Halley’s Hysteria

The Washington Herald 23 May 1910

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.

The San Francisco Call 10 May 1910

The Spokane Press 19 May 1910

Daily Arizona Silver Belt 19 May 1910

Deseret Evening News [Utah] 20 May 1910

New York Tribune 20 May 1910

This image is missing the text, “-ing to an end.”

The Washington Herald 23 May 1910
Daily Arizona Silver Belt 25 May 1910