Fake Radio War Stirs Terror Through US: Orson Welles' War of the Worlds turns 70 | At the Smithsonian | Smithsonian
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Fake Radio War Stirs Terror Through US: Orson Welles' War of the Worlds turns 70

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Seventy years ago in a Halloween episode of the Mercury Theatre on the Air, Orson Welles whipped millions of Americans into a martian-crazed panic with his radio play adaptation of H.G. Welles' War of the Worlds. You know the story. Those who tuned in late missed the disclaimer that the program was pure fantasy. A typical evening of musical programming was suddenly interrupted by "eyewitness news reporting" describing a Martian invasion that was wreaking devastation in Grovers Mill, New Jersey (about 22 miles from Trenton). From there the Martians began decimating the denizens of New York with heat rays and poisonous black smoke. Please hold your snide remarks. Think people of that bygone era were gullible? Don't forget with war on the horizon in Europe, fears of invasion and mass destruction were keeping those folks up at night. War of the Worlds played on those apprehensions with gleeful abandon.

This, said Orson Welles, was the "Mercury Theatre's own radio version of dressing up in a sheet. . .jumping out of a bush and saying 'Boo!' So goodbye everybody, and remember please for the next day or so the terrible lesson you learned tonight: that grinning, glowing, globular invader of your living room is an inhabitant of the pumpkin patch and if your doorbell rings and nobody's there, that was no Martian, it's Halloween."

Hunker down with your favorite Halloween candy and hear what all the fuss was about by listening to the original radio broadcast.

[audio:http://www.archive.org/download/OrsonWellesMrBruns/381030_64kb.mp3]

(Image courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery)
(Audio courtesy of Archive.org)

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About Jesse Rhodes

Jesse Rhodes is an editorial assistant for Smithsonian magazine. Before he became an editorial assistant, Jesse worked at the Library of Congress Publishing Office, where he was a contributor to the Library of Congress World War II Companion.

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