You don’t need me to tell you that we live in uncertain, unsettled times. (Obviously, that’s not going to stop me from telling you anyway.) Misinformation, disinformation, fake news, biased spins, conspiracy theories, baseless rumors, incendiary knee-jerk tweets disseminated, re-tweeted to further inflame millions, and then deleted in the space of a couple of hours… none of these seem to be affected by labor shortages or supply-chain problems, more’s the pity. The shelves are always fully stocked with this kind of crap.
Thus, the key question of our era seems to be, where can wisdom be found? Is there, anywhere, an infallible guide to light our way through the daily round of bafflement and perplexity that is apparently our permanent lot? Who, in God’s eternal name, who can I trust?! Well, my friends, I’m here to tell you the good news — there is someone you can trust. And who might that be, you ask?
Criswell, that’s who.
Jeron Criswell King, the Hoosier Nostradamus, who departed this plane of existence in 1982, was more than merely a frequent guest on the Tonight Show, more than one more shining star in Ed Wood’s galaxy of talent (Plan 9 from Outer Space wouldn’t be the towering achievement that it is without him), more than just another silver-haired, spit-curled guy who wore a tux and slept in a casket. After all, in Hollywood, people with those qualifications are a dime a dozen.
If you want a true measure of Criswell’s unique and lofty stature, here it is: he was Mae West’s personal psychic. What more do you need to know?
The Amazing Criswell (as he was known to his romantic partners) began publicly predicting the future on vitamin commercials that ran on Los Angeles television in the early 1950’s; he was ideal for the tube, with his striking looks and a vocal style that combined an evangelical preacher, an undertaker, and an appliance salesman working on commission. His outlandish predictions were so popular that they quickly led to magazine articles and a syndicated newspaper column; many of these writings were eventually gathered together in book form.
Criswell published three Criswell Predicts volumes during his lifetime: From Now to the Year 2000, Your Next Ten Years, and Forbidden Predictions, all chock-full of the kind of sure-fire forecasts that you’re not going to find on your favorite social-media platform or in the pages of the New York Times, that’s for damn sure. (The pages of the National Enquirer, on the other hand…)
The predictions that we’re going to examine here are found in Criswell’s first collection of prognostications, published in 1968, Criswell Predicts: From Now to the Year 2000, because that’s the only book of his that I’m silly enough to own. (If, fifty years ago, you had said, “I PREDICT that used copies of Criswell’s books will go for ridiculous sums on an ‘internet site’ called eBay!” you would have spoken with uncanny accuracy.) The back cover boasts, “87% of Criswell’s Predictions Have Come True!” If so, that puts him slightly ahead of all major polling organizations, and way ahead of the knuckleheads on First Take.
Criswell begins his opus with the startling declaration, “I wasn’t always Criswell Predicts: Once I was Baby Criswell!” Having disarmed his readers with this heart-warming bit of human interest, the seer details the strange circumstances surrounding his first prediction:
I scribbled on the walls, floors, and papers, and did not talk until I was four. “Retarded” they said. “Poor Baby Criswell will never talk.” During an Indiana thunderstorm, I started to talk and have not stopped until this day. I told my shocked parents that “The rain will stop!” My very first prediction! And a valid one!
I will let you be the judge of whether Baby Criswell should have quit while he was ahead. One thing is certain — the man was not a shy or cautious predictor; hedging his bets wasn’t his style. Take this detailed glimpse into the future (the place “where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives!”), which is fairly typical Criswell:
I predict that a large city in Colorado will be the victim of a strange and terrible pressure from outer space, which will cause all solids to turn into a jelly-like mass… housewives working at home will suddenly feel the floors sway and buck beneath them. Their once sturdy furniture will slither into weird and fantastic shapes. Dishes will turn into putty, and silverware will have the texture of rubber. I predict that without warning buildings will collapse to the ground in near silence trapping thousands in the rubble. These unfortunate victims will not be cut or gashed but death will be caused by crushing or smothering. These collapsed buildings will look like masses of oddly formed rubber.
I predict that scientists from all over the world will be called upon to help but no one will be able to offer relief for they will not be able to conquer this terrible force, this mysterious force from outer space. Gradually, as conditions ease survivors will be evacuated but this will become a dead city and will never again be reborn. I predict this unfortunate community will be a victim of elements beyond our control and will always be remembered until the end of time. I predict the name of the city will be Denver, Colorado. The date: June 9, 1989.
I have to say that that one was a miss, though maybe he just got the date wrong; time will tell. These warnings of impending disaster were Criswell’s stock-in-trade, as were political predictions like this one:
I predict that a Dallas, Texas, Millionaire will shock America and the world by leaving millions upon millions of dollars in his will to set up a true NAZI party in the U.S.
Hmmm. The jury is still out on that one. Criswell was also fond of making economic predictions:
I predict that the only medium of exchange we will have, will be a punch card. No coins, no bills, just a punch card. No gold, no silver, just a punch card. A punch card will clear at the automation center to buy you the things you want. However, I predict if you do not have enough energy units through work you will draw nothing.
Not bad, though I’m not sure that the reason so many people are living hand-to-mouth is because of insufficient energy units. In addition to issuing warnings about the stock market and international finance, Criswell also liked predicting the deaths of famous people:
I predict the assassination of Fidel Castro by a woman, on August 9, 1970.
I refuse to mark this down as a miss, even though most sources say that Castro died of natural causes on November 25, 2016. Think about it — if he had died almost half a century earlier, at the height of the Cold War, would his government have admitted it? If “Paul McCartney” has actually been a double for all these years, why not Fidel? In Criswell’s own words (referring to the notorious, hushed-up incident involving Grave Robbers from Outer Space), “Can you prove it didn’t happen?”
As a creation of the mass-media himself, Criswell was naturally interested in the future of television:
I predict that your television set will come on one side of the wall and the figures will be laser-caused, tri-dimensional and walk out into the room, in natural color, breathing, living, with odors to match. You will enjoy the bracing air of the Northwest, the warm enchantment of the South Seas or the swill of the swamps.
Decent, but I would rate this one higher if he had said we would enjoy “the swill of the Kardashians.”
Criswell was often unusually prescient — even for a television psychic — in his forecasting of social trends. Take this eerily accurate one, for instance:
I predict an outburst of Cannibalism that will terrorize the population of one of the industrial cities in the state of Pennsylvania — Pittsburgh! Our entire nation is dotted with experimental laboratories which are kept under constant guard and operated in complete secrecy… I predict that one of the largest experimental laboratories in Pennsylvania will have a sudden release of gas from a large chamber which will be swept through every sector of the installation… the effects of this gas will be ghastly for it will create in man a desire for raw flesh and it will be an uncontrollable hunger and lust. Men employed in the laboratory will seek to quell their appetites and the acts they commit within the confines of these walls cannot be told. I predict many of them will satisfy unspeakable urges there but others will leave the laboratory and search elsewhere to appease their maddened crazed hunger. No one outside the laboratory will know what happened beyond its guarded walls and the public will receive no warning until it is too late…
The prediction goes on for hundreds of more words, but you get the idea. (I’m not sure how long Criswell’s fame as a psychic will last, but as a prose stylist, he’ll live forever.) If this isn’t a spot-on prediction of the ongoing zombie apocalypse that we’ve been living through for the past several decades, I’ll eat my hat. Or your arm.
Speaking of biological hazards and medical catastrophes, check out this prediction:
A strange manner of death will come from the skies that cover China. Death from the unknown, from the elements of mystery! And the people of China will look to the heavens, in wonderment, and despair, and pray for deliverance. But they too must remember that in the Halls of the Ancients came the decree, that one day, the life of China must end! For this is the Day of Infamy!
Then there’s this:
I predict that school will be taught by television only. You will see your teacher on the screen and you will answer by a series of automated push buttons on your desk and will receive a passing or failing grade of that day’s test, and if you fail, you must take that specific hour again until you have fully grasped what it means. There will not be teachers as we know them today, they will merely be companions, in fact, they will be part of the police department who will be there merely as wardens to see that your children behave.
Connect these two predictions and there you have it, in words so clear that no one can dispute it: Criswell predicted COVID. (As someone who sat in front of a computer in my kitchen four years ago, vainly trying to instruct and monitor ten-year olds in their kitchens, living rooms, and bedrooms, I can verify that in the matter of education by screen, Criswell was right on the money about being a cop instead of a teacher.)
There’s one more thing that has to be mentioned in any discussion of Criswell’s predictive ability — he declared several times that the “world as we know it” would end on August 18, 1999:
A study of all the prophets — Nostradamus, St. Odile, Mother Shipton, the Bible — indicates that we will cease to exist before the year 2000! Not one of those prophets even took the trouble to predict beyond the year 2000! And if you and I meet each other on the street that fateful day, August 18, 1999, and we chat about what we will do on the morrow, we will open our mouths to speak and no words will come out, for we have no future… you and I will suddenly run out of time!
Clearly, Criswell was never afraid to stick his neck out, especially when he nailed things down with precise dates, but the scoffs will die in your throat when you consider this: during the week of August 18, 1999, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? debuted to huge ratings on its way to becoming a national obsession, and speaking for myself, when I took one look at Regis Philbin, I tried to speak and no words came out; I definitely felt like I had no future.
As you can see, and without being too picky about percentages, Criswell’s predictions were hit or miss (often hit and miss). I could share many more of his future visions, but this being an election year there’s only so much flapdoodle any of us can stand. Therefore, I’ll leave you now to penetrate the drawn curtain of the future for yourself, and I will give Criswell the benefit of the doubt by saying farewell with one of his predictions that truly is an absolute, “Oh my God!”, arrow-splitting bull’s-eye:
I predict that New York is doomed.
Thomas Parker is a native Southern Californian and a lifelong science fiction, fantasy, and mystery fan. When not corrupting the next generation as a fourth grade teacher, he collects Roger Corman movies, Silver Age comic books, Ace doubles, and despairing looks from his wife. His last article for us was Murder as Comedy, Murder as Fantasy: Unfaithfully Yours