As I wrote this — late Friday afternoon — there were jokes around the newsroom about the possibility of the world ending the next day.

Obviously I didn't believe May 21 was going to be Judgment Day, or why would I be writing a column for Monday?

Still, the conversation drifted to what we might have for a last meal, and after a lot of consideration — a Garibaldi from Paisan's, a fish fry from the Laurel, steak and hash browns from Smoky's — I decided that for any number of reasons, mine had to be a cheeseburger.

Don't ask me from where, the question is too overwhelming. But I also knew what my last words would be: "Lutefisk never passed these lips."

Actually, what all the doomsday talk did is remind me that there is nothing new under the sun.

There have been other dire Judgment Day predictions, and doubtless there will be more in the future.

Once, however, the doomsday scenario was specific to Madison.

Few people know about it, but it happened, and a surprising number of people took it seriously.

I first heard about it in a 2007 book by Eau Claire author Chad Lewis titled "Hidden Headlines of Wisconsin: Strange, Unusual and Bizarre Newspaper Stories 1860-1910."

Lewis quoted a June 1906 article from the Eau Claire Leader that said "a religious exhorter" had claimed that Madison's lakes would rise up and engulf the city.

I was intrigued enough to go into our microfilm collection at the newspaper and check out editions of the Wisconsin State Journal leading up to June 17, 1906, the day — I learned — that some feared Madison would suffer its apocalypse.

The first mention of Madison's doomsday appeared in the in the June 7 State Journal — 10 days before the purported end.

The front page story carried this headline: "MADISON IS DOOMED: LATEST DOPE BY WOMAN."

The deck, or secondary headline, read: "Unknown Female Prophet is Said to Have Made a Wild Prediction About the Capital City."

The State Journal story mocked the prediction, as the story's lead indicates: "Madison is doomed. On Sunday, June 17, the fair city of the west, with its capitol, splendid university buildings and good people, will collapse, and the waters of Lake Mendota and Monona will rise and sweep over the once beautiful and proud municipality."

The paper noted that "according to street talk," the prediction was made by an unnamed woman who had predicted the San Francisco earthquake two months earlier.

To the apparent dismay of State Journal journalists, who dubbed the woman "Calamity Jane," many in Madison took the prophecy seriously.

A page one story two days before the purported doomsday noted: "It is astonishing and ludicrous how widely the prophecy of Madison's destruction is discussed. One woman is reported to have drawn $700 from her bank and sent it to Chicago friends. She will leave the city before Sunday. A milkman reports that all but three persons on his route have informed him that they want no milk on Sunday. That means they will not be in the city. Several people are going to Blue Mounds because that is the highest point in the state."

The next day, D-Day minus one, the State Journal headline read: "ARE YOU ONE OF THE FOOLISH ONES?" The story opened: "Madison — foolish Madison, has actually taken stock in the prediction that a calamity will befall the city tomorrow."

The sun came up on June 17, and, well, nothing happened.

Would the State Journal let it go and not say I told you so? Of course not.

The next day's headline read: "Madison is safe." And the story began: "Howdy, everybody. And wasn't it a lovely, quiet and uneventful Sunday. A great many people left town so they don't know. Calamity Jane proved to be all of a joke."

If you're reading this, I guess May 21 wasn't so bad either.

Until the next Judgment Day, take care.

Contact Doug Moe at 608-252-6446 or dmoe@madison.com. His column appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

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