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Aurora University houses large collection of historic prophetic charts
By Victoria Pierce | Daily Herald Correspondent

A close-up of the 1843 chart used to prophesy the second coming of Christ in the Phillips Library, 315 Gladstone Ave. at Aurora University.

 

Tanit Jarusan | Staff Photographer

This poster symbolized passages in Genesis 2, Daniel and Revelation that were the basis of William Miller's calculations for the second coming.

 

Tanit Jarusan | Staff Photographer

These charts dating to the mid-1840s measure 5 by 41 feet and were used as backdrops during gatherings for as many as 4,000 people.

 

Tanit Jarusan | Staff Photographer

Susan Palmer, Aurora University history professor, is the curator of the Jenks Memorial Collection of Adventual Materials at Aurora University. This is one of 15 known of the original 1,000 printed.

 

Tanit Jarusan | Staff Photographer

This photo of William Miller, 1841, is part of the collection. He believed that the second coming of Christ would occur in 1843-44.

 

Tanit Jarusan | Staff Photographer

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Published: 7/27/2008 12:02 AM

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With floods, earthquakes, fires, wars and other disasters occurring around the world, it's natural to wonder if some Biblical predictions about the end of the world just might be coming true.

In the mid-1800s, New England farmer William Miller whipped hundreds of thousands into a frenzy with his sincere belief that the second coming of Christ would occur sometime between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844.

Obviously, that didn't happen.

But many of Miller's papers and books, along with a collection of 36 prophetic charts showing how he calculated the timing of the end of the world survive and are now part of the Jenks Memorial Collection of Adventual Materials at Aurora University in Aurora.

"This is very relevant to today," said Aurora University history professor Susan Palmer, who is also the collection's curator.

Several of the charts were on display recently for a gathering of Adventist church officials from around the country. The Seventh Day Adventists and Adventist Christian denominations came out of the Millerite movement and the display offered a rare glimpse at the colorful charts and banners.

Aurora University started in Mendota, Ill., as a seminary affiliated with the Adventist Christian Church. The named was soon changed to Mendota College and in 1911 the school moved to Aurora at the urging of Orrin Roe Jenks, who served as the college's president from 1911 to 1933.

It was Jenks who collected many of the historic materials while traveling widely to promote the university, Palmer said.

During the mid-1840s, the cloth or paper charts ranging in size from 2 by 3 feet to 5 by 41 feet, were used by Millerite preachers as tools for explaining the complex calculations Miller used to come up with his prediction.

"These were cutting edge visual aids," Palmer said.

Many are brightly colored with vivid graphics depicting characters in the Bible chapters of Daniel and Revelations, which Miller relied on heavily in his studies.

"They had this humongous tent," Palmer said, describing some of the early gatherings that attracted as many as 4,000 people. The largest charts would be used as a backdrop while the smaller charts could be used much like cue cards for the preacher.

One of the earliest charts was mass produced with about 1,000 copies that were sent around the country and even around the world. Only about 15 are known to exist today and one of them is in the Jenks collection.

Looking back, the Millerite movement seems outlandish. But Palmer said, much like today, the mid 1800s were an era of great societal and cultural change with the industrial revolution, increased immigration, a recession and other factors coming into play.

The Millerites were "restorationists" who frowned upon many of the practices and beliefs of religion at the time and urged people to return to the "true roots of Christianity," Palmer said.

They came from many different denominations, but ultimately came together as Millerites.

"The Millerites were terribly ridiculed," she said.

But Miller was not a crazed church leader with unfounded wacky ideas. He was quiet and introspective and only reluctantly made his beliefs about the apocalypse known after many years of deeply studying the Bible.

"He took a very scholarly approach - He was very rational," Palmer said. And even though he was not a gifted speaker his logic and thoughtful approach were convincing.

Some of his followers, however, were not so rational.

During 1843-44, some gave away all their belongings and quit working in preparation for the end of the world.

"Miller always told them not to," Palmer said.

When the world didn't end as Miller had predicted, another preacher calculated a new date, Oct. 22, 1844, as the day Christ would return.

Obviously, that didn't happen either.

"It was after that that people were crushed," Palmer said. It became known as The Great Disappointment.

The Millerite movement soon faded and Miller died a few years later in 1849. But many of his writings, books and the colorful charts depicting a unique religious movement survive thanks to Jenks' persistence.

Anyone wanting to view the scholarly collection can call Palmer for an appointment at (630) 844-5437. Because of their age, however, the charts are rarely removed from their protective rolls in a temperature controlled room in the library. More information about the collection is also available online at www.aurora.edu.