Folks throughout the United States were pretty skittish on on October 30, 1938. Maybe they just wanted to believe that the world was going to come to an end. Nobody ever found out why thousands of people believed the science-fiction drama that was played out over the Columbia Broadcasting System.
Orson Welles, known to radio audiences as The Shadow, presented his famous dramatization of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds on CBS’s Mercury Theater at 8 p.m. The show was set up as a music program interrupted by news bulletins saying that Martians had landed near Princeton, New Jersey.
Though a disclaimer was broadcast several times throughout the hourlong program, most people did not pay attention to the explanation telling them that the story was fictional and a radio fabrication. Even the newspaper program guides printed the warning. But thousands paid no attention.
Some folks, in fact, got pretty desperate when they heard the ‘news’ that the world was coming to an end. They rushed out of their homes with handkerchiefs covering their mouths to guard against Martian gas. They clogged phone lines, caused traffic jams and checked into hospitals in shock.
In just one hour, Orson Welles panicked the majority of the populace with his version of War of the Worlds.