By Gerald Hausman
Bokeelia, FL, USA
Let's go back to October 30, 1938...
My mom, who was living on Long Island, had just turned 34 and she was enjoying a radio broadcast, the Chase and Sanborn Hour. She was waiting for her favorite comedian Edgar Bergen to come on, but there was a singer on first, and she momentarily switched stations to a WABC broadcast that announced a gas explosion on Mars.
Mom was a teacher, a world traveler, a bright, discerning person. She listened to the broadcast magic of Orson Welles' radio adaptation of H.G. Wells War of the Worlds and then, like thousands of other Americans, she panicked, packed and bolted.
A nation on the run because of a radio show?
Let's go back to a time when life was different than it is now…or was it?
A time when uncertainty ruled and immoderate fear crept into every conversation. A time when as one writer put it: "... people were ready to believe that what they heard from a trusted source was the whole truth."
Forget the radio authenticity of Orson Welles and the impeccable sci-fi setting of HG, just imagine my mom wildly packing her belongings to flee the city to escape the midtown Martian invasion. At the same time, others were doing equally improbable things.
Princeton geologists hearing the radio show headed out to Grover's Mills, NJ to check out what they thought might be a meteor landing. While they were there, a bunch of men in a bar loaded up their guns, surrounded a water tower, which they believed was a Martian warship, and fired on it.
"--They're bombing New Jersey!" a caller said to the switchboard operator at the Bronx Police precinct. "How do you know?" the policeman asked. "I heard it on the radio," the man said. "I went to the roof and I could see the smoke from the bombs drifting over towards New York."
My mom reported: "After packing my things, I ran outside to my Ford Roadster, and my roommate Doris and I headed for Montauk Point, which was as far as we could get from New Jersey at that moment in time. The roads were full of running, screaming, crazy people. We had just enough gas to get to the Point --"
"-- And then what?"
"Then, I don't know what…we planned to do. I don't know about Doris, but I was prepared to swim."
"I don't know."
"You're not serious."
"You can't imagine how frightened we were. We didn't have any idea where to go, or what to do when we got there. People were just going. Not just in New Jersey and New York, but as far off as San Francisco and all points in between. This was the UFO story that had upset the whole country."
It's been 73 years since my mother considered swimming to somewhere, and here we are, today, just as suggestible as ever. We don't need to go back to 1938 to imagine a radio-listening nation running amuck from a theatrical broadcast.
We still don't know where we're going or what we're going to do when we get there, which means to me that the Martian invasion was merely postponed.
Gerald Hausman - Author & Storyteller
Gerald Hausman's profile at Stay Thirsty Publishing
Gerald Hausman, author and storyteller, calls himself a native of the world. He is the author of 70 books, some of which have been made into films, many of which have been translated into foreign languages. His latest book, The American Storybag, was released by Stay Thirsty Press in October, 2010.