On Independence Day 2017, I found myself on a subway jaunt into Manhattan and back. Passing the 181st Street—George Washington Bridge—station on my downtown ride on the Number 1 train, I remembered a bizarre rumor that persisted during my boyhood in the early 1970s. It was that the Fuhrer did not, as widely reported, commit suicide in his bunker in April 1945. And the urban myth of local interest took it from there. Somebody somewhere spread the word that the octogenarian monster—who would have been in his eighties in the seventies—had miraculously managed to escape Germany and was very much alive. More specifically, he was peddling newspapers for a measly living in the subterranean recesses of the 181st Street station. I don’t recall what, if any, newspaper—Daily News, New York Post, etc.—figured in this remarkable account.
I do recollect as boy of eight, nine, and ten years old passing by the station—as I did a few days ago—and getting the creeps. That's a phrase we used a lot as kids. We lent credence to stuff as children, I know, that didn’t pass the smell test, including that the 181st Street station was simultaneously under the Hudson River and the George Washington Bridge. Entering and exiting it required a ride on a ferryboat, I guess. A friend and I were once absolutely convinced that the clouds in the sky were stationary. The Earth’s rotation—not wind—was the sole wind beneath their wings. I take some solace in the fact that we were only eight years old at the time with a lot to learn and not making government policy.
Now that I’m on the subject of the extraordinary rumors that permeated yesteryear’s ether, I remember a “doomsday” prediction that got some play. My first thought—all these years later—was that it was one of Jean Dixon’s many prophecies. She was, after all, the psychic du jour in the 1970s. But from what I gleaned in my virtual research, Dixon didn’t forecast the apocalypse in that singular snapshot in time. She had several years earlier—the year I was born—forecast world destruction, but not in my grammar school days. So, I’m betting that what gave me a few anxious moments as a nine year old was evangelist Herbert W. Armstrong’s 1972 prediction of the third rock from the sun’s absolute obliteration. That sounds about right. For I had my whole life ahead of me at the time, which, I suppose, is why the world ending so prematurely mattered. Think of all the pizza slices I would never have tasted. Now, forty-five years later, I say: Let Dixon and Armstrong’s snake-oil successors foretell away—and see if I care.
(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)