October 30, 2002
FROM MERCURY AND MARS:Orson Welles's Hoax of the Century: The Halloween Broadcast of 1938 (Mr. Beres, 10-28-02, History News Network)
Today, photos sent back to earth by space probes show Mars to be a lifeless, benign planet. Back in '38, Americans, not yet weaned from comic strips like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, were emerging from the Great Depression with a high anxiety level. There also were rumblings that a Herr Hitler in Germany was plotting world conquest. It was a time ripe for paranoia. A five-year-old, I saw those fears emerge in adults around me as The War of the Worlds, a book by H.G. Wells, was dramatized by Orson Welles on a popular weekly radio program, "The Mercury Theatre."
At our home in Illinois, Mom had tuned in on our Zenith radio set. She either had not paid attention when the announcer gave early disclaimers that "this is fiction," or like many others, had tuned in too late to hear them. I can't remember the broadcast. What I do remember is Mom suddenly leaving her chair to go to the radio, which she clutched with both hands. Then she swooped me up, and ran to the phone.
We seem to be living in an environment today where an updated version of this kind of hoax would find fertile emotional soil. Posted by Orrin Judd at October 30, 2002 9:19 PM