When the end of the world comes, Seth Franz will be more than ready.
The idea began in 2011, when California preacher Harold Camping began , touting his prediction that Jesus Christ would return to Earth on May 21 and the Rapture would begin. Five months of fire and brimstone would follow, until the Earth's destruction that October.
"There's no science to back it up," Franz said. "Some 80-year-old guy puts pen to pad and decides, all right, May 21, we're all done."
Franz watched with incredulity as the media covered Camping's cross-country travails and protests and then as the media continued to make a story of it come May 22, when the sky had not opened up, Jesus had not returned and the world did, in fact, still exist.
"I was shocked at the attention it was getting," Franz said. "It was on every news outlet. I couldn't believe it."
He even heard stories of Camping's followers selling their material possessions in preparation for the end.
"If all they have is a beat-up Oldsmobile, they liquidate it, they sell it, and give this guy all their money. They're broke," Franz said. "These people really thought the world was coming to an end."
The next big date is Dec. 21, a date conspiracy theorists and new age theologians have picked from the Mayan calendar.
And to help folks like him get ready, last month Franz launched an online store—operated from a "bunker" in a basement below his father's Towson law office—selling the requisite supplies for the end of days.
Those include things like ascension robes, which come with a VIP sticker and concert-style wrist band ("We've reserved the best cloud in the sky," Franz quips), a Lance Armstrong-style "DieStrong" bracelet and items for couples spending the big day together. He's even got Armageddon insurance.
His father, Keith, a partner at Azrael, Franz, Schwab and Lipowitz in Towson, helped craft the fake doomsday "policy," just to be safe. No, it doesn't cover acts of God. It doesn't cover anything, really.
Though he helped his son brainstorm, Keith Franz said the ideas were all Seth's.
"He's been funny since forever, so it's fitting that he would find a business that he'd be able to capitalize on his good humor and his sense of the marketplace," he said.
He looked up William Miller, the 19th century Baptist preacher who claimed Jesus would return on Oct. 22, 1844, in what was later called the Great Disappointment.
"It said (on "Doomsday Preppers") and I jotted it down ... that he made a lot of money on the ascension robes," Franz said.
Every order comes with lists of tips and facts about the apocalypse. Among the tips: "Your entire family should learn and practice Morse code. In case of your capture by other Doomsday survivors, you will be able to silently communicate and plot your retaliation entirely through blinking."
Franz isn't the only one cashing in on the end of the world.
Since 2009, a California-based company called Vivos has been selling spots in what the company claims is a network of underground shelters, priced at $35,000 per person for at least a year in a modern-day fallout shelter.
"There's value in being prepared and whatever gets you through your day and makes you feel prepared, you go ahead and do it," Franz said. "I think it's a problem when you, instead of saving for your child's college fund, you're canning peaches for 25 years."
And instead of selling seats in a fallout shelter, Franz is marketing gear to like-minded young adults and 20-somethings.
He said he's trying to make inroads with novelty T-shirt shops in Ocean City, Rehoboth Beach and other boardwalk towns. The ascension robes, he said, would make timely Halloween costumes.
"For under 20 bucks, you get something that's funny, something that's pretty original," he said. "You can get a few of your friends together to do it."
And on the big day in December, you won't find Franz in a bunker. He plans to take the day off and throw a party. He hopes to round up doomsday parties from around the country to post on his website.
"It's going to be a reason to celebrate, I think, for a lot of people," he said.
What's supposed to happen on December 21?
According to the Mayans, it's the end of a cycle, the current Long Count, as it's called, with a new one set to end in October of 4772.
But some theorists claim the date could bring a spiritual transformation or rare galactic alignment or the end of the world, as a rogue planet smashes into Earth. In a 2009 talk in Los Angeles, astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse-Tyson explained why those theories are fiction.
NASA's "Ask an Astrobiologist" page has recieved 5,000 questions about the "doomsday" theories, so many that the agency has set up a separate page with for frequently-asked questions.
"The main point ... is that calendars, whether contemporary or ancient, cannot predict the future of our planet or warn of things to happen on a specific date such as 2012," writes David Morrison, the senior scientist at the NASA Astrobiology Institute. "There is no agreed-upon synchronization between the Mayan calendar and ours, which was imported much later from Europe. This supposedly key date in the Mayan calendar may have already happened, or it may lie decades in the future."
And having done his research, Franz said people are blowing the date in the centuries-old calendar out of proportion.
"People who have taken it over and turned it into a religious thing, I'm not going to say they're wrong for doing it, but it has turned it into something it was not intended to be," he said.