Today in History, October 30: 1938 – “The War of the Worlds”. For Halloween, Orson Welles had produced a radio show based on a nineteenth century novel by H.G. Wells. After a disclaimer preceding the show, it was designed as if the events were actually occurring, as if newsmen were reporting an actual invasion of the Earth by Martians….
Unfortunately, most Americans were listening to another popular radio show as The War of the Worlds began, and tuned in AFTER the disclaimer. As many as a million people thought they had actually tuned into coverage of aliens landing and assaulting the planet. The show described people all over the country fleeing in terror; which actually did occur since so many thought it was real. Part way through the show, Welles was informed of the mass panic and interrupted the show with another disclaimer….”This is Orson Welles, ladies and gentlemen, out of character to assure you that The War of The Worlds has no further significance than as the holiday offering it was intended to be: the Mercury Theatre’s own radio version of dressing up in a sheet and jumping out of a bush and saying “Boo!” Starting now, we couldn’t soap all your windows and steal all your garden gates by tomorrow night, so we did the best next thing. We annihilated the world before your very ears, and utterly destroyed the C. B. S. You will be relieved, I hope, to learn that we didn’t mean it, and that both institutions are still open for business. 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.”
It was 1938. Unfortunately, within a year, the world would find the horrors they imagined were all too real; but they didn’t need aliens in WWII.