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

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike in Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Analysis: Occupy Central Not Exactly Hong Kong’s Tiananmen

VOA's former Hong Kong, Beijing correspondent compares and contrasts 1989 Tiananmen Square protest with what is now happening in Hong Kong More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital 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.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid