On the eve of Halloween in 1938, the Mercury theater artists decided to stage a radio play based on the novel War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, moving it to New Jersey. But they did not even suspect that more than a million inhabitants of the northeastern United States would believe in the attack of the Martians and would panic. This is how it was ...
At the beginning of the hour, one of the artists announced the start of a radio play, after which a weather forecast sounded, and then a musical concert began. The music was soon interrupted by an urgent message that strange outbreaks were being observed on Mars. Then the supposedly renowned Princeton astronomer professor Richard Pearson (voiced by Orson Welles) denied the possibility of life on Mars.
The concert continued, but was soon interrupted by a special newscast. CBS reporter Carl Phillips (Frank Readick) reported on the ground that a metal cylinder had landed in Grovers Mill, Moerser County. Soon, a huge combat vehicle appears from the cylinder, incinerating everything around with heat rays. Phillips shouted something and tried to extinguish the mobile studio, the connection was interrupted. Professor Pearson began to talk about the technical level of the Martians, then the head of the New Jersey National Guard declared a state of emergency and led his units into battle.
The weapons of the earthlings turned out to be unable to resist the aliens, new deadly machines continued to land and destroy people and infrastructure, crowds of people fled away from the invaders. The unnamed Home Secretary (Kenny Delmar) addressed the nation (the radio banned President Franklin Roosevelt's address, but Delmar still portrayed Roosevelt's voice). Soon a reporter got in touch with an artillery unit that fired at the Martians. They were also attacked by bombers, which were destroyed by death rays, although they were able to topple one of the alien vehicles.
The Martians used poison gases, and the connection was interrupted again. A CBS employee (Ray Collins) climbed to the roof of the CBS Building, from where he saw several Martian cars crossing the Hudson. He, too, smelled a poisonous smell, after which the broadcast was interrupted. A radio amateur made his way through the interference, trying to contact at least someone. Only at this moment (about 40 minutes after the start of the production) the announcer recalled the fictionality of the events described. Professor Pearson then described the end of the alien attack, which had been killed by their lack of immunity to terrestrial bacteria. At the end of the hour, Wells stepped out of character and congratulated the audience on Halloween.
According to newspaper reports, about 6 million people listened to the play, and about a fifth of them mistook it for real news coverage. Many either did not hear the beginning of the program with a warning about fictional events (at this time, part of the audience switched the wave at the station where the news of the beginning of the hour was broadcast), or forgot about it after the start of the concert. By the time the announcer's reminder appeared at the 40th minute, many were no longer listening to the radio, whole families barricaded themselves with weapons in the basements of their houses or hurriedly packed their things to go to the west, many demanded that the country's armed forces finish off the aliens or distribute weapons to everyone; there were cases when detachments of armed local residents came to police stations, ready to assist in protecting the country from invasion. Phones that evening were overloaded 5 times, traffic jams from New York, Trenton and Philadelphia stretched for almost 100 km.
People claimed to have seen lightning volleys of aliens and smelled their poison gases. The radio show was also heard on the West Coast. At its climax, the power plant in the town of Concrete in Washington state went out of commission; the inhabitants of Konkret had no doubt that the power lines had been destroyed by the advancing Martians.
As the situation cleared up, listeners' fear was replaced by anger directed at CBS. Many of them have filed claims for compensation for non-pecuniary damage. They were all rejected, but Wells insisted on compensation for material damage to the man who ruined his new shoes while fleeing from the Martians. Within a month after the staging, about 12.5 thousand publications related to it appeared in the newspapers.
Interestingly, the production by Orson Welles was one of the first to cause such a resonance, the radio stations tried to replicate this effect. Therefore, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, some of the listeners decided that the radio stations had again staged a rally.
Stations around the world have repeatedly tried to repeat the success of the "War of the Worlds", which sometimes even led to human casualties, as happened in Ecuador. In February 1949, the El Comercio newspaper in Quito reported UFO sightings over the city. A few days later, Leonardo Paez and Eduardo Alcares put on a show at a local radio station. Police and firefighters drove out of Quito to the site of the alleged Martian landing. When the rally was revealed, mobs of angry Ecuadorians attacked the radio station and El Comercio's office, killing 6 people in the riots. In 1988, the fiftieth anniversary of the radio show was celebrated in Grovers Mill (New Jersey) with the "Martian Festival", and 10 years later a monument was erected there.