When Halley’s Comet was set to pass in May 1910 there were a number of people hysterical over the idea that there would be widespread human causalities due to toxic cyanogen gas fumes from the comet’s tail. While various scientists and other authorities on the matter reassured the public that there was no real threat from the comet’s passing, the doomsday mentality thrived as conflicting reports were printed in papers and whispered throughout streets.
Bismarck Daily Tribune [ND] 1 Mar. 1910
The Ogden Standard 9 Feb. 1910
Arizona Republican 16 May 1910
Some sought to capitalize on fears by offering products and services offering protection from the poisonous gases, as in this ad for “Comet Proof” accommodations from a mining company. There was no up-front fee for those who were sealed into the rooms with a little over a week’s worth of provisions, but if they wanted to be released they had to pay.
Even more interesting (to me) were the reports of people who were driven insane or who wanted to end their lives due to overwhelming anxiety related to the comet. Paul Hammerton of California had a peculiar but unsuccessful exit strategy: he “crucified” himself.