Although I was only age seven, I remember vividly what happened on Sunday evening October 30, 1938. Our family was glued to our favorite media – the radio (before television). My father’s favorite dramatist was Orson Wells. With his program “Mercury Theatre on the Air,” Wells decided to adapt and update H.G. Wells’ well known novel, “War of the Worlds,” to radio. The broadcast opened with Wells setting the scene of the play:
“We know now that in the early years of the 20th century this world was closely watched by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own…” As Wells continued, a weather report suddenly faded in, quickly followed by music from the Hotel Plaza. The music was interrupted by an important news update from newscasters and scientists from various locations. Professor Richard Pierson at the Princeton Observatory reported that “a huge shock of almost earthquake intensity occurred near Princeton…I believe it might be a meteorite.” Another news bulletin announced that a huge, flaming object, believed to be a meteorite, fell on a farm near Grovers Mill, New Jersey, some 22 miles from Trenton.”
Reporter Carl Phillips began reporting what he witnessed at Grovers Mill: “Ladies and gentlemen, this is the most terrifying thing I have ever witnessed…something’s wiggling out of two luminous disks, like gray snakes…. Now, another one, another one… they look like tentacles..I can see the things body…that face is indescribable.. awful.” Phillips continued, “the invaders used weapons…now the whole field is on fire…it strikes advancing men with fire… the State Militia are mobilizing …” The station then warned of the invasion of Martians attacking Earth. The Secretary of the Interior addressed the nation, “We must confront this destructive adversary with a nation dedicated to preserving humanity.” A reporter announced that New York City “was being evacuated.”
Listeners panicked, many believing the end was near. Thousands called radio stations, police and newspapers. Many families loaded their cars and fled their homes. Hours later, people calmed down, realizing the Martian invasion was not real; it was Halloween and it was only a story based upon a novel.