Margaret W. Rowen: Hollywood’s prophetess of doom
By Allan R. Ellenberger
If you haven’t already heard, it’s been prophesied that the end of the world will occur on Saturday, May 21 according to evangelist Harold Camping, an 89-year-old evangelist who owns Family Radio, a vast international network of Christian radio stations. Camping has been predicting the end of the world for the past two years; however a similar prediction went unrealized in the mid-1990s. Camping and his followers say that at 6 p.m. on May 21, in each time zone, the ground will quake, graves will open and many of the dead will ascend to heaven. Two hundred million of the ‘saved’ — dead or alive — will float up. Those left behind will be doomed to live among destruction and disease for five months before God annihilates the Earth on October 21.
Whether Camping’s prophesy will be fulfilled is still to be determined. However few are aware that Hollywood once had its own prophet – or prophetess, who also predicted the end of the world.
In 1923, Margaret W. Rowen, a prophet in the Reformed Seventh Day Adventist Church, prophesied that the world would end on Friday, February 6, 1925 and that Christ, coming to earth a second time, would call the faithful to assemble on a hill near Hollywood.
Rowen became an Adventist in 1912. She claimed to receive her first vision on June 22, 1916 which she shared with members of a prayer group at her South Side Los Angeles Church, gaining a small following. Several church leaders, especially Dr. Bert E. Fullmer, supported her. In 1918, church investigators had concluded her visions were not of heavenly origin. The following year Rowen, Fullmer and at least two other ministers were excommunicated.
In 1920, a document was found in the files of Adventist’s church cofounder, Ellen G. White, dated August 10, 1911 and was assumed to be written by White that announced Rowen as a succeeding prophetess. At its peak, the Rowenite movement had around 1,000 followers. Afterward, Rowen gave several false predictions, however this did not prevent her from trying again. In November 1923, Rowen announced that the world would end on February 6, 1925, and convinced a group of followers to accept her assertions.
In late January 1925, it was announced that 144,000 of the chosen would be guided by a light and would assemble on a hill and be saved. Some of Rowen’s followers reportedly sold their property and was making ready for the end. Those who did not find it convenient to come to California prepared for the end wherever they were. From her Hollywood home at 1112 Gower Street, Rowen denied that she had told her followers to sell their property and come to California.
“The righteous who have the attributes of Christ in their daily lives will see Jesus and be caught up with him for 1,000 years,” said Rowen on January 30. “When we received the message we broadcast it by telegraph, by cable and had an airplane distribute handbills making the announcement.”
Rowen said that at the time of her vision, other Adventists in Denmark, Sweden, Italy and India also had the same revelation. She said she had been called on the telephone by four persons. They told her they also heard a voice announcing the coming of Christ on February 6, 1925.
The Seventh Day Adventist Church flatly repudiated Rowen’s claims declaring that they “do not now teach nor have they ever taught that the date can be set for the end of the world as it is entirely contrary to the doctrines of the church.”
On February 4, Rowen’s associate, Dr. Bert E. Fullmer, who lived in the other half of her house on Gower, and recently assumed the mantle of spokesman of the Rowenite cult was called on by the Deputy Chief Prosecutor of Los Angeles. He said he had received various complaints about the management of the earth’s demise and was duty-bound to conduct an investigation.
It was rumored that Rowen left Los Angeles early that morning for an unrevealed destination. Threats had been made against her by telephone and letter. Fullmer admitted she was gone and knew her whereabouts, but declined to name the location or the specific reasons for her departure.
On February 6 — the day of reckoning — Rowen and approximately 100 of her followers gathered at a secret meeting place on a hill between Hollywood and Pasadena to await the sign of the second coming of Christ, which was predicted for midnight. A veil of drizzling mist hid the hill tops where Rowen’s cult was assembled. Reportedly, they awaited the appearance of a black cloud which would be invisible to the unbeliever. They believed that the elect would be transported to a mountain near San Diego to watch the fire and pestilence ravage the earth. The elect would then start on a seven day trip to heaven, stopping at various planets for food and to gather other souls.
At midnight a reporter rang the door bell of Rowen’s Gower Street home where lights were burning. Instantly the lights went out. That was the only sign that uninvited observers were able to reach in connection with the proclaimed hour of fulfillment.
When the Second Coming failed to materialize according to Rowen’s prediction, her close associates worked on an explanation of why the big event was a failure. Rowen was in seclusion and there were growing rumors that she had left Los Angeles and was not expected to return. Fullmer was sequestered at his home and was said to be ill. Rowen’s followers were divided on the ill-advised prophecy. Some were disappointed in having failed to see the sign of the second resurrection of Christ, the heavenly searchlight, and the beginning of the doom of the earth. Others still expressed faith in the divine origin of Rowen’s visions and were content in the belief that the second coming was at hand.
On February 26, Rowan and Fullmer came out of hiding and appeared before the city’s chief investigator and denied any fraudulent dealings with members of her church or that she had influenced any of them to dispose of personal effects to make donations to her cause. “I have not been in hiding,” Rowen told the investigators, “but have simply tried to avoid the annoyances which may people have attempted to heap upon me.”
She denied that her followers had been diminished or had lost faith in her leadership.
“There was no miscalculation in the date,” Rowen claimed. “But we did not predict that the world would end on February 6. We were simply misquoted. The coming of Christ does not mean the end of the world. The earth is now the home of the saved. What we meant was that Jesus would return to earth on a cloud from heaven.”
Nothing came of the investigation and it was a year until Rowen was heard of again. She and Fullmer had a falling out and he went public admitting that he had planted the 1920 fraudulent document describing Rowen as a prophetess in the Ellen G. White archives. In the March 1926 issue of a church periodical, he presented his conclusion that Rowen was a fraud. In response, she and two of her followers conspired to murder him. They lured Fullmer to an auto camp in North Hollywood on February 27, 1926 and assaulted him with a piece of gas pipe and a hypodermic needle containing a solution of morphine.
Rowen and her cohorts were sentenced to prison terms for “assault with a deadly weapon, with intent to do great bodily harm.” Before they could proceed with another trial for attempted murder, Fullmer died. Rowen served a one-year sentence in San Quentin State Prison, by which time her movement had fallen apart. When Rowen was released from prison, she fled from parole, and disappeared from public life. It is thought that she may have spent a number of years in Florida before she returned to the Los Angeles area under a pseudonym. She is believed to have died in the late 1940s or 1950s.