Orson Welles, broadcasting "War of the Worlds", October 30, 1938
When my sister Romaine reminded me of our mother's "War of the Worlds" story I knew I had to share it, but at first I thought I'd wait until around Halloween, since the provenance of the story is Halloween-related.
But then I thought, no it's really less a Halloween story than a story from my mother's life; furthermore the telling of it leads into a few more stories, so I'll just tell it now.
Many of you already know the story of the famous –or rather infamous – “War Of The Worlds” broadcast by Orson Welles on October 30, 1938.
For those of my generation it’s a story that our parents told us from their childhoods about how people mistook a radio show, meant to be a scary Halloween special, for a news broadcast about invaders from Mars who’d landed in New Jersey and were killing the population and destroying everything in their path.
The "War of the Worlds" broadcast was an episode of the radio show "The Mercury Theatre on the Air". It was a theatrical adaptation written by Orson Welles, then a young radio actor with The Mercury Theatre, of the HG Wells’ novel by the same name. He wrote his adaption in the form of news broadcasts continually interrupting another show.
Of course it was announced at the beginning of the show that the evening's episode of
"The Mercury Theratre on the Air" was an adaptation of HG Well's "War of the Worlds" written and presented by Orson Welles.
But not everybody who ultimately heard the broadcast had turned it on at the beginning. According to About.Com, "Radio Broadcast Causes Panic":
"Though the (Mercury Theatre) program began with the announcement that it was a story based on a novel... many listeners didn't tune in long enough to hear (it)..
A lot of the radio listeners had been intently listening to their favorite program the "Chase and Sanborn Hour" and turned the dial, like they did every Sunday, during the musical section of the "Chase and Sanborn Hour" around 8:12. Usually, listeners turned back to the "Chase and Sanborn Hour" when they thought the musical section of the program was over.
However, on this particular evening they were shocked to hear another station carrying news alerts warning of an invasion of Martians attacking Earth. Not hearing the introduction of the play and listening to the authoritative and real sounding commentary and interviews, many believed it to be real.
All across the United States, listeners reacted. Thousands of people called radio stations, police and newspapers. Many in the New England area loaded up their cars and fled their homes. In other areas, people went to churches to pray. People improvised gas masks. Miscarriages and early births were reported. Deaths, too, were reported but never confirmed. Many people were hysterical. They thought the end was near. "
My mother was one of the terrified many who thought the world was ending on the night of the "War of the Worlds" broadcast.
On the evening of October 30, 1938, my 18-year-old mother had gone over to her friend Marian Bruning's house for the evening. Marian's family had a radio, unlike my mother's family who couldn't afford such a luxury, so my mother often went over to her friend's house where the girls listened to the popular radio shows together.
Like many others, they tuned into the show just in time to hear that the Martians had landed in a town called Grover's Mills, New Jersey.
Soon the Martian's were wreaking havoc up and down the East Coast and more space ships were landing all over the country.
My mother ran home from her friend's house in mortal terror.
She breathlessly told her mother, who, not owning a radio, hadn't heard about the Martian
My grandmother laughed at the notion of a Martian invasion, but couldn't convince her frantic daughter who cried, "I don't care what anybody else does! I'm going to church!"
Then my mother was out the door, my grandmother hurrying after her, jogging up the street beside her, entreating her to listen to reason: It was dark, it was late, there'd be nobody at the church, the doors would be locked....
Meanwhile the neighbors stood out on the sidewalk looking up into the sky.
Then a man came running down the street crying out like Paul revere in reverse:
"The Martians aren't coming! The Martians aren't coming! It's just a play!"
When I called my 93-year-old mother yesterday for a refresher on the details of her "War of the Worlds" story, I asked her if those moments when she believed that the Martians were attacking were the most frightening of her life. She said that yes, she believed that was the most frightened she'd ever been.
I asked her how her fear of the Martian attack compared to the time during World War II when she was an Army nurse traveling on board a troop ship in the Atlantic and one night their ship veered off course and was being followed by a German submarine, which the American sailors finally evaded by dropping depth charges over the side of the ship.
"Eh, I went to bed and slept right through it," she said.
My mother has always been a pretty brave lady. Except when it comes to those pesky Martians!
If you'd like to hear it for yourself, here's the youtube link for the "War of the Worlds" broadcast:
Tune in tomorrow for a couple of spin-offs from today's story.
by Patti Liszkay
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by Patti Liszkay
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"Equal And Opposite Reactions"
by Patti Liszkay
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I am a traveler just visiting this planet and reporting various and sundry observations,
hopefully of interest to my fellow travelers.