The Heaven’s Gate Cult and The Malfunctioning Telescope

A fascinating anecdote about the Heaven’s Gate Cult and the thinking process that plagues such cults and similar groups,

Two months before killing themselves, the Heaven’s Gate cultists bought a $3,600 computerized telescope to study the flying saucer they believed was shadowing the Hale-Bopp comet.

A week later they asked for their money back, complaining that the refrigerator-size telescope wasn’t showing the UFO.

“They called and were very frustrated. They said: ‘Well, gosh, we found the comet, but we can’t see anything following it,’ ” said Mike Fowler at Oceanside Photo and Telescope.

They didn’t know much about astronomy, said Fowler, adding, “They were like any Joe off the street who had seen 8,000 episodes of ‘Star Trek’ back to back.”

Cult leader Marshall Applewhite and follower John Craig paid $3,645 with Craig’s credit card for the state-of-the-art LX200 Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope on Jan. 30.

They came back for a refund Feb. 7. Store manager Penny Hauck said, “They said, ‘Well, you know, we didn’t see the spaceship, so, of course, this instrument is not going to suit our needs.’ I just kind of said, `Well, OK.’ You get all kinds in here, and I’ve learned not to argue.”

One thought on “The Heaven’s Gate Cult and The Malfunctioning Telescope”

  1. I found this story referenced in a story by two social psychologists in The Atlantic. They referenced this article, which was published a day before the article you point to.

    What worries me is that the dateline on that earlier article is 01 April 1997.

    I love the story, but don’t want to be spreading an April Fool’s joke as fact.

    Do you think there are any better sources?

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