was that another sign? Suffering children.
“All I know about the Green is that there are bodies buried under it,” said Perez.
5:58. In order to cope with a vestige of nervousness, Perez said of Harold Camping: “He’ll have a lot of explaining to do if nothing happens.”
At 5:59 the young men shook hands just in case one of them was Raptured up and the other left. You never know, Colon observed.
By 6:01, the apocalypse had clearly passed New Haven by.
Colon, looking relieved, gave a thumbs up. Life would go on.
While the Saturday doomsday prediction provoked much mirth in the media and was dismissed by most ministers, a mainstream interpretation of end times theology does counsel people to live each day as if it were their last.
Within minutes of the non-Rapture, Perez and Colon were gone. They had said the next apocalypse on their radar was the Mayan calendar’s prediction for 2012.
That’s a better kind of prediction, said Perez, who had read up on it already. “There’s no destruction,” he said. “Things just stop.”
Reporter Allan Appel is the author Portable Apocalypse: A Quotable Companion to the End of the World.