The Illinois town that outlived the predictions of its founder
It has been nearly 10 years since the Battle of Armageddon was supposed to have occurred, according to the predictions of the late Richard Kieninger. Life in Stelle, Illinois, goes on.
Kieninger founded Stelle, the German word for “place,” in 1973. The original residents of the planned community believed in the prophecies set forth in Kieninger’s 1963 book The Ultimate Frontier, which forecast that Armageddon would commence in November 1999. Writing under the pen name Eklal Kueshana, Kieninger further warned that survivors of the final war would be put out of their misery soon thereafter by a series of catastrophic events.
Among other things, Kieninger claimed he was the reincarnation of King David and Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten. In The Ultimate Frontier, a mysterious character named Dr. White contacts a boy named Richard, who is then recruited into a multi-tiered secret society of perfect human beings, called the Brotherhoods, which allegedly originated 25,000 years ago.
“On May 5 of the year 2000 A.D.,” wrote Kieninger, “the planets of the solar system will be arrayed in practically a straight line across space, and our planet will be subjected to enough gravitational distortion to tip the delicate balance. Although one cannot normally expect mere planetary configurations to have such a spectacular effect on us, many factors within our earth are conjoining to produce great surface instability around the turn of the century.”
Kieninger described in detail the earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and hurricanes that would occur after the conjunction, citing the biblical book of Revelation as a corroborative reference. He further forecast that the tumult would cause existing landmasses to sink into the ocean. He and his followers, however, planned to escape the havoc in high-tech dirigibles of their own design. Kieninger envisioned that the residents of Stelle would ultimately colonize the Kingdom of God on the lost continent of Mu, which would resurface from the Pacific Ocean near Easter Island.
Originally, Stelle residents, who hailed mainly from the Chicago area, were required to donate their assets to the cause. But by the late 1970s, some believers had begun to waver and filed lawsuits to regain their lost savings. In 1980, the remaining Stelle residents ousted the autocratic Kieninger, who moved to Texas and founded the community of Adelphi, Texas, which was also based on his apocalyptic visions.
In 1998, a federal jury convicted Kieninger, by then 70 years old, for his role in a secessionist movement that passed millions of dollars in fake checks backed by the nonexistent Republic of Texas. The failed scheme was apparently part of Kieninger’s vision as well. In The Ultimate Frontier, Dr. White tells young Richard that he will create a city and, later, a nation.
Today, 44 households comprise Stelle, according to the town’s website . The Stelle Group, the community’s original governing body, was disbanded in 2006, replaced by a more traditional community association. Nowadays, the curved drive and suburban-style homes give no hint of the town’s unusual history. But there are signs that residents continue to believe in self-reliance and sustainable energy. For instance, the village still provides its own telephone and Internet service, which is solar-powered.
Although many Stellites accept reincarnation as a precept, it seems that most of the people there loathe reliving the past. There is a stigma attached to the early days of the community from which they would prefer to disassociate themselves. But the work of another failed prognosticator has helped keep Kieninger’s ideas alive.
Kieninger wrote the preface to Richard W. Noone’s bestseller 5/5/2000 Ice: The Ultimate Disaster, first published in 1982 and reissued by Random House in 1997. In the book, Noone theorizes that the 2000 planetary alignment would trigger a solar flare, which could induce a polar shift, causing the reversal of the earth’s magnetic field. If this would have happened, it could have dislodged trillions of tons of ice from the South Pole, according to Noone, and consequently unleashed geologic disasters across the face of the earth. Neither Kieninger or Noone foresaw the melting of the polar caps due to global warming.
Kieninger, who served approximately 18 months in federal prison for his involvement in the Republic of Texas secessionist movement, lived beyond his prophesied end of the world. He died in Adelphi, Texas, in 2002. — C.D. Stelzer (firstname.lastname@example.org)