Eight-year-old Laura Venner sat on her stoop with her dog waiting for the world to end. She didn’t know what else to do after being told by her grandmother that doomsday had arrived. It was Dec. 13, 1974 and what was cause for alarm back then just ended up being a partial solar eclipse.
Today, Laura Venner is the astronomy educator and observatory specialist for the Meadowlands Environment Center and William D. McDowell Observatory in nearby Lyndhurst, N.J. She has lectured to thousands of youth in this role and has found that questions about the end of the world come up time and time again.
She isn’t the only person in the area concerned with doomsday predictions. Recently, Secaucus resident Catherine Yang was featured on Fox News because she and certain other people nationwide believed the world would end May 21 after radio evangelist Harold Camping spread the prediction.
“I just want kids to not be afraid.” – Laura Venner
On June 7, she launched her new lecture, “Will the World Really End in 2012?,” to address childrens’ fears and to help parents and grandparents respond to the issue.
“She wouldn’t go to school, had headaches…hadn’t eaten in two days,” said Venner in an interview last week, talking about a young girl who came in to see her because she thought the world was ending. The girl’s father had taken her to see the movie 2012 about the earth’s self-implosion, which only compounded her fears.
After meeting with Venner, the young student walked away with a new look on life and the desire to become a NASA scientist.
Venner says parents and grandparents don’t have enough information to respond to their children’s concerns. She’s putting together a pamphlet and materials about it, and says she will go anywhere to talk for free. “I just want kids to not be afraid,” said Venner.
At Tuesday’s event, Venner was quick to put to rest some of the fears children have brought to her attention, such as the possibility of an asteroid hitting earth, aliens arriving, the Earth exploding, Nostradamus’ predictions, and catastrophic planetary alignments.
She said that while an asteroid could hit the Earth some day, scientists are constantly monitoring the situation.
Approximately 50 people showed up for the lecture, one of many events held each month at the Meadowlands Environmental Center.
At the lecture, residents asked questions about the severity of Global Warming and natural disasters.
Later, audience member Peg Dalton, 67, from Edgewater, said her brother, an avid star-gazer who lives and works in Antarctica, believes the world will end in 2012. But she said she isn’t convinced.
2012 is a key year because the ancient Mayan calendar is perceived to end in that year, something Venner said is not true. At the lecture, she said the Mayan calendar, like any calendar, is cyclical. She said that some people believe the calendar points to the beginning of a new time period: the Age of Enlightenment, or as it has been referred to in the past, the Age of Aquarius.
She also said that recent natural disasters don’t mean the world is coming to the end.
After the lecture, she explained, “[Earth] has a way of balancing itself out…of reinventing itself – sometimes that means calm, sometimes that means turbulence – the earth is still growing.”
Venner said that an increased population in disaster zones and constant media attention adds an element of mania to what has naturally occurred for billions of years.
Camping’s followers believe the apocalypse will take place Oct. 21, 2011.
Venner heard about Camping three days before the May date. She had received an automated phone recording telling her to go to familyradio.com, which she initially thought was a joke. Her personal response to the 2011 predictions: “This is unfounded. I need to see facts.”
After the lecture, attendee Pat Dawson of Edgewater was asked what she would do if she only had three days left on Earth.
She replied, “I would have to party. What else can you do – party or pray.”
Anne LaHoff, 94, from North Arlington said, “The world will end when I die.”
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.