Our current health struggle with the coronavirus is frightening to many, because of its deadly potential, and annoying to others – avoiding close contacts with people, washing hands for 20 seconds, and having to stay at home for long periods of time. One thing is for certain: the virus is on everyone’s mind most every hour of the day and night. It is difficult to remember any event (perhaps the conclusion of a world war) that would garner so much complete and utter attention. Waldoboro’s history recalls, however, one event which might offer a comparison for almost complete attention from nearly everyone living at its time. Here it is for your enjoyment.
The early years of the 19th century saw in the eastern United States a wave of new interest in the Bible, particularly in the prophecies concerning the second coming to Earth of the savior, Jesus Christ. Between 1831 and 1844, Mr. William Miller, a Baptist preacher and former captain in the War of 1812, launched his belief throughout the country villages about the “Second Great Awakening.”
Based on his own studies, Mr. Miller calculated that Jesus would return to Earth on Oct. 22, 1844. At that time, Mr. Miller proclaimed, the Lord would descend from on high and return to the above, bringing with him those people who were Truly Faithful. And in their wake, the end of the world would come. The Truly Faithful would be raised bodily from Earth and ascend to heaven.
In Waldoboro, three distinct groups eagerly awaited the event on the morning of Oct. 22, 1844. “Expectation everywhere was at the highest pitch and full preparations were made. Many people disposed of all their property and cattle, donned ‘ascension gowns,’ and assembled with serene confidence in open places, or on hilltops – or even on housetops – anywhere they would not become entangled in trees as they moved skyward at the signal of the heavenly trumpet. There were other folks who, while not really believing, quaked with fear that the event might really happen! And of course, there were many who scoffed and laughed but were very curious and gathered at the appointed places to observe.” – Jasper J. Stahl
The groups of observers assembled on the east and west banks of the river just below the Main Street bridge. Many had brought picnic lunches and enjoyed their treats as they waited. The day dragged on to the twilight. As the light waned, hope dimmed in the hearts of the believers, who sadly and slowly made their way back to their homes, safe but unfulfilled. And louder and louder came the laughs of the scornful. Throughout Waldoboro and throughout the Christian world, the event became known as the “Great Disappointment.”
(Sources include The Lincoln County News, “The Artistry of Thomas D. Turlo,” and J.J. Stahl’s “History of Waldoboro and Old Broad Bay.”)