Radio Listeners in Panic, Taking WarDrama as Fact
MANY FLEE HOMES TO ESCAPE'GAS RAID FROM MARS'— PHONE CALLS SWAMP POLICE AT BROADCAST OF WELLS FANTASY
This article appeared in the New York Times on Oct. 31, 1938.
A wave of mass hysteria seizedthousands of radio listeners between8:15 and 9:30 o'clock last night when abroadcast of a dramatization of H. G.Wells's fantasy, "The War of the Worlds,"led thousands to believe that aninterplanetary conflict had started withinvading Martians spreading wide deathand destruction in New Jersey and New York. The broadcast, which disruptedhouseholds, interrupted religiousservices, created traffic jams andclogged communications systems, wasmade by Orson Welles, who as the radiocharacter, "The Shadow," used to give"the creeps" to countless child listeners. This time at least a score of adultsrequired medical treatment for shockand hysteria.In Newark, in a single block atHeddon Terrace and Hawthorne Avenue,more than twenty families rushed out of their houses with wet handkerchiefs andtowels over their faces to flee from whatthey believed was to be a gas raid.Some began moving householdfurniture. Throughout New York families lefttheir homes, some to flee to near-byparks. Thousands of persons called thepolice, newspapers and radio stationshere and in other cities of the UnitedStates and Canada seeking advice onprotective measures against the raids. The program was produced by Mr.Welles and the Mercury Theatre on theAir over station WABC and the ColumbiaBroadcasting System's coast-to-coastnetwork, from 8 to 9 o'clock. The radio play, as presented, was tosimulate a regular radio program with a"break-in" for the material of the play. The radio listeners, apparently, missedor did not listen to the introduction,which was: "The Columbia BroadcastingSystem and its affiliated stationspresent Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre on the Air in 'The War of theWorlds' by H. G. Wells." They also failed to associate theprogram with the newspaper listening of the program, announced as "Today:8:00-9:00—Play: H. G. Wells's 'War of the Worlds'—WABC." They ignored threeadditional announcements made duringthe broadcast emphasizing its fictionalnature.Mr. Welles opened the program witha description of the series of which it isa part. The simulated program began. Aweather report was given, prosaically.An announcer remarked that theprogram would be continued from ahotel, with dance music. For a fewmoments a dance program was given inthe usual manner. Then there was a"break-in" with a "flash" about aprofessor at an observatory noting aseries of gas explosions on the planetMars.News bulletins and scene broadcastsfollowed, reporting, with the techniquein which the radio had reported actualevents, the landing of a "meteor" nearPrinceton N. J., "killing" 1,500 persons,the discovery that the "meteor" was a"metal cylinder" containing strangecreatures from Mars armed with "deathrays" to open hostilities against theinhabitants of the earth.Despite the fantastic nature of thereported "occurrences," the program,coming after the recent war scare inEurope and a period in which the radiofrequently had interrupted regularlyscheduled programs to reportdevelopments in the Czechoslovaksituation, caused fright and panicthroughout the area of the broadcast. Telephone lines were tied up with