News / USA

Halloween Recalls Radio Drama Which Spread Panic in US

Could ‘War of the Worlds’-style hoax scare people today?

In the fictional 'War of the Worlds,' Martians land in the New Jersey town of Grover’s Mill.  Years later, somebody put up this monument at the site, which is now part of a larger town.
In the fictional 'War of the Worlds,' Martians land in the New Jersey town of Grover’s Mill. Years later, somebody put up this monument at the site, which is now part of a larger town.

Multimedia

Audio
Ted Landphair

Halloween - October 31 - is a time to wear spooky costumes and tell scary stories. Perhaps the scariest tale was told on Halloween eve in 1938, when a radio drama spread panic along the U.S. East Coast.

“Something’s happening!” yelled the “reporter” on the scene of a mysterious collision of an object with Earth in what the audience was told was the little town of Grover’s Mill, New Jersey.    

Screams, shouts of “Stand back” followed.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” the shaken observer told listeners, “this is the most horrifying thing I’ve  . . .  It’s indescribable. I can hardly force myself to keep looking at it. Saliva dripping from its rimless lips. It’s rising up now, and the crowd falls back.”  And so forth, as it became clear that the object was not a meteorite but an alien spaceship.

The brilliant actor and director Orson Welles at age 22 in 1937, a year before he and his acting troupe scared the daylights out of thousands of radio listeners on Halloween eve.
The brilliant actor and director Orson Welles at age 22 in 1937, a year before he and his acting troupe scared the daylights out of thousands of radio listeners on Halloween eve.

As actors all-too-skillfully performed H. G. Wells’s story, “War of the Worlds” - which he had written four decades earlier in 1898 - many listeners completely fell for the story that Martians were invading New Jersey. People hid in cellars and packed their cars to flee.  

So we got to wondering: Could the same thing happen today?  Not likely on radio, of course, which has a fragmented audience and airs few dramas these days.

But suppose a diabolical television producer or Internet website assembled convincing actors, created believable video footage and added the kind of breathless reporting that Orson Welles and his Mercury Theatre troupe used to stunning effect way back when?

H.G. Wells’s book version of “War of the Worlds” was an early sci-fi classic. But the extra dimensions of the human voice and sound effects intensified its fear factor.
H.G. Wells’s book version of “War of the Worlds” was an early sci-fi classic. But the extra dimensions of the human voice and sound effects intensified its fear factor.

Today we’d probably laugh at the notion that Martians were coming. But what if the invaders were ruthless terrorists, and - as in 1938 - thousands tuned in a tad late and missed the announcement that this was all make-believe?  Would we cower under our beds?

Probably not. We’re more worldly these days, more skeptical. We’ve seen so many action thrillers that we would take it for granted that this was merely another one. And we’d quickly switch to a news source we trusted and see that nobody else was bothering to cover this catastrophe.

Besides, terrorism is such a real menace in our world today that TV producers and popular websites would never dare toy with our nerves on a subject so chilling. Would they?

You May Like

Anti-Terror Drills Highlight China’s Push Into Central Asia

China, Russia, several central Asian countries wrap up massive anti terrorism military drills in Inner Mongolia More

Erdogan’s First Step: Secure More Power in New Role in Turkey

Erdogan was sworn in as Turkey's first popularly elected president on Thursday; he picked former foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu as PM More

Pakistan Army Fails to Break Political Deadlock

PM Sharif claims he didn't ask army to defuse crisis; military rejects claim More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assaulti
X
Daniel Schearf
August 29, 2014 9:30 PM
After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.

AppleAndroid