The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Benjamin the Anti-Christ's Doomsday Prophecy
I was hoping for skulls and mummies, but I got apocalypse and 'brain paralisis' [sic] instead.
It was an otherwise uneventful day in the Smithsonian Institution Archives, and I was looking for human remains from Peru in the archives of the old National Institute for the Promotion of Science. The National institute was chartered by Congress in 1842, but in 1862 it folded, and its collections went to the Smithsonian.
It was in a folder marked 'miscellany' that I found a document that didn't quite belong: written in April 1866, four years after the National Institute's transfer, it was nothing less than an apocalyptic prophecy by one "Benjamin, the Anti Christ," recorded in San Francisco.
Then, as now, America was no stranger to millenarian sects and doomsday predictions, embedded with contemporary political messages. The one laid out by "Benjamin, the Anti Christ," was particularly flamboyant, however:
"The End is now on hand; the forthcoming Epoch, or Grand Change and Revolution, and Bloodshed, awaits Mankind, at every door, most horrible to relate."
It would start March 4, 1867 with a change of office: President Andrew Johnson would leave the government and the Senate would fill his vacancy.
Before another president could be elected, however, on February 22, 1871 a massive Earthquake would sink the Western coast of North America, from Washington to Mexico. "Two millions and One half of human beings" would die. Two plagues would follow: Cholera Infantum, and Brain Paralisis [sic.]
A landbridge would link the State of Florida to Panama, achieving what for many was a great American dream: the Caribbean as a U.S. lake. Canals would run from Lake Superior to New York, cut across Florida, and through Mexico to the great new bay of Arizona, where the "Holy City of the New Jerusalem" would be founded -- home of the United States' new government.
A General Congress would meet there, then annex Mexico, Honduras and Canada, and Great Britain. Austria and Italy would join the U.S. as well. Vice Governors would rule beneath a "Grand Head King," who would be crowned in Dover, England, govern the Seven Tribes of Israel, and live in Arizona.
Against the united transatlantic protestant nations of U.S. and England, the Catholic countries of Europe, Africa and Asia would wage war, until God would sweep them from the Earth. The Protestants and Jews would then unite as "one Body Politic" and 190 years of "Univeral Liberty, universal Freedom and universal Love" under the Banner of God and the American Eagle.
And then, on March 4, 2057, there would be a Flood, inundating all the Earth save that occupied by the children of the Seven Tribes of Israel.
Who was Benjamin the Anti Christ? Was he just a more jingoistic and fanatic version of San Francisco's famed Imperial Majesty Emperor Norton, who wandered the streets in a beaver hat topped with a peacock feather, ruling the U.S. -- and protecting Mexico -- in his mind before he died in 1880? What happened to him?
There are a number of clues that San Francisco history buffs can help us with. There is a scan and transcript of the entire nine-page document, which includes no less than twelve names signed by witnesses and a notary, over at The Appendix: A New Journal of Narrative and Experimental History, a new web-based archive-devoted history journal that just started up.
We would love your help. Email the editors if you can help solve the mystery -- or post your ideas below.
- Record Unit 7058: National Institute, Records, 1839-1863 and undated, Smithsonian Institution Archives