Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Night That Panicked America

On the eve of Halloween in 1938, what could best be described as mass hysteria swept across the nation after millions of Americans tuned in to CBS radio about a quarter past 8 p.m.

October 30, 1938, The Mercury Theatre, under the direction of Orson Welles, performed a radio play called “War of the Worlds” on WABC, New York, and over the Columbia Broadcasting System network, coast-to-coast.

It was based on a science fiction story by H.G. Wells (no relation) which entailed Martians landing in New Jersey to take over the world. The broadcasted imagery produced through sound effects and acting was so powerful, it caused mass hysteria. Thousands of listeners panicked nationwide, not realizing it was just a radio play, even though disclaimers were announced before and during the production.

How bad was it? The next day, “The New York Times” ran this headline:
Radio Listeners in Panic,Taking War Drama as Fact

Many Flee Homes to Escape `Gas Raid From Mars'--Phone Calls Swamp Police at Broadcast of Wells Fantasy
In Brooklyn, one man refused to believe a policeman’s denial by telling him, “What do you mean it’s just a play? We can hear the firing all the way here and I want a gas mask

In Indianapolis, a church service was interrupted when a woman dashed in screaming, “New York is destroyed! Go home to die with your loved ones.

the most terrified listeners were in the town of Concrete, located in Skagit County, 60 miles northeast of Seattle. By coincidence, during the midpoint of the broadcast a power failure plunged almost the entire town of 1,000 into darkness. Some listeners fainted while others grabbed their families to head up into the mountains

Some of the men grabbed their guns, planning to blow away any bug-eyed monster or spaceship that got in their way.

Listen The 1938 original broadcast of the mercury theatre " war of the worlds" here


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