They Didn’t Come In Peace: On this day in 1938, Orson Welles narrated his radio version of H. G. Wells’ classic 1898 novel “The War of the Worlds” during the Halloween episode of The Mercury Theatre on the Air. A combination of factors — including pre-war tensions, the fact that Welles presented the show in documentary-style and the lack of ad breaks — led people to believe the show was actually a news bulletin describing a real invasion from Mars.
Although the scale of the show’s impact is often in debate, Welles caused outrage, thus cementing the broadcast, and himself, in the history books, further propelling H. G. Wells’ work of fiction deeper into popular culture.
It’s hard to imagine what listeners must have felt when they thought their show had been interrupted by breaking news about observations of “explosions of incandescent gas” on Mars and consequent crash landing of “a huge, flaming object, believed to be a meteorite” in New Jersey, heralding the beginning of the alien invasion. In this modern world of hyper-connectivity and information exchange, such a stunt would have minimal impact on our imagination — in many ways, that seems a shame.