For years William Miller had been proclaiming the Second Coming of Christ would occur in 1843, with the rapture of the faithful and the destruction of those left behind. His believers, dubbed Millerites, numbered in the thousands. Another William, by the last name of Beauchamp, did not take it seriously. He was not impressionable, and very much a 12-year-old boy enjoying his boyhood in Skaneateles. But years later he would write about events that prompted him to momentarily reconsider the prophesy.
“One morning a man came down the street from the east, uttering an occasional loud cry. He stopped in front of [John] Snook’s store, and commenced a discourse. People soon made up their minds that he was drunk or crazy, and a pail of water was emptied over him; but as this made no difference, he was marched off to Judge Jewett, who charged him to create no disturbance. There was no special interference with him afterwards, except as the boys used to snowball him. He walked around at intervals of weeks and months, smoking and preaching, and when a well directed snowball from Clinton Brainerd took the pipe out of his fingers he took no notice of it. But he stopped just after, and pointing to the stores opposite, said, ‘Boys, if the world should come to an end, what a smashing of glass there would be.’ This was the ridiculous side.”
And then came the Great Comet of 1843, in February and March.
“One cold winter’s night it did not seem so ridiculous. We were sliding down hill. The tail of the comet, the head of which we never saw, was streaming halfway across the sky. The moon was shining, and the northern lights were up. They were much as usual at first, but soon began to float all over the sky in fantastic forms, and with changing colors. They drew up abreast of the moon, and deployed in line, and turned blood red. And in the midst of all, in the still evening hours, the voice of the preacher would burst out here and there in the streets, announcing a swift destruction to the earth and the inhabitants thereof. It was a scene to make a deep and thrilling impression.”
* * *
Quotes from Notes of Other Days in Skaneateles (1867) by the Rev. William T. Beauchamp