Thursday, October 30, 2008

70 Years Old and Still Going....

"Good heavens, something's wriggling out of the shadow like a gray snake," he said, in an appropriately dramatic tone of voice. "Now it's another one, and another. They look like tentacles to me. There, I can see the thing's body. It's large as a bear and it glistens like wet leather. But that face.'s indescribable. I can hardly force myself to keep looking at it. The eyes are black and gleam like a serpent. The mouth is V-shaped with saliva dripping from its rimless lips that seem to quiver and pulsate....The thing is raising up. The crowd falls back. They've seen enough. This is the most extraordinary experience. I can't find words. I'm pulling this microphone with me as I talk. I'll have to stop the description until I've taken a new position. Hold on, will you please, I'll be back in a minute."

It was 70 years ago today that Martians invaded Grover's Mill, New Jersey. News of the invasion was broadcast on CBS radio's program Mercury Theater On the Air. This War of the Worlds broadcast has become a legend for the panic it produced and the conspiracy theories it generated. While the program was a fictional play based on a popular science fiction novel, the newscast format of the program, dance music interrupted by simulated "live" news reports from reporters on the scene led listeners to believe the reports were true. As could be expected, the program, which was broadcast nationally, started rumors and caused some folks throughout the US to panic; particularly in New York and New Jersey. Citizens in one town, Concrete, Washington, panicked as a result of a pure coincidence. At the point in the broadcast where the Martians are invading small towns and killing people with poison gas, a power failure at a Portland Cement plant caused the electricity to go out all over the town of Concrete. There were reports of people fainting, people grabbing their families and heading for the hills, and readying their guns to defend their homes. Needless to say, Concrete made the news.

Naturally, conspiracy theories abound. Some, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, say that the program really was an actual broadcasts of a Martian invasion, and it was later called "fictional" to cover up the fact that the aliens had really landed. Others say that the program was an experiment in psychological warfare designed to allow study of mass hysteria. What ever it was; radio drama, reality, or cruel experiment, it has staying power. You can still listen to the show over the internet. Enjoy!

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