First come reports of several explosions of "incandescent gas" observed on the planet
Mars, then after a brief interlude of more music comes a hook-up to Princeton Observatory
where an interview is conducted with professor Richard Pierson. Pierson (played by Welles)
assures the listeners that there is nothing to be alarmed at, but then the first reports
of a meteor impact arrive. It is at this point that an unassuming place called Grover's
Mill enters the story. Even today Grover's Mill is a sleepy little hamlet of no great
material consequence, but that night it was going to become the centre of the universe
for a very considerable number of people.
As fate would have it, Howard Koch chose Grover's Mill as the beachhead for the Martian
invasion by the simple method of jabbing a pencil into a map purchased at a roadside garage.
He then plotted the advance of the Martians toward New York City, brushing aside American
defenders and destroying dozens of familiar place names along the way. An emergency government
announcement appeared to give credence to the story, and huddled about their radios, panicked
listeners began to bombard local police stations with calls. For instance, from Trenton
police headquarters comes the following illuminating passage extracted from the station duty
log. "Between 8:30PM & 10PM received numerous phone calls as result of WABC broadcast this
evening re: Mars attacking this country. Calls included papers, police depts including NYC
and private persons. No record kept of same due to working teletype and all three extensions
ringing at same time. At least 50 calls were answered. Persons calling inquiring as to meteors,
number of persons killed, gas attack, military being called out and fires. All were advised
nothing unusual had occurred and that rumours were due to a radio dramatisation of a play."
Also from Trenton comes the account of a Mrs Thomas. "We were petrified. We just looked
at each other, scared out of our wits. Someone was banging on our front door. It was our
neighbour across the street. She had packed her seven kids in their car and she kept yelling,
come on, lets get our of here." Also a local at the time, thirteen-year-old Henry Sears was
doing his homework when he heard the first news flash of the invasion. Taking the radio down
into the tavern below which his mother owned, he and a dozen or so patrons listened with
mounting fear to the broadcast, until the men jumped up and announced they were going to get
their guns and join in the defence at Grover's Mill.
What then of Grover's Mill? There are some great stories of the defence, not least that
residents are reported to have opened fire on a water tower, thinking it was a Tripod, but
oddly enough, the epicentre of all this action seems to have
slept through the entire night undisturbed. Like the proverbial eye of the store, the hamlet
was apparently blissfully unaware of the pivotal place it held in history, as was discovered
by the late Sheldon Judson. He was to become emeritus Professor of Geology at Princeton
University but at the time was a student member of the University Press Club. Alerted to the possible fall of a meteor by the city desk of the Philadelphia Inquirer, he enlisted the help
of Arthur Buddington, Chair of the Princeton Geology Department and together with another
professor, they set out for Grover's Mill. Here they found it entirely unperturbed by events.
Certainly though, as the previous stories attest, there was a considerable uproar under way
that night in other parts of the country, and it is nice that there is now a monument in Grover's Mill to commemorate the part
this unassuming hamlet played in events that night.
So was it done on purpose? The unglamorous answer is probably not. Over the years, Welles
told conflicting versions of the events, and even tried to claim credit for planning it, but
as newsreel footage at the time clearly shows, he was fairly rattled by events himself. He
also said on occasion that "seventy five percent of what I say in interviews is false", so
we'll never know for sure. This certainly does nothing to detract from the significance of
the broadcast and it clearly stands as a testament to his talents as a showman and the skill
and dedication of his cast and crew.
So get a copy of the broadcast, dim the lights, gather your loved ones around you and
prepare to be transported back to October 1938, not to a simpler era, for life was every bit
as complex and uncertain as it is today, but to time when people were ready to believe that
what they heard from a trusted source was the whole truth and nothing but the truth. We
interrupt this program to bring...
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