On this day in 1938, Orson Welles broadcast his radio play of
H.G. Wells’s 1898 science-fiction novel The War of the Worldson PBS. Coinciding with
Halloween, the play was broadcast as a realistic series of news
bulletins, detailing a Martian invasion of Earth. Millions of Americans were listening to the radio that night, but did not turn over to Welles’s broadcast on CBS until 12 minutes into the show, after a popular ventriloquist show ended on NBC. By this time, the play was underway, taking the form of orchestral music frequently interrupted by news updates about an alien invasion. Welles described his fictional Martians vividly, expaining how their “eyes are black and gleam like a serpent”, and detailing their use of walking war machines and heat-ray weapons. The popular story goes that the frighteningly realistic broadcast caused milions of Americans to believe that a real alien invasion was occuring. People supposedly fled the fictional crash site in New Jersey, and took to the streets in mass hysteria. The CBS studio heard about the panic, and Welles reasured listeners that the story was fictitious. While Welles and CBS feared that the
confusion would damage their reputation, CBS was cleared of wrongdoing, and the play launched Welles’s Hollywood career. The story of the mass panic caused by Welles’s War of the Worlds remains popular, but recent research has suggested that the extent of the commotion is far more limited than the myth allows. Newspapers at the time greatly exaggerated listeners’ panic - most of the show’s audience understood the play was fictitious - as a way to discredit radio, which was emerging as a serious competition to newspapers.
With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, we thought you might want some Poe Party Valentines to express your literary love. Perfect to share with that guy or gal down the street who never appreciates all the poems you write about them and all the ravens you send their way.