War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast Part 4

About the famous War of the Worlds radio broadcast by Orson Welles which sent America into a state of panic.

THE GREAT MARTIAN INVASION

A study of the effects of the show was under-taken by a group at Princeton University. Aside from its statistics, the group made an invaluable contribution by recording actual reactions people had had during the panic. Some examples:

A New Jersey housewife named Ferguson: "I knew it was something terrible and I was frightened. But I didn't know just what it was. I couldn't make myself believe it was the end of the world. I've always heard that when the world would come to an end, it would come so fast nobody would know--so why should God get in touch with this announcer? When they told us what road to take and get up over the hills and the children began to cry, the family decided to get out. We took blankets and my granddaughter wanted to take the cat and canary. We were outside the garage when the neighbor's boy came back and told us it was only a play."

Helen Anthony, a high school girl from Pennsylvania: "... I was really hysterical. My two girl friends and I were crying and holding each other, and everything seemed so unimportant in the face of death. We felt it was terrible we should die so young...."

A man who had spent all his money trying to escape wrote: "I thought the best thing to do was to go away, so I took $3.25 out of my savings and bought a ticket. After I had gone 60 mi., I heard it was a play. Now I don't have any money left for the shoes I was saving up for. Would you please have someone send me a pair of black shoes, size 9-B."

Midwesterner Joseph Hendley: "That Halloween boo had our family on its knees before the program was half over.... My mother went out and looked for Mars. Dad was hard to convince, and skeptical, but even he got to believing it. Brother Joe, as usual, got more excited than anyone.... Lillie got sick to her stomach. I don't know what I did exactly, but I know I prayed harder and more earnest than ever before...."

An eastern college student: "One of the first things I did was try to phone my girl in Poughkeepsie, but the lines were all busy, so that just confirmed my impression that the thing was true. We started driving back to Poughkeepsie. We had heard that Princeton was wiped out and gas was spreading over New Jersey and fire, so I figured there wasn't anything to do--we figured our friends and families were all dead. I made the 45 mi. in 35 minutes and didn't even realize it.... I thought the whole human race was going to be wiped out--that seemed more important than the fact we were going to die. It seemed awful that everything that had been worked on for years was going to be lost forever...."

Of course, not everyone who tuned in to the broadcast believed it. Some who had read the original Wells novel recognized the story line. Others caught on as the incidents in the play began occurring much too fast to be taking place in real time. And yet others, who feared an invasion from across the sea, concluded that the Nazis were storming the Atlantic beaches.

So, was it just the play that caused the panic on that October night? Or was it something else for which the Mercury Theatre broadcast served merely as a catalyst: a combination of the anxiety and tension permeating a world on the brink of war, the low mental defenses of a people exhausted by the Great Depression, and the firmly held belief that what was said by authoritative voices over the medium of the radio had to be the truth?

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