Martyl Langsdorfs original Doomsday Clock design.
  • Martyl Langsdorf’s original Doomsday Clock design.

The Doomsday Clock, I might as well admit, scared the shit out of me when I first heard about it. That was in 1988 when I was twelve and it had just been announced that the clock had been pushed back to six minutes to midnight, midnight being humanity’s ultimate annihilation. Ironically, six minutes to midnight was an improvement—in 1984, the clock had been set at a perilous three minutes to midnight—but still, the idea that the amount of time left till the destruction of the world was something that could be calculated was absolutely terrifying. The Cold War was still going on. There were still Soviets, and they were nuclear-armed and untrustworthy, despite glasnost.

This made the Doomsday Clock seem like one of the great forces of History. It didn’t occur to me that it, like Communism, had been invented by humans.

But it turns out that it was the work of Martyl Langsdorf, an artist who lived in Chicago. Langsdorf died two weeks ago, on March 26, at the age of 96 at the Lexington Health Care Center in Schaumburg.