The night the Martians did not invade the earth – Salmon Arm Observer

A hoax masquerading as a newscast over 80 years ago has caused panic in the Northeastern United States and beyond.

This happened on the evening of Sunday, October 30, 1938, with reports that Martian invaders had landed in a field in rural New Jersey, in an attempt to conquer the planet.

It would have been a powerful story, except for the fact that it didn’t happen.

The hoax was an episode of The Mercury Theater on the Air, a drama series broadcast on the US network CBS. The hour-long radio drama was an account of The War of the Worlds, the 1898 novel by British writer HG Wells. This was done in the form of daily newsletters.

Orson Welles, the show’s star and the creator and host of The Mercury Theater on the Air, was a perfectionist and strove to bring realism to every dramatization. Welles was 23 at the time.

Reports from the radio drama landed Martians near the community of Grover’s Mill, New Jersey, before heading to New York. It’s a real place in New Jersey, and there has been a level of panic in the area as a result. The extent of this panic is not known.

The next day, a headline on the front page of the New York Times read: “Radio listeners in panic, taking war drama for granted.” Other news outlets have also published articles on the chaos resulting from this tragedy.

However, there were signs that the reports were part of a radio soap opera and not actual news broadcasts. At the start of the show, for over two minutes, there were opening comments introducing the episode and setting the tone for the dramatization. And while reporting was a part of the radio drama, the last third of the program followed a more traditional radio game format.

More importantly, if radio listeners had changed stations for even a moment, they would have realized the tale was a work of fiction. No other radio station was broadcasting reports of a Martian invasion.

There were at least five other major radio networks in the northeastern United States. If there had been a real emergency, all would have interrupted their regular airing to cover the latest news.

That should have been the end of the story, but hoaxes masquerading as news continue to take their toll.

A disturbing tale occurred just a few weeks ago, on September 1, 2021. On that date, as Hurricane Ida hit the northeast coast of the United States, reports on social media said that exotic animals had escaped from the Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange, New Jersey.

The zoo quickly sent messages letting the public know the animals were safe at the zoo. Still, the rumors have caused a degree of panic in the region.

By the way, West Orange is about 75 kilometers from Grover’s Mill, home of the 1938 radio series.

Again, it would have taken a few moments to determine that the report of the escaped animals was a hoax. A quick check of the established media would have been a starting point.

If zoo animals had actually escaped in a hurricane, radio, television, newspapers and online news providers would all have known about the story.

This is the nature of reporting. Great stories get great coverage.

If important news is only available on social media or a few obscure sites, the lack of coverage should be a warning sign.

This Halloween – and throughout the year – if there are any stories of weird and unusual events, take a moment to check the reports before sharing them. A repeat of the fake Martian invasion or the fake zoo disaster doesn’t benefit anyone.

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.

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